Executive branding is a key facet of professional networking. By establishing a strong professional brand for yourself as an executive, you enforce your value as an organizational leader and open new opportunities for professional growth. Whether you are looking to advance your career or turn around a negative reputation, a cultivated executive brand is essential to meeting your career goals. More than just being aware of how others perceive you in your industry, executive branding requires you to view your career as a craft that needs regular attention and focus.
“Imagine a painter focusing more on professionalism than creativity; or an activist focusing more on professionalism than speaking their minds and telling the truth. It would be hard to bond with their audience, and they would not be highly respected in their industry,” says Alexis Chateau, founder and manager of Alexis Chateau PR, an independent PR agency for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
If you aren’t sure where to start in establishing an executive brand for yourself, these ten tips will get you on the right path to creating the perfect professional image.
Know your brand
Before you can start cultivating a personal or professional brand, you need to have a clear picture of the identity you want to foster. Be sure to create goals that are realistic within your industry and field.
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“We've found that the best way to build a personal brand really depends on the industry and the goal. For instance, scientists would focus on credibility; lawyers on professionalism; artists on creativity; and philanthropists on ethics,” says Chateau.
Look to other influential executives and leaders in your industry and get an idea of what it takes to be respected in your field. It will help give you a better idea of what skills, traits and accomplishments you should focus on.
If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, it’s time to sign up; and if you have a neglected LinkedIn account, you’ll need to tend to your profile.
“LinkedIn is by far the most valuable resource for establishing professional visibility and a clear precise brand. So are Twitter and Instagram depending on your industry and role,” says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach.
This might seem like common sense, but it’s easy to create an account and then ignore it or dismiss it as a low priority. Carlota Zimmerman, career coach and success strategist, recommends investing in your LinkedIn profile. A great place to start is with a professional headshot for your profile. She also recommends using an image in your profile header from a recent speech, workshop, panel appearance or award ceremony to boost credibility. It’s not just the content that matters, you want your profile to be visually impressive too.
Keep it casual
Just because it’s your professional image, that doesn’t mean you always need to keep it professional. While this advice will depend on your industry, and the culture within your organization or field, Chateau says that “professionalism is overrated for building a personal brand.”
Have some fun with your image and make sure you stay personable and relatable. While you want to always keep it appropriate, don’t be afraid to let loose every now and then.
Take the stage at industry-related events
If you can get on a panel or land a presentation at an industry event or conference, it can help generate “buzz,” says Cohen. It can “heighten how you are perceived by peers and by the recruiter community. By being asked to speak or participate on a panel you are being endorsed as a thought leader.”
Any time you can position yourself as an expert in your field and as a thought leader, it will help solidify your reputation. You can quickly become the person others turn to when they have questions, or if there’s a new exciting opportunity.
Be a source
Never turn down the opportunity to be available for interviews, but first make sure you are “authorized to speak on behalf of your company,” says Cohen. If your business is hesitant to have another spokesperson, “demonstrate why your voice is desirable,” he says.
Acting as an expert source can help legitimize and strengthen the “perception of you as an expert,” says Cohen. It will boost your online presence, align you as an industry leader and generate stronger search results on Google and LinkedIn.
Hit the share button
Part of cultivating a professional brand requires interacting with your network and audience online. One easy way to do that is by sharing your “media diet,” says David Erickson, vice president of Online Marketing for Minneapolis public relations firm, Karwoski & Courage.
“Onceyou've reached an executive leadership level, you've likely built a routine of media consumption of industry news. Extend that habit to sharing what you read, watch or listen to online. Add a comment about why you think a particular article, video clip or podcast is significant,” he says.
Set aside time each day to share interesting articles and to interact on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Erickson suggests scheduling tweets and posts, so you can regularly share throughout the day without stopping throughout the day to log into the app.
Create original content
There are so many easy ways to share your expertise and thoughts, whether it’s through blog posts, LinkedIn articles, Twitter or a personal website. And if writing isn’t your thing, you can opt for other types of shareable content.
“Are there presentations you've created that you can publish to SlideShare? Can you get a recording of any public speaking you've done? All of this can be shared via your social channels as well,” says Erickson.
Whether it’s articles, video or other content, you want to generate some type of original content on a regular basis to boost your professional image.
Build a web presence
LinkedIn is easy to use and accessible, but once you hit the executive level, you might want to step it up a notch and get your own domain.
“For my clients the first tool we look at is the personal website. Everything else we use to build a personal brand whether it's social media, PR, a book, etc., ultimately drives traffic back to that website where one of our top goals is to build an email list,” says Josh Steimle, CEO of Influencer, and personal branding coach for CMOs and executives.
Steimle recommends using WordPress and, unless you have the web development skills, he suggests hiring a professional to “create a custom design from scratch, rather than using a template.” Focus on photography and video, especially if you plan to focus on public speaking in your career.
Find out what works for you
You’ll find plenty of tips and recommendations for building your personal brand, but Steimle says that what works for you will depend on your industry and “executive needs.”
“Some people are critical of executives who aren't active on Twitter or Instagram, but maybe that's not the best way for those executives to build their personal brand. Maybe that's not where their audience is gathering. The best tip I can give is go to where your audience is and give them what they want, the way they want it,” he says.
If your audience prefers YouTube, then follow your audience to that platform, but if you find they’re more inclined to use Facebook, focus your efforts there instead.
You can’t be entirely self-serving while building your professional brand, you need to bring something of value to the table. By making yourself valuable, you will become harder to forget.
“A personal brand requires attention, and attention gravitates towards value. If you're not providing value on a regular basis then you'll be forgotten. It's not a case of ‘What have you done for me lately?’ It's that if you disappear, your audience won't even ask that question. You simply don't exist anymore,” says Steimle.