Why this author wants you to judge her book by its cover: The personal branding behind book iconography

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This summer, we’ve shined a light on some of the biggest literary brands and discovered just how often an author’s own personal brand is deeply embedded in their work. In this guest post, we see an extraordinary example of just that. Author Emma Champion shares the journey behind branding her trilogy, which was born out of a lifetime of various influences and inspiration. Here she talks about her  the collection of deeply personal experiences and the passion that shaped the iconography of her book Taiden’s Truth, and how it proved to be an intimate reflection of her own personal brand.

Here’s Emma:

In the corporate world, when applying for jobs, people are advised to think of themselves as a ‘brand’; to market themselves like a desirable product. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that some people have even created their own, personal logos, which they put on their CVs.

Whilst, to some, this might seem like overkill, it’s actually rather clever. If your resumé is one of several on the consideration pile, you want to stand out amongst the standard, monochrome bullet-point lists. Just like any other piece of written text, you want to draw your reader in, spark interest, create intrigue. Like the cover of a book, it has to give an impression of the content, and appeal to its audience.

They do say never to judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. The cover depicts the brand of the book or book series.

Being a bit of a movie geek, I tend to think in terms of film. Movie franchises such as Harry Potter, The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games all have their own unique visuals – familiar title fonts, characteristic colours and symbols. With just a passing glimpse, their identities are subliminal. Even if it’s in another language – you see it, you recognise it, and you know what it is.

That is what I set out to achieve with my own book series, The TAIDEN Trilogy. The cover is the first port of call in terms of book promotion. It’s the poster for your ‘movie’, illustrating the brand of your ‘franchise’. For those reasons, I wanted a symbol – a trademark – that people could see and instantly connect with. Additionally, I wanted it to come from a place deep within myself, just as the story itself had done. And so, I began to build my ‘brand’.

The Beatrix Potter Effect

I always had a clear picture in my head of what my novel was going to be. In terms of the story, sure – I’ve always known the story of the full trilogy (yes, Folks – I know how it ends); but also, in terms of designing the overall image of the Taiden books. I sought to conceive something that would be instantly recognisable at a glance. For that, I knew I had to come up with something enduring and iconic; but where does one start in conjuring such things?

First, I turned to my all-time literary heroine, Beatrix Potter. Okay, I don’t write illustrated, children’s story books. However, she and I share similar traits in terms of our creative vision. For example, when she was finally granted a publishing contract with Frederick Warne & Co. in 1902, she was adamant that the books be a particular size, and that the illustrations appear in black and white. She even mocked up a sample, hand-binding it to show them what she wanted.

Luckily for all of us, the Warnes managed to persuade Ms. Potter to have some of the pictures printed in colour. However, the point is, she had a distinct vision, not only of the story she wanted to tell, but of how the book would look on a shelf and feel in the little hands of her young readers.

Photo: an antique edition of ‘Peter Rabbit’s Race Game’.

Potter also had a clear understanding of her ‘brand’ and how she wanted to promote it. She pioneered plush toys of her characters and illustrated board games that children could play based on her stories. That kind of merchandising was a very new concept in the early twentieth century. With a history in the field of marketing myself, I completely connect to Potter’s mindset. I, myself, had a Taiden T-shirt made as an experiment in merchandising.

Sources of Inspiration

Similar to Beatrix. I could see my book’s cover as clear as a photograph in my mind. I envisioned dark green, grained leather, with a symbol embossed into the surface, and bold, gold lettering. This was inspired by Beatrix Potter’s own journals (an homage, of sorts, to my hero), as well as a beloved copy of Black Beauty that my Dad bought me when I was twelve years old, on the day I met my new-born brother, Terrence, for the first time.

Left: Emma Champion’s personal copy of Beatrix Potter’s Journals. Right: Emma’s childhood copy of Black Beauty, that her father bought her when she was twelve.

I did appreciate that the likelihood of a real leather cover was perhaps a bit too ambitious for a first edition, not to mention a first-time author. So, I settled upon the idea of creating the illusion of embossed leather. If gold foil lettering was not possible, I’d opt for yellow instead. Compromise.

Taking a leaf out of Beatrix’s book, when I completed the first draft of my manuscript, I physically bound a hardcopy for myself as both an editing tool and an exercise in visualisation. I made a cover out of green, leather-effect cardboard, and used gold alphabet stickers to spell out the title. Seeing it as a real, physical entity made it real. If the Law of Attraction is to be believed, visualising your goals helps to manifest them. That moment was an important one. I will reveal why later.

