Alumni Column: Build-a-Brand



Christopher Wolyniak

Imagine if you approached a major movie studio and asked for $500 million to produce a three hour movie which would tell the story of nine foot blue beings which lived on a far away planet and where humans are the bad guys. Chances are most of us would get a fairly quick “no” response. However, James Cameron, having not directed a movie in over ten years, was able to successfully fund the project, complete his movie Avatar and make over $1.5 billion.

How was he able to convince not only the studio to fund the project but millions of movie-goers as well to spend upwards of $18 to see the movie in 3-D? Granted, the extensive marketing done played a role, but Cameron’s reputation was a key ingredient. Why else would his name be so closely attached? His last movie, Titanic, made over one billion dollars worldwide, not to mention his previous movies had been box-office successes as well. In short, he had established himself as a personal brand, one which turns out movies which are not only entertaining and innovative, but which are also fairly bankable when it comes to the all important (for the movie business) financial bottom line.

Regardless of what career field you enter, you will find your own personal brand being established. You will have your own unique combination of education, skills, personality and other attributes which all contribute to your brand. While the concept of a “personal brand” may be fairly recent, I see it as simply establishing yourself among your peers and building a solid reputation in the workplace.

There are millions of webpages devoted to a discussion on how to “manage your personal brand” (roughly 113 million found on a Google search). However, I would argue that if you focus on work performance and relationships, your brand will naturally evolve. By doing high quality work and becoming an important part of the organization, you will build trust and reputation among the people you work with.

Whatever term you use, (personal brand, reputation), it is important that you establish yourself and continue to be consistent over the years and always strive for improvement. Remember, you can always damage a well-earned reputation (just the evening news for the latest scandal or mistake).

To use an example closer to the Colgate campus, think of any number of well-regarded Professors. I would venture to guess that if any of them were to schedule a reading of the phone book, they would still fill the Chapel.

However, they might want to consider the impact on their brand or reputation if people were disappointed by a dull phone book reading.

Despite the volumes which have been written on the subject, it mostly boils down to simple common sense. Every career area is a bit different, but we can all establish ourselves over time by creating a solid track record. Your past may not be movies which have made over $500 million, but your reputation and brand will still play a significant part in succeeding in any field. While your employer may sometimes change, your brand will remain constant.