A layoff, such as at Dechert today, is never just a reduction-in-force. It is always a symbol and signal to the survivors in the industry. The symbolism is all about red flags. And the signal is all about taking care of Number-One.
The result is often an attempted flight to safety. Since Tom Peters coined the term "Personal Branding," safety seems to default into creating one's strong professional identity. Those who did that, such as Mark Penn guru of Hillary's ill-fated Presidential campaign, did get opportunities that might not come to those who travel their career without an clear high concept.
However, as we're seeing now in the positioning of Penn as Chief Scapegoat for the Hillary downward trajectory, personal branding has its dark side. Because of its power it has to be managed carefully. Too much and a careerist like Penn has a bullseye on him. Too little and there's frustration that the pro doesn't let us know enough about him.
The proven way to avoid the dark end of personal branding is to err on the side of moderating promoting the person. The lion's share of outreach could better be applied to the issues and what can be learned from the success - or even the failure.
That's exactly what the legal players in lead paint litigation, both defense and plaintiff, seem to be doing. Unlike criminal attorney Alan Dershowitz they seem to shun the full glare of the spotlight and allow what the litigation represents in law and public policy take center stage. Legal-watchers opine that Dershowitz's extreme high profile might have become somewhat of a liability.
The same strategy of serving as a platform for the legal issues involved is what the Rhode Island lead paint defendants' public affairs representative Gregg Perry seems to have adopted. His firm Prism Public Affairs, with its headquarters in Washington D.C., has featured the legalities, not even winnings and victories. Perry himself is a presence in this saga and a wonderful source of information and documents but deliberately stays off center stage.
Maintaining the focus on the work and success insights that can be shared prevents the brand identity from hardening into orthodoxy. Neither the lead paint attorneys nor their firms want to be pigeon-holed into that litigation niche. Think how Microsoft is trapped into shrink-wrapped software.
Branding came to be because a smart Chief Executive Officer Neil McElroy at Procter & Gamble realized that a clear product identity for Camay soap would be a pull force both in the marketplace and within marketing at the company. That was 1931. That simplification, which guarantees the same product attributes or consumer experience all the time and allows integrated marketing, worked and works so well that most of us can't think outside the brand box.
The pitfall is that enough of us don't give adequate consideration to not getting stuck in that very box. How to learn to manage personal branding? Observe those who manipulate this tool vs. its manipulating them. Examples? Barack Obama, Paul Newman, Caroline Kennedy, Rupert Murdoch, and Scott Turow.
A basic oldie but goodie read on branding is the 2000 "Branding Leadership" by David A. Aaker and Erich Joachimsthaler.