Personal Branding and Downton Abbey

When the final wedding took place Downton Abbey this week, the most popular show in PBS history closed – and so did its effort to explore people living in a time of rapid change. (The 1910s and 20s.) We also live in a time of rapid change. So we identified with these hapless characters as they struggled with new-fangled phones, or hair-dryers, or even swivel chairs.

PBS
PBS

But it’s not just “change” that Downton explores. It’s branding. Many people react with various degrees of shock, disdain, or despair at the notion of developing a “personal brand” – but the phenomenon existed before we had that phrase for it.

When the characters – the Crawley family and their servants – are wringing their hands about wearing the wrong level of formal wear to dinner or worrying about how it looks for the daughter of an earl to marry a chauffeur, we were horrified by the classism – and yet recognized the underlying question. What is the Crawley brand? (And wasn’t it a relief when it usually ended up being one of openness and compassion and a fledgling sense of equality?)

Today we live in a time when we may have more control than ever about how people perceive us. With blogs, social media, unprecedented access to video and photo editing – we have tools at our disposal the Crawleys could not imagine. (And don’t forget the tools they had that we still share. The Crawleys use a little media relations, for example, by making sure a photographer documents the Earl’s visit to a business that needs a boost in respectability.)

Whether you’re a nonprofit executive-director, the C.E.O. of a start-up, or the owner of a restaurant, you have the ability to shape your personal brand every day – and a responsibility to support your organization’s brand as well. Whether that brand is dynamic and lively, or thoughtful and data-driven – you have the opportunity and responsibility to re-enforce and amplify it.

It’s not something you should be ashamed of. It’s something you need to devote time and resources to – including getting professional advice when necessary.  Whether you’re wooing a client, applying for a new job, or seeking media attention for your expanding restaurant business, the reputation you’ve created for yourself will someday be just as important – in its own way – as were the reputations of the Crawley daughters when they searched for husbands. (And easier to look up online!)

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