Personal Brand Design 101: An Introduction For Music, Television and Film Professionals

I created this page as a simple and clear introduction to personal brand design, and I tailored it for people like me, creative professionals who work behind-the-scenes in the entertainment industry. Use the information here to build your own professional reputation, and please share this page it with your colleagues.

Topics covered below:

The Truth About Personal Branding

A personal brand is the story other people tell about you.

And you have a brand whether you know it or not. How do people describe you when when they can’t remember your name? That’s your brand, right there.

Personal brand design is the process you use to take control of the story people tell about you. As the executive producer of your career, you choose the set of skills, projects, and network that will give your story the best chance of spreading.

Instead of letting the economy or your boss determine the direction of your career, personal brand design gives you the freedom to create your next big break.

Why You Need A Personal Brand – Now

Before Tom Peters popularized the term in a 1997 article in Fast Company magazine, a “personal brand” was simply called your professional reputation.

Peters recognized a shift in the working world that made individual reputation building more important than ever before. The erosion of the life long job made it foolish to rely on your college’s name, your job title, or your past or present company’s name (essentially other people’s brands) to promote yourself. To maintain a career, workers now had to develop their own career story, their own personal brand that hiring managers would judge them by.

At the same time, the shift in the entertainment business toward the need for personal branding also happened, but for different reasons. We’ve been used to project-based work and the high turnover that comes with it.

Long term success at a record label, movie study, or television network came from having the right technical skills or networking. Being able to work a complicated piece of equipment or being friends with, related to, or lovers with the right people mattered more than being the right person for the job.

However, technology has broken down those artificial barriers. Software has made it easier than ever to produce and edit an album, film, or TV show. And social media is allowing the world’s most talented people to be a success without being slowed by the traditional industry gatekeepers.

Gone are the days where you competed with a relatively small circle of insiders in New York and LA. Now, your skills and reputation has to stack up against the most creative people in the world.

For the wider working world, personal brand design is just a good idea. However, for professionals in the entertainment industry a strong brand is the only thing that matters.

The 3 Elements of A Strong Personal Brand

All of the books, blogs, and workshops on personal brand design can be boiled down into a simple framework I call the 3U’s of Personal Branding – Be Unique, Be Useful, and Be You.

Advice on branding may use different words, or emphasize one element over the other, but the most successful brands have some aspect of all three.

Let’s unpack them.

#1. Be Unique

As Jerry Garcia said:

“You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

Designing a personal brand that highlights your rare, one-of-a-kind abilities makes you stand out from the crowd.

Being good at what you do, mixed in with a go-getter attitude and brazen networking used to be all you needed to get noticed and be considered for that great gig in your field. Now you need a brand that’s absolutely unique if you want your card, or resume, or portfolio to get a second look.

Sure, the middle of the road professionals in our business will still find work. They’ll just have to fight for every inch of opportunity out there, and they’ll have to settle for low pay and boring work.

If you want your creative work to be valued, you have to have a brand that shows you are absolutely unique.

#2. Be Useful

A strong personal brand is focused on serving others.

It sounds backwards, but the quickest way to make your dreams come true is to be useful for other people’s dreams.

Your brand has to make it obvious to people how you can help their lives, their project, and even their brand. it’s much easier to gain trust from a manager or colleague when they know their own goals will be forwarded when working with you.

So, make your brand about the impact you can have on others. You’ll find that you won’t need to be concerned with self-promotion. A strong, useful brand empowers your network to spread your story for you.

#3. Be You

Nothing connects people to your brand like your personal story. Adding your personality to your brand is what gets people to connect with you, to like you.

As the saying goes,

“All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things not being equal, people still do business with people they like.”

Even as you make your brand useful and unique, you have to avoid making yourself sound like a company, a common mistake for creative people who design their brands for the first time.

Even big faceless companies nowadays try to appear human in their branding. Your advantage as a solo professional is that you don’t have to pretend to be a fascinating human being. You already fit the description.

When you allow your brand to showcase your personality and passions, you’ll connect deeply with colleagues in our industry, including the decision makers who can offer you your next job.

Real Examples of Brands At Work

Does all this branding advice sound too ‘up in the air” for your taste? I have just the thing for you.

I interviewed 4 people in our business who are living these career branding strategies. Listen to their stories for inspiration on how you can design your own brand.

  • Focus on what really matters, like DMA. As a television executive, not only does DMA have to maintain her own strong brand, but every day she makes decisions about who to hire and promote based on her employees’ brands.
  • Be unique, like Baratunde Thurston. Baratunde uses a triple threat of his talents to stand out in the crowded job market, which is why other creatives love connecting with him.
  • Be useful, like Rafi Kam. Rafi’s viral videos are entertaining as well as empowring, which is how he’s earned gigs and press coverage without hunting for it.
  • Be you, like Mark Malkoff. Mark’s passion project are authentic to who he really is, which is why large companies trust him so much.

I learned a tremendous amount just from recording these interviews! I’m sure you’ll gain a lot of insight from listening to how others have design brands that work for them.