personal brands: the halo effect for employers

Over the past few years I’ve had lots of discussions with friends and ex-colleagues about  whether their employers see value in their blogging efforts, networking efforts or whether they see it as a distraction from the commercial elements of the role.  Even in today’s social and search driven world, many companies don’t seem to “get” the value that their company’s brand can get from the individual brands held by their rising stars.

This article from Jay Fry at Poynter, examines just that.  Jay focuses on media organisations (but much of it is applicable to PR agencies IMO) :

The age of the individual brand was inevitable, a natural consequence of the way digital media has remade our reading habits. In print, columns have a home on a section front or on the opinion page, but online the basic unit of reader consumption isn’t the section or page, but an article — or a video or podcast.

When readers search for or share columns, what’s found or shared is a single article. Meanwhile, writers spotlight links to their own work on their Tumblrs, share them with their Twitter followers, and hope for comments on their Facebook fan pages — all activity that spotlights their individual brands and pushes the institutional brand deeper into the shadows.

How then can smart employers ensure that their agency’s brand benefits from the halo effect created by individuals?

…in the print era, there was no such thing as a reader who picked up the paper, turned instantly to C3, read one article and threw the rest in the trash. And the higher individual brands rise, the more likely someone will try to pick them off, or that individual will begin to think of himself or herself as distinct from the institution.

Jay identifies four ways in his original article and I think they can all apply to the PR world….here’s how:

Identify your most valuable individual brands. 

For PR agencies, this means identifying who are your most well-connected account staff and who has developed a solid (on and offline) network around them of contacts that could benefit the wider organisation?

Turn centrifugal force into centripetal force, or at least balance them.

See how you can accommodate the interests, passions and direction your rising stars want to go in within the business.  How can their hobbies/external interests be applied within their jobs? Be interested in their interests. Look for commercial ways to support their ideas and digital personalities.

Make your individual brands into institutional gateways.

Work with your high-profile employees to become links to your organisation’s brand. Encourage them to explore ideas across both blogs or sites, look at ways you can cross-post or feed content into the company homepage and LinkedIn pages, share materials across the individual’s own and the company’s Slideshare accounts. Involve your rising stars in the agency’s ‘s social media strategy so they get to input and co-develop how their own brand interacts with the wider agency footprint. Don’t scare employees off with guidelines and rules, ultimately, search is driving people to your site so look at ways that the two parties can collaborate and share traffic and content.

Get really good at building brands.

Help your existing employees build their brands to levels of those you’d target were you hiring/replacing them.  it is cheaper to build up the people you have than hire new, agencies are always looking at ways to retain staff and keep retention levels high. It is also great practice to work with staff on their personal brands encouraging the halo effect to spread throughout the organisation.  People remember people, not company names so prospects will often search down an individual and not an agency anyway. Help your staff become easy to find and impressive in digital terms and it will only benefit you as an employer in the long run.

Important to remember though that just as you gravitate to people with high public visibility, so do others in the market so make sure you are looking after these people from an HR perspective too. Don’t underestimate the importance of good HR practice, appraisals, remuneration and above all, interesting projects to work on. Building the brand is one thing but keeping the value high relies on relevant and recent achievements so make sure your staff are getting the opportunities, support and clients they need to stay high-profile.

This is cross posted with my employer, Ruder Finn 🙂

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