Poster for The NeverEnding Story (1984)

In terms of imagery, I was inspired by fantasy movies from my childhood featuring old books that became catalysts for adventures in other worlds. Films such as The NeverEnding Story (1984), Labyrinth (1986) and The Princess Bride (1987). I wanted the Taiden books to have that same air of mystery and a suggestion of history about them.

Also, for the Taiden symbol, I always loved the logo for the musical Les Misérables– little Cosette, looking windswept and forlorn. That is a great example of a brand that needs no title to explain what it is. Like Cosette,
the character of Taiden is tinged with tragedy. The sombre nature of that famous illustration lends itself well to Taiden’s tone.


And then, I remembered: my drawings.

Signs from the Universe

Over a period of about 20 years overlapping the writing of Taiden, I had sketched the same girl, over and over. Whether aimlessly doodling or purposefully sitting down to make art, she emerged on the page, again and again. Calling her simply, ‘The Girl’, I thought nothing of it, outside of the fact that it was a bit weird. That was, until I came to really think about the cover of my book.

You see, the idea for the story of Taiden itself came from a dream. Not a daydream or a conscious goal – an actual, sleeping dream. So too had these drawings come to be – an automatic symptom of unconscious thought. In that sense, and, being as I’m quite spiritual by nature, I took the first as a call-to-action from the universe. Eventually, I realised that the second was the same, and related to the same subject. At last, I’d solved the mystery: The Girl was Taiden, and the drawings were another nudge from the ether to tell the story.

I looked back through my sketches, as I’d kept them all. Though most had been scribbled with biro on scraps of paper, one had been the first drawing I’d made using a digital drawing tablet ten years earlier. It had that ‘Cosette’ quality to it – windswept, sombre tragedy with a hint of mystery. I knew this was the one– the drawing I’d use as my logo – my brand.

I used design software to modify the drawing, extracting elements from it to produce a more abstract look; and then a series of effects to create the illusion of embossing. The result turned my drawing into this gnarled, edgy image that I immediately fell in love with.

Placed on top of a grained leather-style background, and with the addition of a bold, golden font inspired by some of my favourite book covers, I had the cover design completed. My brand was born out of a variety of sources that spanned my entire lifetime. It felt as though the stars had aligned; like the universe had put things in my path and sent me ideas my whole life that would lead to the manifestation of this story and its imagery.

As to the moment I bound the infamous ‘Working Copy’ of my manuscript, it proved the power of visualisation. The week before my book was published, I received a box of special-edition paperbacks, featuring gold foil lettering on the cover. Only twenty-five of them exist – the rest feature the font in dark-yellow. But, when you compare the book I bound with the first printed copies, they are eerily similar.

Left: The ‘Working’ Copy – a hand-bound version of the 1st draft manuscript made by Emma. 

Right: Emma holding up one of the 25 Special Edition Gold Foil editions of Taiden’s Truth in Paperback.



This is what happens when you take a thought and turn it into truth. Building a brand from the ground up is exactly that. That moment when it stops being a vision in your head and becomes something tangible you can see, and touch, is truly remarkable.


For all I know, at this early stage of publication, my book might fade into obscurity, fated only to be discovered by a handful of people. Or, it might prove to be incredibly popular. Who knows? All I am certain of, is that I was born to create it. I am filled with an overwhelming feeling of purpose, and the surest sense of self I have ever experienced. That is how I know I am on the right path for me. Something kept willing me to see this project through. It was the idea that never went away, that constantly called to me. My vision. My dream.

That is what every brand is – someone’s vision of the future; their ambition, their determination, and that feeling that if they don’t do it, they might burst, or something. Birthing a brand, when done from the heart, has a flavour of destiny to it. The look of the Taiden books is based on a collection of deeply-personal symbols of meaning from my own life. Look to your own story for inspiration, and let it whisper the answers to you. When you do, you might just realise that the solutions you’ve been seeking have been hiding in plain sight all along. Life leaves little clues for you to solve. Eventually, you figure out what it all means in the grand scheme.

That thing that lights up your soul – THAT’S your path. Your destiny. If you can dream it, you can do it. Take it from someone who knows.


