Building Your Personal Brand Name

In almost every specialty, there are one or two people who, when their names are mentioned, most hiring authorities recognize them as premier players. They have established themselves as “brand names.” Sometimes they are associated with a firm name; sometimes they are just recognized for themselves.These are usually people who have done a great job of marketing themselves and their personal image. They are recognized as people of influence movers and shakers people who are advantageous to know.Mention to any major company CEO names like Gerard Roche or Tom Neff and odds are that they will know that these are powerful leaders with Heidrick & Struggles and SpencerStuart. Most would also hope that people like Gerard and Tom know about them as well. They have done a marketing job.Guess who comes to mind first when a plum search assignment is on the table? If someone wants a cola drink, are they more likely to think first of Pepsi Cola or Coca-Cola or do you really think they they’ll be happy with a can, bottle or glass of King Cola? King Cola may be very good but you’re not likely to find it on many menus or store shelves.So how do you move yourself from being a periodic transactor to a trusted advisor?An exampleBecause St. Louis was home base to a good many Fortune 500 companies during the 1960’s, many of the world’s largest advertising agencies had a major presence there. Everyone in the “employment agency” business wanted some of their lucrative talent business and everyone tried everything they could to get that business. No one succeeded except one lady named Rett Rite. When they needed someone, they automatically called Rett, a salty old gal who knew everyone who mattered in the advertising business and if you wanted to thrive and move up in the ad business you’d better make sure she knew you. She knew where all the skeletons were buried, which accounts were about to be switched (or lost), who in the business was about to leave their ad agency, who was great and who was a wannabe and all the subterranean details known only to the insiders.Establishing a brand for yourself is nothing more than creating an image an identity that sets you apart from your competitors and makes you unique.It is not a mastery of scripts and rebuttals although that’s a good foundation. It’s not necessarily being more flamboyant than others because some of the mavens we’ve met were anything but colorful characters.Nor can an individual event or occurrence turn a run-of-the-miller into a trusted guru. It is a long, arduous and on-going process, the fabric of which contains threads from a wide variety of spools and bobbins before becoming a quilt of respectability known as your “brand.”Let’s look at a few:Business development is an ongoing process. Trolling for job orders and sendouts via the “cold call” is just one factor in the overall equation. Almost everyone needs to start somewhere and this is usually the place. Business development can be direct or indirect. The cold-call is the best example of the direct method. After all, everyone has to start somewhere.We categorize direct methods as those in which you are in direct contact with someone who may be in a position to hire your candidate (or a similar one) and pay you a fee for doing so.These methods hope to elicit a linear response resulting in an interview. Of course, one can also mount an email campaign, spamming everyone on your Email list but almost everyone agrees that that is a futile waste of time. Employers hate it and candidates frequently find it very distasteful.Aside from these, most techniques are indi?rect, more akin to true marketing with the ulti?mate purposes of (1) gaining positive recognition for your activities; (2) properly positioning yourself as a valuable provider of services to your target audience; (3) establishing a cohesive identity and informing potential clients of your capabilities and performance standards; (4) increasing the acceptance of the firm you work for to make it easier for you to operate on a day-to-day basis; and (5) creating in the minds of potential users an intrinsic value to be gained by doing business with you.This sign should be duplicated and placed by your desk. It always surprises us that so few consultants go back to the well where they’ve just had a sweet and satisfying drink. Who, after all, is a more receptive customer than the one for whom you’ve just solved a problem?We once saw a bumper sticker on a consultant’s office wall that read:


Too many people in our business have the feeling that they are “putting something over on someone. So much money for so little work.” Yet, anyone with more than a few months in our business understands the value we can add to the selective hiring process. But making yourself the “go to” person within your niche requires much more according to those who have achieved name brand status.

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  • Have you called all the companies in your existing sphere of influence lately? No point in reinventing the wheel if you’ve already got the spokes in place.
  • Have you contacted placed candidates to see how they’re doing? Besides being a good business practice, maybe they are a hiring authority now. Or maybe their department is understaffed and looking. Could be they have equally-qualified colleagues who are looking for better opportunities. Properly approached, they can provide great leads.
