News hit this past summer that Boston’s Kiss 108 (a youth-driven radio station partial to Katy Perry and Lady Gaga) re-upped its contract with longtime morning host Matt Siegel through 2016. That may sound unremarkable — until you realize that Siegel, a balding Baby Boomer, has already held the perch for over three decades. How, exactly, has this 61-year-old avoided the dire fate of so many of his disc jockey peers in a crumbling industry that’s been decimated by the advent of satellite radio and online powerhouses like Pandora and Spotify?
Consistently ranked #1 in Boston, downsizing and macroeconomic trends are facts of life Siegel simply doesn’t have to worry about: he’s protected by the power of his brand.
With the international economic recovery uncertain at best and the stock market convulsing wildly with every Beltway standoff or whisper of bad news from Southern Europe, it’s obvious we can no longer rely on job security or investment returns to protect us from hard times. Amidst these harsh realities, there is only one investment that’s certain to outperform the others: your personal brand.
Most workers are buffeted by forces outside their control — industry changes, technological innovations, globalization, and the like. When more people listen to streaming radio online, DJs get laid off and salaries plummet (the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average on-air personality earns less than $20 an hour). But because Matt Siegel has a dedicated following — one that might well choose to follow him if he defected to another station — he can write his own ticket. (Malcolm Gladwell has written about the disproportionate benefits that accrue to the very best in an industry.)
Radio DJs may be an extreme example of personal branding — it’s a lot easier to attract attention when you’re musing about sex or interviewing Oprah, compared to regular executives who do things like market database systems or oversee international supply chains. But the same principles apply: to insulate yourself from the vagaries of the market, you must build a powerful personal brand or risk losing your position. Specifically, that means:
- Cultivating a reputation as one of the best in your company or industry
- Developing a passionate, loyal following of people who value your perspective
- Becoming widely known and discussed
Marketing guru Seth Godin is a notable example in the business world. He started his writing career working with major publishing houses, which took a big cut of the profits in exchange for their respectability and imprimatur. But, armed with his popular blog and increasingly powerful brand, he made headlines late last year by launching his own imprint (in partnership with Amazon). Self-publishing used to be the hallmark of amateurs who couldn’t convince anyone reputable to vouch for their work. Today, in the case of Godin, it’s the sign of someone whose brand is so big, he’s able to reach customers directly and cut out the middleman.
From public speaking to writing to developing high-profile affiliations, there are a variety of ways to build a powerful brand (see my previous HBR blogs on “How to Become a Thought Leader” and “How to Reinvent Your Personal Brand”).
But the most important element is your focus. Starting today, think about how you can own your niche and build your audience. If you care about insuring yourself against hard times, the only true safety is in developing a personal brand that’s better known — and therefore more powerful — than that of your competitors, or even your employer.
How do you cultivate your personal brand? Do you see it as a form of professional insurance?
This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review blog.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.