IIC Partners

By IIC Partners
Jan. 8, 2013

Kate White, career expert, New York Times best selling business book author, and former editor-in-chief of US Cosmopolitan magazine - a position she held for 14 years - shares her secrets on how to develop a winning personal brand.

The inspiration behind 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This', Kate's fourth book on how to get ahead, released September 2012, goes back to the core of Kate's own branding and one of her own core values - "I love to share."

The concept of personal branding is fairly new. In 1997 Fast Company magazine published an article called 'The Brand Called You'. It generated quite a bit of interest and has recently enjoyed a renewed focus.

"I think it's so important to think about what your brand is, what your specialities are, and what your core values are. You have to get it into a sound bite that has some sex appeal. You have to keep telling it to yourself and it should become part of your pitch," says Kate.

"Today I would say my brand statement is roughly that I'm an expert on success and careers who has learned strategies from being in the thick of things rather than being an outside observer. What helps set me apart from people who work in HR or are more academic in their approach is that I have been in the trenches and I am not afraid to speak in a very irreverent tone and get down and dirty. You won't get a lot of life coaches using the same approaches I use."

Kate says that though key, you need to be sure of what you are an expert in and what you care about.

"Look beneath the statement. Does it fulfil your core values? What ARE your core values? Well, what are the things that set you on fire?"

"You have to focus and sometimes that means you have to jettison some interests so you pare it down. One of the one of subjects I was fascinated by at Cosmo was the whole notion of male/female dynamics and I got to be pretty good at understanding those dynamics. But as I pursued writing and talking about success , I've had to leave that behind because I'd be spreading myself too thin. That said, if I am giving a talk on branding and at the end someone asks me 'How do I get a man to do something?' I will tell them!"

Kate says what good personal brands have in common is that others identify with them.

"Mika Brzezinski is a co-host on a news show here; she is really compelling. One of the things that made her is that she doesn't take any BS. I like that about her; she is like that with guests, or when she reads the news, but not in a hard way. Bill Clinton's brand is that he just really wants to connect with people. Those personal brands seem different but at the same time any good brand, be it a product or a person, will have more success if people can completely relate to what they are talking about. We will find it compelling because we relate to it. I love that Mika doesn't tolerate [expletive] as I don't either."

"Perception is reality. You have to understand how and why you are being perceived. You can't fight it and you can't say 'It's not fair, they don't get me'. If you're not connecting with your brand, the best thing you can do is to understand knowledge is power. The more you dig deep and read the tea leaves the more you will get a sense of how people are perceiving you - don't just assume.

Kate says setting up a false facade to aid your brand success at work is never worthwhile.

"Sometimes out of necessity people take certain jobs that don't fit them and then they have to be a certain way for the job and they have to present in that way, but you will only every be mildly successful at most if you do that.

"When your world shifts you may be forced into reinvention. But something else you have to think about is the authenticity police when you are creating a brand or reinventing it. It has to be authentic or it will blow up in your face. If you have to make a shift ask yourself, ' Do I feel good about this shift?', ' Do I really want to be changing this way?'. You have to ask yourself, 'Is the image I am presenting really authentic?'. And you also have to ask yourself, whether you are inventing your brand or reinventing it, do you have the time to really commit to it? It will catch up with you if you don't."

The biggest communications and branding mistakes Kate sees top executives and leaders making is not really knowing what is going on in their businesses - and with their customers.

"They don't know what is going on below the surface in understanding their constituents, they are just so caught up in their own view. With [Republican Party nominee for US President 2012], Mitt Romney you never felt he knew who you were. That comment 'binders full of women' showed just how out of touch he was. Or in the UK, how could the head of the BBC not know that a whole investigative report was being done on a person [Jimmy Saville] and a decision was taken not to air it and the head of the BBC didn't know? You can't be so up the in the stratosphere that you are not gathering information will blow up in your face.

"Five years ago I was in the audience listening to the head of GE give a speech. He was going on about all the different ventures GE was doing, going way beyond manufacturing appliances. Just coincidentally my husband and I had bought a GE dryer that summer, you know 'Let's buy an American product' and it arrived and it didn't work. They sent a repair guy to look at it and he said one of the parts had been installed damaged. So we said, 'So we get a new dryer? and he said, 'No, you have to keep the dryer and get a replacement part'. It took the entire summer. We got three months of the rudest customer service and spent $US600 at the laundromat washing our clothes. I was sitting there listening to this CEO thinking ' You are talking about your business and how great it is but you really have no idea you have one of the rudest customer service set-ups going, you have not plumbed down and gotten to know your business'."

As personal branding is a new concept, empirical measurements of success are still somewhat unknowns. You could say a person's career path, salary, job title are all quantifiable indicators of a successful personal brand, but Kate has another view that allows for faster and more useful insight into your brand.

"Look at how people respond back to you. Do they use words in conversation and discussion that really reflect where you want to be? One of the things I thought was interesting when I got the Cosmo job was that I had some misgivings about it - I never applied for it, I was just given it. But after I accepted it, several people wrote me notes saying congratulations and how perfect I was for the role. I realised that I might not have been able to see myself as right for the role, but so many people were saying I was. So listen to what others are saying to you about your brand.

"If you run a company, you can run focus groups and do research and learn what your customers are saying about your brand. With a personal brand, you can see how people are when they send you an e-mail or talk to you. Note the language. Do the words that you have on your brand statement about yourself match what people are saying about you? One of the things people say about me is that I am irreverent and a real straight shooter and that's how I differentiate myself from other career experts who are earnest. If they described me as 'the cerebral and introspective Kate White', I'd know I'd have a problem."

"A mistake women often make is they are too nervous to go big, but you have to go big or go home. Don't be afraid to do it, don't be afraid to do more - you have to, don't be afraid to ask for the perks that you want, don't be afraid of the big ask. Look at Paula Broadwell, General David Petraeus' biographer, how brilliant of her to write about him. She got the opportunity because she ASKED. She just should have quit while she was ahead."

Kate's Top Branding Tops

  • Develop a personal brand statement based on your core values. Make it real, but snappy and sexy. And tell people what your brand is. Refine it if you need to.
  • Go big or go home. Don't just finish that project - make it amazing. Push yourself. Deliver the best you possibly can.
  • Manage your time. A key common trait of successful people is that they know how to use their time as efficiently as possible and for the right things. You may have to sacrifice lesser objectives to properly commit to your few goals or aims. 
  • Don't be afraid of the big ask. If you really want it, ask for it. The best result is 'yes' .

Find out more about Kate at www.katewhite.com



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