  • Have you tried the “I’d like your advice on where an exceptional candidate like mine might fit in” strategy? People love to give advice when the situation is non-confrontational. And who knows, they may end up interested in your candidate. If not, recommendations from them about who and where to call can be much more effective if the follow-up call is at the suggestion of a respected peer.
  • Have you checked references on your candidates lately? Skip the cursory checks with Human Resources. They’re primed to give you nothing but name, rank and serial number, but properly performed reference checks put you in touch with hiring managers and these contact can be very positive in building an image of competence.
  • Don’t neglect companies who are in the news because they are laying people off. Layoffs in one department don’t necessary mean layoffs across the board. A top executive with one firm who makes the news with regularity because of massive layoffs told us that entry into a new corporate endeavor would create dozens of unique and highly-paid new positions for which they intended to use search firms. “Can you imagine the P.R. problems that would result if we advertised heavily for new people when the front pages are full of layoff news for thousands of our employee?” he asked. “Besides, the types of people we need for our new division aren’t reading help wanted ads.”
  • Have you thought about trying to convert your better (but non-exclusive) clients to “preferred provider” agreements? Becoming their favorite selected search professional can pay big dividends and locks you into a longer-term relationship, eliminating the need to continually stroke them for new business.

But what else can you do to make your mark… to make companies want to call you when staffing needs arise?It is almost an established norm that, once you’ve selected your attorney… or doctor… or accountant, you stick with them. You don’t shop around for a new professional practitioner each time a new problem arises in your legal, healthcare or financial life. The optimum results of your marketing efforts should produce the same rewarding aftermath. Your clients should say, “Of course there are a lot of charlatans and sharp?shooters in the recruiting business, but this guy (or gal) is different.” Your marketing program should subtly and subliminally set you philosophically apart from the way your competition is viewed.As our business changes (and becomes more accepted, essential and reputable) and as the state of the communications art advances, so must the approaches in implementing your marketing programs – those indirect facets which will round out the process necessary to become a successful, effective and sought-after pacesetter with whom companies like to associate.Far too many think of marketing as a one-time promotional gimmick, a slick ad in a trade publication or a P.R. release in a local newspaper. While these may be effective for temporarily luring prospects, they won’t serve you well to attract long-term clients. As we pointed out earlier, client development is a process, not an event. It is a system that must be repetitively and routinely maintained and monitored to determine its effectiveness.Ours is a business filled with uncontrollables. The objective of a well-conceived and continually executed marketing campaign is to help you to exert some control and minimize uncertainties over the uncontrollable elements of our business.KNOWING WHAT BUSINESS YOU ARE INNo one can effectively be all things to all people. Marketing can only succeed when you know what you want to accomplish. This requires a necessary narrowing of your attention to a well-defined focus… a spotlight with a well-defined target group of players to be influenced by your marketing activities.Whether it’s a horizontal market, or a vertical one; whether it’s an industry specialty or an occupational discipline, isolate it, analyze it and attack it with a complete and thorough knowledge of who they are, what they need, and how you can provide it for them.WHAT DO YOU NEED TO ACCOMPLISH?We assume that every marketing or brand management program is designed to increase revenues (although we’ve seen many ego-stroking programs that had no possibility of achieving this aim). A marketing program must identify and recognize those things that have been roadblocks to you so far. How can you become their preferred “brand?”These can be:External – (nature of the selected market focus, the economy, bad experiences with other recruiters, extent and influence of competition, familiarity of potential clients with what we do, etc.);Organizational – (too little time, too few of the right people, too little support, scarce finances, bad track record, etc.); andPersonal (poor skills, poor reputation, low comfort level, other interests/distractions, etc.)All of these things must be considered if your goal is to become the person who comes to mind when a potential client has a need for your particular services. How is this accomplished? Through a number of methods, many of which overlap.PUBLIC RELATIONSThe first (and most logical) is public relations. Someone once said, “You can take out a full-page ad telling everyone how good you are, but it’s not nearly as effective as a two-inch article in the business pages where someone else tells how good you are. Fortune magazine stated it this way: “Good public relations is good performance publicly appreciated.”Public relations can be expressed in a very simple formula: X + Y = Z. The ‘Z’ is our objective … good public relations and the benefits that accrue from