Apr 19

What is your personal brand?

Different, unique and standing out of the crowd red umbrella. 3D Illustration

The call came a few Saturdays ago, late morning. “Hate to bother you on the weekend,” said the COO, “but I expect you’re used to it. We have an issue.”

A phone call later, I reached out to Amy for additional crisis management support. Together, we hammered out a communications strategy, then began dividing tasks – drafting and approving emails for the board and employees, developing a holding statement for the media and crafting social media posts. We pulled together talking points for community conversations and a helpful Excel matrix to keep track of them. After five hours of back-and-forth editing, text messages and emails with our client, we hit send on our last item, a robust set of FAQs – and promised to be available throughout the weekend as needed.

On Sunday, the COO emailed a message of gratitude for the fire drill support. I responded, as I often do, with “always our pleasure” – because it is – and then added, “Our team has been working on our personal brand promises this past week, and Amy and I had the opportunity to put ours into immediate practice!”

I’d read an article earlier this year about the idea of the personal brand promise. While the notion is pretty standard when it comes to organizations, the author posited each of us has a personal brand promise, whether we realize it or not.

Sabo PR’s brand promise lies at the heart of our social contract, which guides how we interact with one another and our clients. But our individual brand promises? Those would be dependent on each team member, much like spokes emanating from the finial of our social contract.

I asked each of our team to think about their personal brand promise – what they brought to the SPR table, their unique contribution to the fabric of our firm, their commitment to their colleagues and to our clients. The following week, I sat down with each of them during their weekly one-on-one meeting to learn more.

Belts and hurricanes

Lisa offered two options for her brand promise, which is beautifully in keeping with who she is. Her first leaned on alliteration, increasing the ease of remembering: Always on top of it, attentive and approachable. Her second was: Always keeping things moving and improving, well-organized and good-natured. This is an impeccable distillation of her essence, highlighting the key characteristics both our clients and our team lean on her for – her incredible sense of organization, her very gentle approach to keeping projects moving and ensuring deadlines are met, and her incredibly kind disposition.

Max chose a line from a wedding toast to illustrate his personal brand. Katie may wear the pants in the family, his sister-in-law quipped, but Max is the belt – he’s the practical, calm and rational grounding influence in contrast to his wife’s exuberance. Max brings that dose of level-headedness to our clients and team. He’s able to listen and empathize with clients and their issues, develop an appropriate strategy, communicate with reassurance and follow through with results. He reminded me of the day he started at SPR when we tapped into his expertise to help navigate a suicide – and the calm, methodical approach he took under that pressure.

Hunter crafted a succinct personal brand promise: Using words and visuals to help bring your ideas to life. He zeroed in on his rare ability of pairing crisp writing with compelling photo or video in order to actualize an idea. Hunter is unique among the communications professionals I have worked with over the past 30 years in that he’s equally good with words AND images. Typically, strength lies on one side of the aisle or the other, but Hunter is truly bipartisan. We can brainstorm ideas for projects, and he’ll come back with a solution that is breathtakingly wonderful – and well beyond anything I could have imagined.

Chiara chose to look at the big picture of SPR – powerful storytellers who are all thoughtful and skilled with our craft – before deciding on her personal slice: Helping clients (and herself) set up for success, making sure they are ready to take anything on. Whether it’s a spreadsheet or her home fridge, organization makes Chiara truly happy. She thrives on tidiness and order, checklists and calendars. She can take both the big-picture look at things and then break down a project into bite-sized morsels, ensuring deadlines are met – and expectations exceeded.

Brian crafted his brand promise simply and directly: sharing comfort and beauty. As SPR’s self-anointed brand police, Brian has long taken the lead in helping our clients put their best foot forward by ensuring they are presenting their brands properly. The twin notions of comfort and beauty speak, respectively, to his roles in both issues management and design. On the comfort side, solving problems for clients is highly satisfying work to Brian, enabling him to provide peace of mind. On the beauty side, he is motivated by aesthetics and strives to give clients something they wouldn’t – or couldn’t – do for themselves.

My final conversation was with Amy on the Friday before we got the call that started this blog. She invoked her husband’s description of her: a tornado on the back of a hurricane. A self-described Type A personality, Amy brings an incredible level of energy to whatever she undertakes. A passionate runner, she varies her energy to complement the task at hand, from 50-yard dashes to marathons. Amy’s personal brand? Being a force for good. She starts each day by asking herself, what am I going to do to make a difference today – and if she impacts even one person positively, Amy knows she’s doing OK.

I will not abandon you

Amy had the opportunity to put her newly minted brand promise into action a few Saturdays ago, as did I. I draw my personal brand promise from a comment a guide said to me, my husband and my best friend two years ago as we were about to embark on a tour of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona. Pre-pandemic, it was a veritable sea of humanity, so when our tour guide appeared to gather our group of 20 or so for the tour, we huddled close and listened carefully. You stay here, she said. I’m going to get our tickets. I will be back – I will not abandon you.

And she disappeared for long enough to create low-level anxiety among some in our group before returning with our tickets and a jaunty red umbrella so we could follow her through the crowds without getting lost. Her “I will not abandon you” resonated with us and jokingly became our theme for the trip – and my personal brand.

It’s also the perfect description of the crisis and issues management work that feeds my professional soul in way like no other subset of what we do. I have walked with clients through some of their darkest hours, offering calm advice and steady counsel while providing both the strategy and the communication tools they need to connect with their stakeholders.

That’s meant some long hours working nights – sometimes the middle of the night – and weekends since crises rarely confine themselves to the traditional workday. It’s meant interruptions to more family activities and friend gatherings than I care to count. I even left one dinner party I was hosting at midnight to travel to a client in need, asking the good friends who were spending the night to help themselves to breakfast in the morning and lock up on their way out.

I shared my brand promise with a new client last fall as she faced a hair-on-fire issue, and she later told me the phrase was incredibly comforting. Clients appreciate knowing they can lean on me and our team for communications support no matter the hour or the circumstance.

The call mentioned above led to two weeks of lightning preparation and then a third of intense media scrutiny followed by more than a measure of social media outrage, at least in some circles. And it was one of three concurrent issues we faced during that time, with another CEO expressing surprise and gratitude over our response. “Can you imagine,” she said, “Mary Ann had documents read at 7:30 last night, then returned new versions with our edits at 11:30 – and this is her job. She asks to do this!”

Yes, I can imagine – because yes, it is my personal brand promise in action: I will not abandon you.


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