Follow The TAIDEN Trilogy on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

Taiden’s Truth is out now and available from the following retailers: Amazon UKWaterstones and WH Smith



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Behind the written word: A look at some of the most enduring personal brands of classic literature

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If you happen to follow this blog at all, you’ve probably noticed that many of the personal brands we feature here are faces from the world of TV, fashion and film. While we’ve touched upon literary brands in the past (my J.K. Rowling post, and more recently, a guest blog by writer Lucy Austin ), this summer we thought we would feature those authors that have exceptional and enduring personal brands – not an easy feat when your work is communicating through the written word!

Since there so are many extraordinary authors worthy of mention, we’ve only highlighted a select few here, spanning the genres of drama, comedy, fantasy, horror and romance. These are the authors who succinctly express their brand through their work, provoking that feeling of familiarity and anticipation when you pick up their book. Furthermore, as outer branding is also an important part of the whole brand package, these authors are instantly recognisable to most, whether you’ve ever picked up one of their works or not.

This month, we start with a nod to our classic (yet well preserved!) brands.

Photo: Joanna Malinowska, freestocks.org

Of course, we had to start with…

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare has to be one the very first authors with a strong personal brand. His distinct outer brand is recognisable everywhere: the pronounced forehead, the flowing locks and trademark Elizabethan ruff, often accompanied by his quill.  Interestingly, he was one of the first non-royals to appear on a British £20 note. Now that’s a strong brand!

19th century engraving of William Shakespeare. Photo: Public Domain

Shakespeare may not have been the only playwright and poet using iambic pentameter, but he is the author we most associate it with (and consequently. the one most likely to get pupils groaning). Shakespeare’s brand has been part expressed through sonnets, personal words of love dedicated first to a young man and then a mystery woman, “The Dark Lady”. However, he was also known for taking historical stories and tales and then weaving plays out their bare bones (certainly reflecting an “alchemist”  archetype side to his brand!). Whether it’s a comedy like Much Ado About Nothing or a tragedy like Macbeth or Hamlet, Shakespeare’s compelling brand lies in his words. We can watch King Lear in medieval costume, Victorian garb or modern-day dress, yet his captivating story doesn’t change; the power of Shakespeare’s language carries it through, often addressing the very existential nature of life itself:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Jane Austen

Austen is also instantly recognisable by her period appearance, in her case the Regency look with pearls, demure lace neckline and often a mob cap.

Austen and her books were famed for their sharp wit, and characters like Mrs Bennett still make us laugh today. Her clever sense of humour was widely adored, and at its peak she parodied the new wave of gothic bodice rippers in Northanger Abbey, which has interestingly lasted longer than the tranche of books it pokes fun at.

But, scratch the surface and you will see that Austen’s subject is quite serious: the choices open to women at that time. One either had to marry for money and position, or for love, and run away to live in destitution.  It was a feminist statement in its own way, and possibly why the Suffragettes carried Jane Austen on their banners. Today, her image is more widely seen on the £10 note.

“Give a girl an education and introduce her properly into the world, and ten to one but she has the means of settling well, without further expense to anybody.” ― Jane Austen

Charles Dickens

Dickens, even in silhouette, can be instantly recognized as the epitome of the Victorian man with his smoking jacket and sometimes rather wild beard. Dickens has delighted many generations with his iconic characters such as Miss Haversham from Great Expectations, who keeps her house in the exact state it was the day she was jilted at the altar, and Ebeneezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol,  whose story has become part of the Christmas tradition itself.  Dickens also wove his own personal experiences into his books.  For David Copperfield, he adapted his experience as a twelve-year-old condemned to work in a London warehouse by his family’s near destitution.

While his memorable characters speak volumes to the creativity (and personal history) that propelled his brand, there is another, more humanitarian and socially responsible side to Dickens that gives his brand added depth.  It’s quite apparent that he was in tune to the societal issues of his time, bringing awareness to the abusive treatment of the poor in stories like Oliver Twist, the corruption of the law in Bleak House and the appalling factory conditions instigated by the industrial revolution in Hard Times.  He may make us smile, but he also makes us think.

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” – A tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Edgar Allan Poe

His name alone conjures up images of ravens, black cats and all things gothic. Our Master of the Macabre is considered one of the most important and influential American writers of the 19th century.  A masterful storyteller, Poe used psychological depth and symbolism to transform the genre of horror stories.  His chilling poem, The Raven (published in 1845 in the New York Evening Mirror) is considered among the best-known poems in American literature. Horror classics such as The Tell-Tale HeartThe Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum further reveal the sheer talent and unique vision behind his brand.