them. ‘X’ is performance (doing a good job and getting recognized for it). ‘Y’ is the process of communicating ‘X’ in the right way… telling people what you do … why you do it … and how important it is. It is earned recognition.PR blurbs are easy to get, but one by each, they have very little impact. Collected in scrapbook form, however, they can be a useful tool through their cumulative effect to persuade potential clients that you are a ‘somebody’ in the industry. Great for a show-and-tell book.Get into the habit of sending periodic news releases to the media. Always include a photo. It will increase the odds of it getting printed, but be sure it is a professionally done photograph. Don’t depend on a family member with a photography hobby.Position yourself with the print and broadcast media as an industry expert. Ours is a business that attracts a lot of attention. Even though a good portion of it is negative, reporters are always looking for someone to counterbalance with a positive input. Make them aware of your availability to comment. Be willing to be their “insider” contact. These contacts can often be the catalyst for feature stories about you and your contribution to the industry.PROVIDE INFORMATIONAL SERVICESNewsletters are an exceptional way to keep your name in front of clients and prospects. There are a few “canned” or “syndicated” newsletter products (pre-written, but with your name on the masthead) that provide for a regular circulation of your name to people with whom you wish to do business but these are normally better for the firm than the individual.Another more personalized way is to clip items of interest to clients and prospects from newspapers and trade journals, keeping them in a file until you have enough to photocopy a couple of pages. Then send this to prospects with a short Post-it note telling them you thought they might find it interesting. This more personalized approach is less expensive and more effective. It indicates your concern for the client or prospect and that you care. Faxing it often increases the impact. Don’t use Email for this task. It’s too easily lost in the chaos.Conducting surveys is a good way to keep in touch without pushing for sendouts or immediate business. These can be done by mail or phone and the topic of the survey should be of some interest to the people you are trying to influence. Survey results should be sent directly to clients and prospects as well as to the major news media and trade publications serving your specialty. They love to pick up bits and blurbs and can greatly enhance your image and credibility as an insider source. If your candidate files are up-to-date, even they can often supply you with enough salary information to put together a credible and newsworthy survey.Many have found trade publications and features editors to be receptive to articles concerning the industry. A by-lined article in a trade publication or a business or feature section article about your firm is publicity which can’t be bought at any price. Don’t be afraid of sending articles to trade publications. They have a monthly need to fill space and welcome submissions from any trustworthy source.Preparation of an industry article is the perfect time with the perfect reason to contact influential prospects for their reactions, quotes or comments. They’ll be flattered you asked. Then make sure you send them a copy of the article containing their name. They’ll assume that you are also intimately involved with other important people you might quote. Call them later to find out if they’ve had any feedback from their comments and to subtly pursue your business agenda with them. They’ll be far more receptive.Others have had success in writing a regular industry-oriented column for a local general circulation or specialty niche newspaper or magazine. Elder statesman and long-time practitioner Grant Cooper wrote a weekly column for the St. Louis Business Journal. Although it was applicant-oriented, this weekly exposure in the community’s premier and most widely-read business journal made him an instantly recognizable industry star and, according to him, greatly increased his business.Selling your capability as the search professional of choice is almost synonymous with your ability to make persuasive presentations and communicate convincingly. Select those business and professional organizations within your sphere of influence and offer your services as a speaker. Executive search and placement is still a somewhat mysterious and enigmatic business for the civilians of the world. Make your willingness and availability known to the chambers of commerce, speaker’s bureaus and other business-oriented groups, including the chapter of your local human resources organization.When speaking to groups, it is inadvisable to have a stack of brochures available for attendees to pick up because you lose control. Instead, during your speech, offer to send something of value (a survey, report, etc.) to those who will sign a log sheet or leave a business card. That way you can control the follow-up to your advantage.Invitation-only seminars and symposiums can be useful business image builders as long as they transmit information to your invited constituency by believable and influential people and are not used as an opportunity to hot box them into giving you an assignment. It’s a service to their informational health and well-being. They’re not likely to forget who provided this service when time comes to dole out business.WORD PROCESS YOUR WAY TO SUCCESSIn this era of the word processor, there is absolutely no excuse