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Don’t neglect your personal brand

Date: May 5, 2015
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Whether or not you intend it, you are a brand.  Many members of the IP profession spend much of their time helping to protect and develop the brands of their clients or their employers and they fully appreciate the reputation of and the goodwill that attaches to those brands.  However they do not always consider the benefits that can result from marketing themselves effectively to ensure they also stand out from the crowd.

We are all naturally unique and distinctive, which is a great starting point for any brand but it is worthwhile giving some thought to how best to build on that base – how to present yourself and help develop the positive, professional image that will greatly enhance your career prospects.  It is not about creating an artificial veneer but about developing and effectively projecting the positive attributes that you already possess.  In other words, it is about how people remember you and making sure that the impression you create is a favourable one.

Why bother?

Like all brand building it will take some effort.  It may also require a bit of investment to polish you up ready for re-launch!  So is it worth it?

Only you can decide that - perhaps you may be content with your present lot.  If you are happy to rattle along as one of the pack and simply wait for opportunity to seek you out then by all means continue in that way.  Let’s be honest, intellectual property practitioners are pretty well paid and even the more laid back members of the fraternity are likely to enjoy a reasonable standard of living without troubling themselves too much with career planning or personal development.
However those who are prepared to push themselves a little harder and occasionally take a carefully calculated step can greatly enhance their career prospects and may enjoy far greater rewards and self-fulfilment.  If you are ambitious and wish to achieve a leadership position then it is especially important to pay attention to your personal branding in the increasingly competitive world of intellectual property law. 

A person with a strong personal brand will not only have a better chance of securing attractive new employment offers and of catching the eye of head-hunters but is likely to be someone who others will wish to work alongside.  They will also be in a stronger position to retain their present job and to be considered for internal promotion ahead of others who have not taken the same trouble to cultivate their personal reputation and demonstrate how they add value for their current employer.

How to begin? 

Firstly, take a critical look at yourself.  Appearances matter and are a powerful factor in creating that all-important first impression.  All brands need to refresh themselves from time to time so could a few new items for your wardrobe or some additional personal grooming be helpful for your presentation? 

All brands need feedback to keep them on track and personal brands are no exception so do seek views from those you trust on this and on other aspects of your current professional image and reputation.  Remember that constructive criticism is well meant and it can be the most valuable advice of all.

Think about other basics that may affect how others perceive you.  Walk positively in to a room - don’t slouch in with your hands in your pockets.  When you greet people shake hands confidently, look them in the eye and speak clearly.  Be prepared – for example, have your business card readily accessible if you are meeting someone for the first time, to avoid an embarrassing delay while you fumble in pockets or your bag to retrieve a dog-eared card that bears an outdated telephone number!  Focus fully on the person you are talking to and try to leave your mobile phone alone.  Make it your priority to learn more about them by asking intelligent questions that are not too personal or intrusive - and remember what they tell you about themselves for next time you meet so they are in no doubt that you consider them to be important.

Consider some new and interesting reading material (not just the obligatory patent or trade mark case reports, journals and legal textbooks) that will enhance your capacity to conduct an informed, stimulating and wide-ranging discussion with those that you meet.  Avoid being seen as someone who is always complaining or who is over-critical of others; you can never be sure that your opinion is shared by those you are speaking with and it is generally better to come across as someone with a positive and optimistic outlook.  Also, don’t overstay your welcome with people who may wish to network with others attending the event – watch out for warning signs, such as them looking over your shoulder or hints in their conversation that they are ready to move on and make it easy for them to do so.

Perhaps some further training or education would beef up your CV and improve both your confidence and your image.  The world of work is developing more rapidly than ever before so do not rest on your existing qualifications and instead consider adding new skills on a fairly regular basis.  Don’t only think about further intellectual property or legal qualifications; also consider additional personal or management skills such as time management, effective delegation or gaining a better understanding of e-commerce and how the internet works.

Brands need to be distinctive and be visible but this does not mean that you need to be an attention seeker or be ‘loud’ in order to be noticed.  Try to cultivate a persona that blends your existing competencies and experience with desirable attributes such as wanting to continue with your personal development or having an interest in giving something back to the profession or wider society.

Raise your professional profile but don’t get carried away on an ego trip or be tempted to brag.  Speak at conferences, write articles, serve on committees, take up tutoring opportunities – be seen to lead opinion in your field and don’t simply turn up for meetings but always come well prepared, having read the paperwork and armed with innovative ideas for achieving the goals of the body.  
Use social media, especially LinkedIn, to raise your professional profile by posting good quality material and by participating in discussions but do heed the risks described below.  Be prepared to defend your opinions.  To maintain your credibility be a consistent contributor rather than someone who is inactive for lengthy spells before suddenly reviving your interest when you are in active job hunting mode.  Remember to always keep your personal profiles up to date.

Consider whether you might benefit from having a mentor to bring a new perspective to how you develop your personal brand, even if you are already well advanced with your career.  Someone outside of your own line management, who has already achieved the status that you aspire to, is ideal so that you can benefit from all the hard learning that they will have experienced along the way and the different perspective that they will bring.  Senior members of the intellectual property profession are likely to be flattered if you politely approach them to help you plan and develop your own career in this way.  You may also benefit from offering your services to mentor others, learning more about yourself as you proceed and it will certainly raise your reputation with your mentee and with their own group of friends and professional contacts.

What should you avoid?

Stop being a creature of habit and learn how to network effectively.  For example, at a conference or reception don’t always gravitate to your usual friends but make a positive effort to always meet one or two people you do not already know.  If you think that the new contact may be able to positively influence your career in some way then do not rush in; be patient in developing your relationship and try to be subtle in how you approach the subject of them helping you, to avoid putting them in an embarrassing position if they do not feel able to assist at this time.

Treat social media with care.  They are great networking tools and channels such as LinkedIn can be tremendously effective if used properly but social media also have the power to rapidly and severely damage your personal reputation.  Don’t tweet just for the sake of it, think carefully about what you say and try to make it a worthwhile contribution to any discussion thread.  You should also make sure each published comment or article is consistent with your overall strategic vision for how you wish to be perceived by your peers.

Ill-judged comments or photographs can come back to bite you as increasingly potential employers (and your current boss too!) may check your profile on social media and on the internet.  They will inevitably perceive you differently once they have an image in their minds of you in a dishevelled state after an over-exuberant celebration of someone’s birthday or forthcoming wedding!  That is not to say that having a ‘fun personality’ is negative for your personal brand image but do try to consider the longer term implications of anything that you or your friends upload about you.  If you become aware of something that you would prefer was not readily accessible do investigate whether it is possible to get the posting removed.

Perhaps most importantly, be genuine and do not try to create a falsely positive facade.  Always act with integrity and try to treat everyone with respect regardless of the circumstances.  Just like a commercial brand, how you interact with others will reflect upon you and influence the opinion that is formed about you.  No matter how junior someone may be or how bad a day you have had, your reputation will suffer if you are inconsiderate towards them.  Others will notice or hear about poor behaviour and that has never enhanced anybody’s personal brand - so ensure that only good things are said about yours!


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