PR19 There You Go Again: The Pitfalls of Imitating Someone Else’s Personal Brand (or Talking about Someone Else’s)
I heard a really funny, yet somewhat disturbing, story today. It comes from a woman I know, and it really is a great example of how not to do a personal brand. This woman owns a small public relations agency, and handles a myriad of clients. Business must be good, because she’s been out this week trying to hire two new employees – an accounts director and an artist. Because she lives in a typical American metropolis – downsizing at the local newspaper, movement of some of the big firms to New York – these jobs are hungrily hunted by prospective clients, one of whom cornered her today at a downtown restaurant. The job hunter was one of those ingratiating people, my friend said – one of those people who flatters mercilessly. In the middle of my friend’s client lunch meeting, this Hungry Hunter launched into a sales pitch, with herself as the product. She pressed upon my friend a business card and, shaking the hand of the client as if she were a natural intrusion on this meeting, left the restaurant. Well. Who would not be interested – if not a bit horrified – by such a performance? When my friend had feted and dispatched her client, she headed back to her office and Googled the Hungry Hunter. The first thing she found was her personal Web site. Oh, the hunter knew all the reasons to perfect her personal brand. She owns a small, but apparently not successful, public relations agency. The site was a little overblown, as is sometimes the case for people with more aspiration than credibility. However…something sounded remarkably familiar to her. The language on the Web site was full of amazing insight and a remarkably attractive company philosophy. And when my friend then Googled this language after scraping it from the Hungry Hunter’s site, she found it yet again – on the homepage of one of the largest and most prestigious public relations agencies in the world. There is was, word for word. Why had it sounded familiar? Because my friend, prior to perfecting her own personal brand and hanging out her own shingle, had been one of that company’s senior executives. Not only did she know that language by heart, but she had helped to write it, more than 10 years ago. It’s one of those stable companies, you see, that prides itself on stability as well as creativity. Strike one. The second strike – and in all fairness, I must say that a man might not have made this a strike, but my friend is a woman, and one of those women who gets annoyed when women lie about their age or try to impede in any way the integrity of women past the age of 25 – was the fact that the Hungry Hunter had placed on her Web site, as her representation of herself, a photo that was at least 10 years old. Aside from the silly 1990s hairstyle, my friend said that this photo incident was yet another indication of the Hungry Hunter’s ability to bypass the truth.
The third strike, however, was a doozy. It superseded plagiarism and ageism in a breathtaking sweep – and this was the story with which my friend called me, laughing and outraged at the same time. Apparently the Hungry Hunter and my friend had gone after the same account once in a bid process that included both financial requirements and a demonstration of experience and ability. My friend had won the bid. And on her blog, the Hungry Hunter had vociferously blasted my friend – her capabilities, her experience, even her looks! The post was old – about two years – but it was still there. And it was not a pretty thing! The Hungry Hunter lost any chance of getting a job. I would also imagine that she’s lost any chance of getting a job from any of my friend’s colleagues. This job hopeful ruined her chances first by stealing a corporate brand as her own, and then behaving abominably in a public place. A good lesson for anyone who wants to take short cuts, or feels like letting a little steam off in public.