for sending correspondence of any kind addressed “Dear Prospective Client” or the like. We receive solicitations like this on almost a daily basis, usually with a sophomoric, poorly written message printed on a pulpy grade of card stock. The impression left by these mass mail pieces is worse than if none were sent at all. Imagine the negative impression made by a “professional” trying to solicit a $20, $30 or $40,000 fee with a chintzy mailer.If the object is to get your name remembered, it works … but not the way you might wish.Invest in a graphic designer’s services. Have them create matching letterheads, envelopes, business cards and other printed materials. Develop a theme of traditional class and quality.When writing prospecting letters, personalize your approach with the recipients name as well as a variable paragraph about the recipient’s company. This will require some basic research as to how you perceive their needs and think you can help them. An opener like, “I specialize in mid to upper level professionals in the glue and resin field . . . lets them know you are using a rifle rather than a shotgun.Be certain you are writing to the right person. Usually, the higher the better. If you’ll have to end up doing business with human resource people, your reception will be much better if bumped down by the C.E.O. or another senior level hiring authority.When you read about a new appointment or promotion within your area of specialization, send a congratulatory letter, telling the recipient that you specialize in their area of activity. Offer to be their eyes and ears. Offer to be their insider confidant. Let them know you can help them with their staffing problems, should the need arise. And, it never hurts to follow up with a phone call.Enclose a personal bio with all correspondence, but be sure it appropriately represents you with a professional format in which you have pride.A final note on letter-writing: A P.S. on a letter is almost always read. A handwritten P.S. is always read.BROCHURESOur industry is obsessed with the use of brochures. Alone, they rarely produce business, but they are a necessary adjunct and “leave-behind” for any person or firm wanting to be remembered as a viable player when business does come up.They come in all sizes and shapes. Some are great, some horrible. We make few recommendations about the style of your brochure, but again propose that the same designer who creates your letterhead, designs your brochure to ensure continuity of your image. If competent, they should also design your website.The purpose is simple: to tell readers who you are, where you work and what you do. If you wish to spotlight certain things about your personal accomplishments, have your employer design their brochure with a pocket so the inserts about your qualifications and the various capabilities your firm might handle can be interchangeable. Avoid jargon and keep it readable. Have several people outside your business test it for readability. What is crystal-clear to you may not be so clear to your potential client. A die-cut for your business card keeps this important item from getting lost or separated from your message.Don’t use terms like “The best” or “The only” because they generally aren’t true and demean you and your firm by subliminally trying to depreciate your competition.Oversized brochures which won’t fit into a file drawer are normally discarded. Undersized ones get lost. A tab which sticks out above others in a file drawer is helpful.Don’t be cute. While it needn’t look like a funeral director’s brochure, it should be a serious and conservative attempt to highlight your mission and why you are unique. No one wants to hire a clown for an important and expensive assignment.We recommend against printing fee schedules on your brochure. A recitation of the 1% per $1,000 formula or a graph showing fees from X% to your top percentage, labels you as a low-level placer, not a high-level recruiter. Unless you place people at salaries lower than $30,000, you have one fee… period.Don’t use words like “pre-screened” or “qualified candidates.” These presume you reference check and can come back to haunt you if an impostor slips by you. Besides, isn’t it assumed that you won’t send un-screened or un-qualified people?Don’t dwell on techniques or projected timetables. Recipes are for you to know and them to pay for. Too much detail diminishes the need for your services. And don’t make promises in your brochure you can’t realistically keep.PERSONAL VISITSNothing is more potent as a solidifier of your personal brand than the personal client visit. No matter how you get to this stage (cold-call, candidate marketing, follow-up on a letter or personal meeting, etc.) it provides you with an opportunity to transform a faceless telephone relationship into a more meaningful face-to-face alliance. It is far easier to assess a company’s personality and culture in person than to have to guess at the realities or depend on another’s perceptions. You have a “leg up” on the com?petitor whose knowledge is gained only from phone conversations.One big biller told us that he tries to personally visit two new firms a week; one breakfast meeting and one lunch date. He normally sets these up a week in advance. This gives him a chance to research the firm and suggest possible areas where he might be of some assistance to the firm. But he does not use these opportunities to push his own cause. Instead, he asks for advice on a topic he thinks they may know about. He knows that, sooner or later, they’ll bring the conversation around to what he