In today’s fast-paced consumer culture, we are surrounded by brands trying to get our attention. Most of us are able to weed out the clutter and focus on the few we feel are worth it. Like it or not, you too are a brand. But do you ever stop to think about how your professional brand is being examined and therefore the impact it can make on your career?
Whitney Port, former reality TV star whose current titles include CEO, entrepreneur and fashion designer, was recently honored at the LinkedIn Discussion Series in New York City. She shared a variety of powerful tips for creating, growing and maintaining your professional brand.
Port transitioned from a fan favorite on MTV’s reality series “The Hills” to her own show, “The City,” where she learned from industry icons like Diane von Furstenberg. Now CEO and designer of her eponymous fashion line, Port is a master professional brand builder. Using her own experiences in defying misconceptions, overcoming unforeseen challenges and being unwilling to accept “no,” Port offered an inspiring view into the strategies we can all use to create our professional brand:
Be real: You may be surprised to learn that when Port signed on to intern at Teen Vogue, she didn’t know or expect she’d be staring on MTV’s hit reality TV show “The Hills.” What you saw then is who Port is now. While there is definitely some strategy involved in establishing your professional brand, and certainly the goal is to bring the best of you forward, the critical part of the equation is in fact you. If your brand is based upon someone you aren’t, it’s simply too exhausting to maintain. The facade is going to break down in the face of obstacles.
Port parlayed her relatable characteristics that viewers saw on TV – being a good friend, deeply committed to family and a fearless fashion risk taker – into the launch of her clothing line Whitney Eve, which debuted in 2008. With the goal of establishing credibility among fashion industry insiders and consumers alike, Port understands the importance of keeping her brand consistent online. When asked how she leverages her online presence to build her brand, she offers the key to authentic brand-building: “I try to reveal as much as possible on a daily basis to give an inside and honest look on what is going on with my brand.”
Port hits on another reason why it’s critical to be authentic when establishing a professional brand identity: It has to hold up across multiple platforms. The biggest mistake we can make is to be one brand in-person and another online. In today’s economy, the first place potential customers, clients and hiring mangers look for more information about you is online. And the only thing worse than giving an inconsistent message about who you are is giving no message at all.
Port’s presence on LinkedIn is a great example of how to leverage your LinkedIn profile to reflect your professional brand and identity. But you don’t need to have a history in Hollywood to do this. Like Port, show off examples of your work, share your industry-leading opinions and build a network of professional peers and fans. By maximizing the opportunities to illustrate your professional brand on your LinkedIn profile, you increase the chances of getting noticed by potential clients, colleagues and employers.
Prepare to pivot: You’d think with the cache of being a TV personality, it would have been easy for Port to transition into the world of fashion, but that wasn’t the case. “It was definitely a difficult transition becoming a full-time designer and having everyone take me seriously,” she says. Port’s experience is not unlike what the rest of us are likely to experience in the case of a career pivot. It can be difficult for people, colleagues, industry peers and even family to see us in a new light. Expect some pushback. This is where a solid professional brand is essential in terms of standing your ground and outlasting the protest.
Port puts it this way: “Do not take ‘no’ for an answer. You will be faced with a million noes when starting out, but it’s important to stay focused on your goal and not let those noes deter you. It is then the sweet smell of success after those noes that makes it all worthwhile. I get a series of noes and yeses every day of my life. It is an inevitable part of life. Don’t come into this [or any] industry thinking you will be an overnight success. There is just too much competition.”
Decide on your “why”: Getting past the naysayers wasn’t the hardest thing Port had to contend with in her career, and in all likelihood it won’t be yours, either. More often than not, it’s the personal stuff that becomes our professional motivation.
It’s sometimes called the “fetal” or “black hole,” but whatever word you use, it’s a point at which you don’t know if you’re able to go on. It requires, as Port explains it, the decision to show up. When asked about her proudest professional accomplishment, she shared: “Honestly, this is hard, but it’s the decision I’ve made to still show up.”
Port’s father passed away in March of 2013, a few years after helping her launch Whitney Eve. “He was my business partner, my fearless leader and the man I turned to for every question I had. I am proud of myself for simply showing up after his passing. Every day I walk into my office and feel his energy there. Sometimes it’s so physically and emotionally handicapping that I don’t know if I can continue doing it. But we [she and her siblings] did it, and we have shown up.”
Port has leveraged her personal loss and grief into motivation to succeed not just for herself, but for her family. The vast majority of successful people have something more than the mortgage, a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or their personal ego at the core of their drive to achieve. Whatever your “why” is, the more powerfully you understand, define, build a brand around and harness it, the more likely you are to live out your dreams.
What are your experiences in building your professional brand? To learn more about Port’s career insights and professional lessons learned, search for her on LinkedIn and and on follow her.