Reputation acquisition and the quest for personal branding.
About five seconds or less. It starts with a glance at the title. Simultaneously, you’re scanning the photo. Its punctum — effervescent power — and the use of contrasting top light is no coincidence. It’s hard at work on your visual cortex and amygdala, the seat of your memory. Nope ! You’re struggling to know anyone or everyone in the frame.
They are leading agents and personnel spearheading, in different ways the Blue Economy — multi million dollar activities between state, enterprise, waters and people. This now may have piqued your interest. The photo features a government minister, CEOs, consultants, various scholars and a key driver, Max Bankole Jarrett (back row, third from right).
I art directed the shoot, meaning I conceived its look as a front cover magazine story. Tip 1. If you’re organising a conference, ensure you engineer the front cover shot bringing together the key power listers. This one took 20 minutes to find the right room, and personnel.
But I’m here as a writer about reputations and branding. I’m now in deficit of around 35 seconds if you’re still with me. Momentarily, I still remain fairly anonymous. A writer writing about reputation, but what do I know? Some framing is necessary to provide, at least the perception of knowledge.
How does this shape your thoughts? Or this? Or this when I worked as a political producer for, amongst others Andrew Brown, the brother of Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer later British Prime Minister. By proxy, and within a limited frame of time, your perceptions may have changed. A strange hormonal and neurochemical reaction is underway. I’m still who I was thirty seconds ago, but my brand currency, who I want to be, is annexing with my reputation — that is how you perceive me — for which I have little control over. But this annexation is rarely that simple.
Here’s a scenario to which you’re likely familiar. That skill set that you exhibit taking control of a board level meeting — being incisive and strategic yet you know it’s only a fraction of what you do. You’re a victim of the halo effect. To combat that you list your many strengths as the renaissance woman or man, but empirically how effective are they in underscoring what you do? This week I returned from sharing knowledge and moderating a high level debate for a UN agency of the high seas which featured CEOs, a French Ambassador and PhD scholars.” OMG!” a chorus of people I’d previously met earlier would say afterwards, adding, “the way you handle that was superb”.
However, for me, doing anything less would be a poor show with thirty years of professional work in the media, advertising and online in front and behind the camera/productions. But like your boardroom level skills how do you telegraph that competence in shaping perception?
I have interviewed politicians such as Nelson Mandela, a director of the CIA, made a film for the Southbank centre to celebrate Obama’s 100 days in office and interviewed celebrities such as Quincy Jones and Eartha Kitt. Eartha Kitt was a brand, a star of the screen, but her reputation was almost destroyed when invited to a luncheon at the White House she spoke about the link between juvenile delinquents and the iniquities of the Vietnam War.
As a cameraman/director and producer I have shot films in conflict zones e.g. Syrian border and won international awards, one for a UK film that earmarked game-changing mobile videojournalists in the UK, which caught the interest of the FT. But truthfully how is this articulated when it smacks of self-aggrandisement, which is why nominally we bury our achievements.
How do you capture that as a currency as a writer on say @medium or @Linkedin? I mean this not as self serving, but as a way to identify a space where one can genuinely contribute to conversational matrices.
Recommendations? Perhaps? That comes afterwards. Market forces? Maybe? but there’s a long debate that shows its ineffectiveness. Social platforms, for all their ingenuity have not yet found that mechanism that supports the divergent economic theory of reputation. Like economics, we perceive there is but one model. Our story LAB has been talking to the good folks at a popular A.I. company to employ a new approach and we think we’re onto something.
I’ve met many people, like me, who share the “Michael Jackson’s Syndrome” — withdrawn in public, but a completely different person on their chosen stage. Then there’s a more obvious feature of our times, selfie, self promotional, self appraisal. We’re all CEOs, strategists, and successful life gurus.
Provenance, still sought after, is diminished. Reputation once accrued by proxy is subtly being self-engineered. Self labels are not the same as how descriptively you’re perceived. Then this, the faux credentials. The email that I opened said, to win this national award have your friends vote for you. I told no one. The woman that won was deserving from her biog. But do you really need to rally personal votes to show you’re an award winning engineer, baker or filmmaker?
If you’re a celebrity / CEO you face fewer of these pressures. That status in your field was likely hard won. Your position now gives a special pass to say anything. And like a guest booked for a TV show, your guesting at conferences becomes circular. One show begets another. There was a period in 2006 where the same speakers and message was being touted at different conferences. CEOs could literally say anything — the halo affect again — , whilst our nimble minds perceptively and sometimes made erroneous sense of what we comprehend. We build a template in our heads about what we view as reputational.
Daniel Kahneman’s 2002 paper on Maps of Bounded rationality: a Perspective on intuitive judgement and choice, showed how irrational and misguided we are. Heuristics — snap shot judgement plays a major part in our thinking. Brand, an ephemeral quality, could be as easily acquired as it is longingly sought. Given there are millions of us whom are not deemed influencers, how do we go about building our brand? An equally logical sensible question is why we seek reputation? And equally important, what we intend to use it for?
Without any forward framing, the general route is to create projects of impact. For some it is the passport to an independent living. Lennox Lewis, the heavy weight boxer whom I worked for fighting Tyson was a super brand.
As a writer, we let our article e.g. How to approach VR as Journalism via 4D do the talking, strafed by the implants of great storytelling offering knowledge, life’s experience, or new research. Mellifluously structured and replete with the vividness of metaphor, great writing needs no introduction for its author.
Yet great writing, like reputation relies on trade craft to be sustainable. To be good at what you do generally takes grafting, 10,000 plus hours, resilience and doggedness. In times of old, it was the seven year apprenticeship that framed vocation upon vocation. Being a prodigy helped, as Mozart’s father discovered, but young Mozart still put in incredible hours of practise. Michelangelo too had years of downtime and setbacks, a bronze statute that had to be scrapped, several designs e.g. parachute abandoned before proof. The story of the greats are themselves flogged as myths.
Impressionism painter Cézanne had his first show in 1895. He was 56-years-old. He was unique, yet spurned by the main of the art fraternity. This exchange between art critic, Théodore Duret and Cézanne’s friend Pissarro provides an insight: “In painting I’m looking more than ever for the five legged sheep”, Duret asks. Pissarro replied. “If it’s five-legged sheep you’re after, I believe Cézanne will appeal to you, for he has some extremely strange studies and view of a unique kind”. Brand is invariably generic. Reputation seeks to ride pillion.
At the LAB at the University of Westminster, I have been researching storytelling as part of post-doctoral studies. Within the lens of cinema, refracted into journalism, documentary, literature and PR, we’re building more on the practise of Cinema Journalism. Technology is often the enabler, the vehicle, the means rather than the end. But trade craft, it’s generally viewed, is resolute. Being part of a community — a network — seeking to be influential by the utility of your core talent. Possessing an unswerving believer in your talent. And then possessing a narrative and finding your way into stories is key to personal branding.
An article on the Blue Economy and the stakeholders in the photo above will be published in a forthcoming post co authored by Mr. Max Bankole Jarrett former Director-in-charge of the Africa Progress Panel, now the .Founder of Abundenta Divina Media Ltd.