wanted in the first place.He has visited with over 500 firms in his career, is known by almost everyone and gets more unsolicited business than most practitioners get on purpose.If you work a specialty where the majority of your clients and prospects are out of town, this is not a feasible approach, but one Midwestern searcher, specializing in the pharmaceutical industry, takes three weeks a year to visit the out-of-town movers and shakers that provide his business.Most managers with larger firms don’t feel there is a benefit to these personal visits for their consultants. They feel that more can be accomplished by dialing for dollars than time-consuming visitations. In some cases they’re right; in many cases they’re not. Rookies are generally better off staying in the office until they know what business they’re really in, but sooner or later it may become awkward for them to turn down employer visits with continuing clients.Although not as effective as a personal plant site visit, inviting an employer to your office can go a long way towards establishing further rapport, assuming your office is worth visiting. Well-known speaker, trainer and premier practitioner Jeff Skrentny, CPC/CTS wrote extensively about client visits in The Fordyce Letter (4/02 & 5/02). We suggest you revisit these articles. If you want reprints of them via Email, please make your request to and ask for “Client Visits.”BE A JOINERGerry Roche, the chairman and superstar biller of Heidrick & Struggles once said that everything he did was tax deductible because everyone he meets is either a client, prospect or potential candidate.If marketing is a process rather than an event, part of that process is to become involved, through clubs, associations, charitable and civic organizations, etc. with those people whose business attention you need to attract. This doesn’t mean that you become a meeting junkie for the purposes of chasing business. You join to become a part of the group in which you wish to function. Insiders usually get the business; outsiders rarely do.Just joining, however, isn’t enough. You must become a participant, a contributor, a worker and a full-fledged member viewed as one who is advancing the cause for all; not just your own business agenda.Be sure your name is properly listed in any association directories with phone and fax numbers as well as Email and website locations.TRADE SHOWSMost industries are served by one or more associations and those associations’ number one money-makers are their annual trade shows. You should become a dues-paying member, but even if you aren’t, we recommend that you attend these functions since they attract the important people within their (and your) constituency.They are also the focal point for learning about new companies, new products, new players and those peripheral firms who may have a stake in the industry or an interest in doing business with your firm. Sponsoring cocktail parties, continental breakfasts, seminars and other events can also get you recognition among the pacesetters, movers and shakers in an industry.Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is to lay your hands on the list of attendees as well as the show directory of exhibitors. Some are quite detailed and can provide a valid reason for a follow-up phone call to those you didn’t meet personally.WHO SHOULD EXECUTE THE PLAN?Certainly, you should devise the program in some detail. While the timing of many of the optimum results to be generated are uncontrollable, since they are affected by forces beyond your power to influence, the effort should be a continuous one.Once the blueprint is in place, with identifiable and reachable goals, the execution can be accomplished with research or administrative assistants. You will be tempted to get as many letters out as possible in a short period of time. Resist that temptation. Remember that letters and other marketing stratagems should be followed up with thoughtfully scripted and constructive phone calls designed to take you to the next stage in the relationship. Your program is designed to support your desire to become well known to influential members of your market. It can be done by part-timers.Let us re-emphasize: Never forget that your best prospects are existing clients. Never neglect a known quantity to go fishing in uncharted waters.Almost all long-term client relationships started with just one assignment. Avoid verbiage about discounts for multiple opening assignments or such devices as “20% off on the first assignment” as a come-on. You’re selling professional services, not toasters. Coupons or other discount tactics cheapen your image. Your best shot at continuing business is doing an exemplary job on the first assignment.Business development and creating your brand is not a one-shot affair. If your initial efforts don’t bring dramatic results, don’t despair or abandon your program. Just remember that “brand loyalty” is basically an emotional response an attachment based upon what you stand for and the fact that you provide great value despite the fact that you may cost more. King Cola, anyone?

Paul Hawkinson is the editor of The Fordyce Letter, a publication for third-party recruiters that's part of ERE Media. He entered the personnel consulting industry in the late 1950's and began publishing for the industry in the 1970's. During his tenure as a practitioner, he personally billed over $5 million in both contingency and retainer assignments. He formed the Kimberly Organization and purchased The Fordyce Letter in 1980.


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