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In a rainy Wednesday morning, Lisa Ellis, executive vice president at Sony Music Label Group, sits in the back of a New York City taxicab with cell phone in hand. A colleague from the label’s publicity department patches in a scheduled phone interview and Ellis, 36, a member of BLACK ENTERPRISE’s Hot List, eases into it as if she is speaking to an old friend. This day promises to be just as busy as the day before.
Last night, back-to-back meetings had Ellis up until midnight. But it’s all in a day’s work for this exec in charge of label strategy, artist development, and digital business for future music distribution at the recording label. It hasn’t been an easy progression toward gaining the status she currently enjoys, but like so many ambitious professionals, Ellis established her reputation through hard work, integrity, determination, commitment, and “stick-to-it-iveness.” She calls this mix of character traits her personal brand, which has effectively helped her earn four new titles in four years.
Personal branding has become an important strategy for career advancement. But what exactly is a personal brand and how do you make it work for you?
Professionals should understand that branding is not creating a magical perception of who you are, explains William Arruda, president of Reach Personal Branding, a personal branding company. “It’s not spin. It’s not packaging. It’s really about understanding who you are and what makes you great and then using that to increase your success.” Personal branding is much like corporate branding in that a name–in this case, your name–is associated with good performance. Your brand is a promise of the value others will receive when, for example, you are recruited as a team member, hired from another company, or promoted from middle management to the executive suite.
“So your intentions in branding have to be about having integrity in your job first and foremost,” Ellis says. “It’s not just about sticking out, being unique, or being the smartest person in the room. You have to do good work; the work speaks for who you are.”
Arruda says building a good professional reputation takes time, sometimes six months or longer depending on the individual. But it also requires effort. These are steps to get your brand moving:
What makes you different? There may be many others at your company who perform tasks similar to yours. What makes you unique? The manner in which you perform your tasks makes all the difference in how you are viewed.
Ask for feedback about your performance. “[What] people don’t realize is they already have a brand,” Arruda says. “The question is, is that brand working for you or not?” Ask colleagues, networking contacts, managers, fellow employees, and clients for feedback.
Gain credibility by creating visibility. Executives who can influence your career have to be aware of your brand. Vance Caesar, founder and owner of the leadership coaching firm The Vance Caesar Group, says, “The influential are the people between where you are and where you want to be” Arruda suggests