Photo: A Name Like Shields Can Make You Defensive

Creating a personal brand is exhausting, but potentially rewarding. It requires maintenance on all fronts, social media and IRL. Is it tenable for the average human being?

Branding yourself has become a professional goal for more than just journalists. Today, Fortune 500 companies hold seminars to train their employees in the art of personal branding, and an entire industry of coaches is flourishing to teach nonprofit managers and small-business owners how to get a leg up on the competition. By the year 2020, according to software company Intuit, 40 percent of the workforce will consist of freelancers and independent contractors. Whether you’re a financial planner or a fashion blogger, a personal brand has come to seem like a professional requirement—the key to success and fulfillment in an increasingly cutthroat and unstable economy. “Every person is a media company,” said Dan Schawbel, 32, a brand consultant in New York and one of the leading figures in the personal branding industry. “Anyone can have a platform now, whether you’re a janitor or a CEO.”

Ann Friedman investigates all of this at The New Republic, and decides to undergo her own rebranding. She consults with Karen Leland, president of Sterling Marketing Group.

We struck a deal: Leland, who is based in San Francisco, would walk me through a truncated version of her personal branding services—which she’s been offering for 20 years and normally cost between $25,000 and $75,000 for anywhere from three months to six months or longer…She started with some questions: What do you do? What are the qualities with which you do it? And what is the result or impact?

A personal brand, Leland cautioned me, is “something that you actively have to manage online, offline, in your organization, in your industry, and on social media.” Which means there are dozens of opportunities every day to question whether you’re doing it right. Is this crop top on-brand for a networking happy hour? Is this joke tweet-worthy or something I should merely text to a friend? Is this stupid assignment I accepted in order to make rent detracting from my reputation too much? Life is not always on-brand.

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