When Reputation Clashes With Character: A Time To Rethink Personal Branding
“Reputation is what people think you are. Character is who you really are” was profoundly said by Richard Bach. Understanding the difference is the major challenge facing branding in the world today.
The traditional media and the social media went on fire this week when the news that England International and Man United football Star Mason Greenwood was arrested and suspended by his Club (Man United) from training after allegations of assault on his girlfriend surfaced. To worsen the situation, international sport kits company, NIKE on Monday announced the termination of their contract with Greenwood. According to NIKE, it dissociates itself from the Man United star due to their stance against any form of domestic violence.
In China just early this year (2022) major brands started dumping their partnerships with the Canadian superstar actor and one of China’s most influential celebrities, Kris Wu, after news of his sexual predatory behaviour toward women emerged online.
In November, 2021 France and Real Madrid International football star Karim Benzema was found guilty in a sex tape extortion Scandal and sentenced one-year suspended jail term and ordered him to pay a €75,000 (£63,000; $84,000) fine.
These, as well as many other cases of brands dissociating themselves from their brand Ambassadors due to one malfeasance or the other gives credibility to the popular saying “When the publicist is away, the Celebrity plays.” when the cameras stop rolling the celebrities go back to being humans.
Most importantly, it highlights a major defect in the personal branding process of these celebrities. Many of these celebrities’ brand managers focus more on reputation (expertise, experience, capacities etc).
Yes, I agree with Robert Green’s 5th Law of Power that “So much depends on Reputation, guard it with your life” but the truth is that many personal Brand rarely heed this advice and this failure to adhere to this principle can be traced to how these individuals’ personal Brands were created.
Success in building an enduring reputation rests on three cardinal pillars which according to Prof. Chris Komisarjevsky are Character, Communication and Trust. The challenge is that in practice many personal brand strategists build their clients’ personal brand around the client’s expertise or competence alone and many corporate organizations partner with celebrities majorly due to the perceived reputation of these celebrities. This is one of the major causes of brand-Celebrity fallout. For instance, Davido raised over N200 million for his charity using Wema bank account, Zoinks! The Wema bank management adopted him as their brand ambassador. All Harrysong had to do was to sing ‘Share the gala, share the blues’ to become Gala’s brand ambassador.
There is no meaningful and enduring nexus between these celebrities and the brands they represent other than purely business gains. And this is why many Corporations turn their backs on their ambassadors whenever the Celebrities are in trouble.
As brand Exponents, I think it is high time we dumped this old approach to personal branding and adopt a more realistic and strategically effective thinking in the Strategic communication industry. The era of cosmetic perception and impression management is over because as the African proverb goes ‘no matter how long a wood stays in the river it will never become a crocodile’. So, just influencing public perceptions about your client doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, we are in the era of surgical perception and impression management in order to achieve an enduring brand-celebrity fit. Consequently, your client’s persona in the public must be what it is in the covert. And this requires a different skill set which every personal brand strategist need to endeavour to acquire.
The great thinker of antiquity Socrates said, “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” We must always remember that our clients were once humans before they became celebrities and most importantly they had a life before the fame. So, the new approach to personal branding is not just a face life but a total deconstruction, reconstruction and elevation in order to help our clients become what they desire to appear in the public just as Socrates had advised.
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Ishola Ayodele is a Strategic Communication Strategist who specializes in ‘Message Engineering’. He helps Leaders, Brands and Corporations communicate in a way that yields the desired result.