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May 26, 2010
What's More Important: Your Services or Your Personality?

My parents' idea of success was to land a job with a great company. It didn't matter what job, as long as it was in the right building. Success came from working for IBM or Western Electric or wherever for the long haul, climbing your way through the ranks and making a name for yourself within its halls.

During the past decade (give or take a few years), that formula for achievement bit the dust. Thanks to a hyperactive market, short-lived businesses, and experimentation, people don't stay in the same place for long. In the late '90s, executives and wannabes began courting the media in ways never seen before. It was, to be blunt, shameless.

The idea was to build a book of stories not only for your business or product, but for yourself as well. There was plenty of money to be spent on talent, and every startup wanted the hottest Web designer, CFO, COO, CMO, and CEO. Workers were hell-bent on creating demand for their talents, knowing the next job was just a phone call away. And how!

Once the market took the deep dive, the "cult of personality" went buh bye.

It was only 10 years ago that the high cult of personality began to wane. Guys like Idealab's Bill Gross, who went through great pains to become household names, soon were the notorious poster boys of the Web's demise -- and everyone who had been a big cult hero was nowhere to be found. The previous publicity frenzy was a bad use of the media. It was never real news, and being in the spotlight ultimately proved to be hazardous to professional health. Thankfully, a smarter, more experienced PR market approach emerged from the lesson of the last five or six years, and you should always keep that in mind when you're pushing yourself out as a brand.

Since everything is cyclical, during the mid-'00s upswing, a push for plain self-promotion swung back into being and clods like the creators of Logo Channel and Mahalo once again felt it was all about them. Today, after the last crash, the mere thought of wasting a reporter's or blogger's time with stories of how great you are is called out as breathless hype -- and when a personality at a public company does it, it's seen as irresponsible. Now only the dullest of business people try that route.

Smart execs and entrepreneurs aren't promoting themselves as big shots anymore; they're using the media and their own blogs to create a profile and thus a market for their services. Demand is no longer centered principally on name recognition. Instead, it's steeped in new types of services and insight. Building media awareness about your business, rather than yourself, is the newest way to drive deals.

And those deals are longer lasting than any bubble.

Twitter @howtofame (link: www.twitter.com/howtofame).

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Richard Laermer is CEO of New York's RLM pr, representing, among others, e-Miles, Epic Advertising, Yodlee, Revolution Money, Group Commerce, Smith & Nephew, and HotChalk. He was host of TLC's cult program Taking Care of Business and speaks on trends and marketing for corporate groups. You can read Laermer on The Huffington Post and on the mischievous but all-too-necessary Bad Pitch Blog. For more like this, follow him on @laermer.

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