Professor Robert Donnelly Shares Insight on Personal Branding

Professor Robert DonnellyRobert Donnelly is the author of Guidebook to Planning – A Common Sense Approach, now an eBook and recently converted to an audio book. His new book, Personal Brand Planning, was published in December 2012. He has been teaching graduate and undergraduate business courses at Saint Peter’s University for over 15 years. Prior to Saint Peter’s, Donnelly was on the faculty at the Howe School of Technology Management at Stevens Institute of Technology and the Fordham University Graduate School of Business, prior to Stevens.

Donnelly is the editor of the entrepreneurial CEO column for Chief Executive Magazine, and also writes for a variety of other business publications. He has developed seminars and executive briefings for Business Week and Inc. Magazine. He was featured in USA Today for his work with the Inc. 500. In his corporate career Donnelly was the president and CEO of a technology-based company for ten years, which he positioned for sale to Emerson Flow Control, a Fortune 100 firm. Earlier in his career he held executive positions with IBM, Pfizer, and EXXON. Donnelly holds a bachelor of science from NYU’s Stern School of Business and his master’s degree in business administration from the Silberman Graduate School of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Q. How is the world of work changing?

A. IT, the Internet, and Big Data is automating jobs out of existence and rearranging company organizational structures in the process by basically eliminating the middle management cadre. This is also altering traditional career paths for many M.B.A. students, graduates and others.

Q. Why are these changes in the workplace happening?

A. Big Data is allowing for the exploitation of the vast new flows of information that can radically improve a company’s performance. It’s a fact that data enables managers to make better decisions based on actual real time evidence and not simply intuition. Thus companies no longer need people to do the same kind of analysis. The fact is that the jobs of the past are past. The jobs of the future will require higher level skills that most of those displaced do not have, nor can they acquire quickly.

Q. What is going to happen to all those being automated out of a job?

A. They are going to have to reposition themselves to earn a living on their own for the balance of their careers. We are entering into a new era where those displaced will have to become a service provider instead of an employee of a company. Companies are already relying on a growing workforce of contractors who were former employees as they transition to leaner organizations with fewer assets, less expenses and employees.

People will have to reinvent themselves into their own personal brand.

Q. What is a personal brand?

A. A personal brand is what a person does well and enjoys doing, and in the process generates an interest in others to use or enlist their talents to help them.   Pioneers of a “living brand” are people like Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren. On a more practical note there is Bob Avila, the original do-it-yourself pioneer.

Q. Why haven’t more people gone into business for themselves by utilizing the concept of personal branding?

A. There was no incentive or motivation for individuals to go into business for themselves given the opportunity to work for someone else and live insulated under the corporate salary and benefits umbrella. Now as more and more companies look to shed costs and expenses through automation, the job security umbrella of the past is disappearing rapidly for many.

Q. How does someone get started in developing their own personal brand?

A. Through introspection people can determine what they have a natural ability to do well. Many people never uncover their internal skill set and wind up working at jobs that they cannot master and become frustrated, unhappy and nonproductive, which affects their personal lives as well. An aptitude test is the best way to discover what you have the natural ability to do well and in which areas you will excel.

It’s obvious that when someone is doing what they do well and enjoy doing, they are motivated to be successful and live happier lives.

Q. How can an individual begin to build their personal brand?

A. The problem that many people face in their professional life is miscommunication and conflicts with their peers, superiors and subordinates because they cannot recognize personality traits in themselves and those they work with. This can also easily be solved by taking a personality profile test, which will reveal their personality profile, as well as those around them. Once you understand who you are and who they are, you can relate more effectively to others and have more harmonious relationships at work and elsewhere.

Q. What are the next steps to continue building a personal brand?

A. Then you need to capture your unique selling proposition – what you can offer to others to help solve their problems. Martha Stewart carved out a niche for herself by offering innovative and effective advice on a host of issues of interest to women. Bob Avila was and still is the original “helpful hints” guy for a variety of do-it-yourself home projects.

Once you have your value proposition polished so that it is easily understood that you are offering unique valuable solutions to specific problems then you have to package and market yourself.

Q. How does one package and market themselves?

A. You must follow a wide variety of living brands in the media every day. Pay attention to people who are giving advice and selling themselves and their services. Every one of those personalities you follow and admire began by searching for and discovering their unique persona and alter ego, and then finding a platform to display them on.

Ralph Lauren started out as Ralph Lipshultz from the Moshulu section of the Bronx selling ties until he realized that there was a market for a brand called Polo. A magnet for masses around the world who wanted to appear associated with the wealthy. Or, Howard Schultz from Brooklyn who believed that people wanted a “third place” other than the house or the office to go for a cup of coffee, a place to relax, or socialize.

You also need to utilize all of the modern marketing tools like flash video, webinars, social media as well as traditional written materials. Most importantly, you need a website to display your unique selling proposition and the products and services you are offering so the world can find you.

Q. Is it worth it to invest so much effort into one’s personal brand?

A. While it is a lot of work, anything that is personally rewarding requires a lot of effort. In the current market, you may not have a choice if you don’t want to get lost in the painful tide of rising expenses and declining wages. I know that you will discover that a little success can be contagious. At least you will be working for yourself and not working solely to contribute to someone else’s success.

The current trends indicate that we are moving more and more toward a work force of contractors where people are becoming service providers instead of employees. More and more Americans are going it alone as consultants and entrepreneurs based on their own skill sets and abilities to leverage all the electronic tools that continue to make it easier and easier to monetize individual talents and personalities.

Q. Who do you admire the most?

A. Aside from everyone’s idol Steve Jobs, I admire Jeff Besos and what he has built with Amazon, but there are so many who are successful, having fun and making money, based purely on their own personal talents.

I guess if the goal is to have fun and make money then why would anyone want to continue to be unhappy not making enough money working for someone else?

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