In addition to capturing our imagination with evocative tales of horror, Poe is credited with inventing the modern detective story with The Murders in the Rue Morgue. His concept of deductive reasoning (termed by Poe “ratiocination”) inspired countless authors, most famously the creator of Sherlock Homes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He is also widely regarded as the architect of the modern short story, and an early pioneer in the genre of science fiction.

He also knew how to differentiate his name, an impressive branding move. The famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of his name (after all, Edgar Poe would sound a bit too average!); he added the surname of his surrogate parents later in life.  Similar to his literature, many aspects of Poe’s life are shrouded in mystery, with fact and fiction having been blurred significantly since his death. Nearly two centuries after his death, the dark and fascinating mystery that defines his brand lives on in our collective imaginations.

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” – Edgar Allan Poe

The Brontë sisters

I wanted to give a big nod to the Brontë sisters here, a fascinating example of co-branding!

The Brontës and their World, by Phyllis Bentley

The Brontë sisters were part of the most influential literary family in history. Charlotte, Emily and Anne, who all began to write during a very young age, are credited with radically reshaping the literary conventions of the Victorian era. Their novels explore topics of passion and vice that still resonate with us today.

Their writing was brilliantly used as a form of expression to share dimensions of their brand that weren’t considered socially acceptable in women of the day. Charlotte, for example, was described as small in stature and “could be dismissed as an unassuming country mouse”. Her writing, however, revealed a very different side to her brand, an underlying passion, boldness and ambition. The sisters’ pen names, Ellis, Acton and Currer Bell, were all initially male, a necessary strategy at the time that also created for a hugely dichotomous side to their personal brands.

Just a brief summary of the three sisters’ most notable work: Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre were published in 1847, with Jane Eyre becoming one of the best sellers that year. Anne’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Emily’s Wuthering Heights,  were both published in 1848. While The Tenant sold well at the time, Wuthering Heights did not. However, Emily’s novel went on to become a masterpiece, heavily influencing readers for generations to come, including singer songwriter Kate Bush, who wrote her hit song Wuthering Heights in 1977 and even named her house in England after the novel.

The Brontë home in a remote part of West Yorkshire, England remains hugely popular and gets thousands of visitors a year.

And last but not least, one of my personal favourites:

Oscar Wilde

The Quintessential dandy. Oscar Wilde in 1882. Photo: Pixabay

The quintessential dandy, Wilde is hailed for his sharp wit, humor and flamboyant dress. He is also notorious for conviction for sexual indecency at the time, and has become a gay icon as well as a literary one. Originally from Dublin, Wilde adopted London as his home after studying at Oxford. A poet, journalist and author, Wilde is best remembered for his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray where his protagonist has a painting in the attic that keeps him young, and the play The Importance of Being Earnest, studied by British school children for generations. Wilde was known to be as witty a character as the ones in his writing; his unique style of writing brilliantly reflected his own unique personal brand.

At the height of his literary fame, Wilde was convicted of sexual indecency with men and sentenced to two years in prison, where he wrote De Profundis (Latin: “from the depths”), his famous letter to former lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas.

On his release, he left for Paris never to return, and died in poverty. Nevertheless, his great wit lives on, the image of the long-haired dandy, often in his suit, fur coat and with his walking stick, remains an instantly recognisable one today.

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde

To me, this pithy little gem beautifully captures the importance of authenticity in personal branding. You’ll even find these words of Mr. Wilde on this very website.


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From fiction to reality: How one writer learned to listen to (and live by) her authentic personal brand…and how you can too!

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This month’s post is truly an inspirational one; a story of how our guest writer learned to tune into a calling and listen to that voice of authenticity. This is no easy feat for many, as this voice is typically one that can beckon us but is often ignored, its showreel of ideas often immediately shelved, or dismissed entirely. This voice might even appear with a sidekick; a feeling that manifests as an urge or longing to do something that just feels more you. Listening to, and then acting on, that voice means having the courage to move outside of your comfort zone, with all the vulnerability and fear that this brings. Here, writer Lucy Austin shares how she took that brave step to align her work with her passion and values, and live her authentic personal brand.

Here’s Lucy…


Hello. In the future, you might read one of my books.

Unable to put it down, you’ll tell your friends about it, who’ll tell their friends, who’ll tell their friends. I become a bestseller. I’ve reached my highest potential. Thank you.

It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I’m not a critically and commercially successful writer, yet. I’m trying to make a name for myself, and if you’re reading this, I’ll chance that you are too. I’m an unpublished author who wants to go the ‘traditional’ route, and in writing this blog, I’m making another commitment to the future I want to create. I’m showing up and speaking my truth, though it’s not always easy.

