Thursday, April 10, 2008

Personality or Persona?

Indira Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Vijay Mallya, Benazir Bhutto are exceptions in many ways, including their branding approach. They built solid personas for themselves in a way which is far more American than Asian. In Asia it is usually politicians and movie stars who make the leap, but very few business people. (Also why filmstars are able to become politicians).
European and American executives are used to working on their public profile with the full support of their organizations.
But in India, and in most Asian cultures, modesty is a highly regarded virtue. If you do well you say “Oh, it wasn’t me – it was my parents/teachers/colleague/team/organization”. And of course, inwardly hope like crazy that people won’t take you too seriously and ignore you when that next promotion is due (or worse, give it to that colleague you just thanked!). Well, in the flat world modesty is a handicap to your brand. How will that niche firm in Canada locate you or your organization if you don't show up on google?!
So, if you aim to be a leader in your field start working on your visibility as soon as you can. If you are 6 feet tall, athletic, photogenic and have a charming smile, congratulations, you have a head start in this game. If you’re not, you’re going to have work harder to achieve cult status.
Here are some tips for “personal” persona building:
1. To be an expert, you need expertise. Bright young MBAs (“Bymbas”) are usually the first off the block in identifying their need for public appreciation. Unfortunately, you need to achieve something before you can be an industry expert. The way around this is to pick a small niche which you can claim for your own and then expand as your career and knowledge broadens.

2. PR people are powerful. Most companies have guidelines of what employees can and cannot do in the PR realm. Please check with your PR team if what you are doing is ok. Speaking from experience, most of them are starved for content and will fall on your shoulder and shed tears of joy if you produce genuinely original content. On the other hand – again speaking from experience – incurring their displeasure with unauthorized views and publications is the surest way to oblivion.

3. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean. It isn’t essential that you be the keynote at a major industry conference to start with. (Though a lot of wannabe rock-stars do want that!) Build your profile by speaking at educational institutions and smaller roundtables or panels. Just let local colleges and your alma mater know that you like to speak and be willing to do it at short notice.

4. Blood, sweat, tears. Some people make the mistake of working on their persona at the cost of focusing on their real job. Bad idea. Unless you are self-employed, beware of becoming a dial-a-quote. You’ve got to keep the persona closely integrated with your job and do the extra work like publishing in your spare time. And for PR that is purely personal without any benefits for your employer avoid using company resources.

5. Trademark Appearance. It helps to have a feature which is easily recognizable. Indira had her unique hairstyle, Mahatma Gandhi had his shaven head and round glasses, Kiran Majumdar Shaw has her scarf, Govinda has his white shoes...

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