It’s a value that the Golden Notebook and I share – living your authentic self/brand consistently. I harness the power of ‘living that’to not only help achieve goals like mine but harmonise my lifestyle too, though I didn’t always feel that way. For a good chunk of my life, I denied what made me happy, until I realised it wasn’t working for me. Though it’s not always convenient and it comes with its challenges, ‘living that’ ultimately empowers me in everything I do.

Challenges, hurdles and barriers, oh my!

One of those challenges – one of the biggest in fact – was my job. For most of my professional life, I’ve worked in PR, but I’d never ‘chosen’ it as a career. I’d always wanted to write; originally, I wanted to be a journalist, but let fear stand in my way. It took a long time to admit I wasn’t happy, and even longer to do something about it.

Around my thirtieth birthday, I finally found the courage to write my first book. It was awful – terrible! – but it taught me a lot and inspired me to get better. I read books on writing, undertook workshops here and there, and joined a writing group; I wrote in the evenings and weekends, punched words into my phone on the way to the office, and even in the gym. Reading and writing, writing and reading; on it went.

Writer Lucy Austin

Leaps of faith; heaps of (old) beliefs

On 1stJune 2018, the day before my thirty-fourth birthday, I took a big leap of faith and finished my ‘day job’ being a PR, to never going back. Armed with savings, rebates, and undertaking a month-long, part-time gig, I’ve managed for a little over twelve months to live a ‘writer’s life’ and help activate my future reality. It’s enabled me to finish the third and final edit of my book (that’s a separate blog in itself!), and as of November 2018, start submitting it to agents. I’ve also completed the first draft and edit of my second book.

Some might say I’m creating a ‘new identity’, though I feel like I’m living who I really am and have always been, but buried or forgot along the way. In reminding myself and breathing life into it, there was a lot that I needed to let go of – old beliefs and patterns which no longer served me and held me in a place that I had no desire to be. That took a lot of soul searching, being honest with myself, and digging deep.

A writer’s life: From fiction to reality

How I’ve been cultivating my future-reality:

  • Living congruently: I question anything which isn’t in alignment with the life I want to create – is this congruent with what I want? That can be the pinch – making decisions, acting on things from big to small that are consistently authentic to who you are and your bigger picture. It can be a small as following someone relevant on social media, to **real-life example** taking up a screenwriting course, so you’re best placed to adapt your manuscript in the future. I’m human and might not ‘get it right’ every time, but keeping one eye on my north star helps.
  • Manifesting with imagination:I don’t have a blueprint to how my vision will manifest itself, but I try to bring it into my consciousness consistently. That can include things like positive affirmations and visualisations – I’ve even drew a rough mock-up of my novel’s sleeve on my fridge! Anyone who appreciates the Law of Attraction understands the power and potential of thoughts and intention. I read books like Think and Grow Rich which retrospectively affirmed the steps I’d already taken, Ask and It Is Given and anything by Brené Brown, which helps foster ‘can do’ mindsets and different perspectives.
  • Leveraging ‘your tribe’: Having people around you who understand what you want out of life, and who tell you the truth/call you out on your shit, is essential. My best friend has also been working towards her highest potential goal, and her support has been invaluable because she really gets what I’m trying to do. I’ve drawn so much strength from friends and family who believe in my vision, and everyone I’ve told has been super supportive. I think when people see your passion and determination, carrying on despite fear or doubt, they find inspiration and encouragement for themselves too.
  • Sublime self-trust: Having faith in your goal takes courage, and to have courage, you need strength. Strength is will, perseverance, belief in self and something outside of you, and a sense of fearlessness. The foundational pillar to all of that is trust – sublime trust in yourself and the world, that if you’ve taken all the possible action and responsibility needed to make it happen, then it will happen.

Keep on, keeping on

Constantly having faith and trust can be hard. When I’ve got a knock-back from an agent – statistically it’s gonna happen, it’s a tough industry – I can’t help but question: am I supposed to be doing this? Can I really become a success? In those moments, I revert to the single most important truth that I know: I am a writer. I know I’m supposed to write. Believe me, if I didn’t need to, I wouldn’t! There are no guarantees in the publishing game, and financially, I need to support myself, so more decisions and actions will follow, but there’s no turning back. I’ll keep on moving forward, though that takes courage too.

So often in life, ‘being strong’ comes from situations that aren’t of our choosing; if someone we love falls ill, or something shocking happens out of the blue. Instead, I’ve chosen this pathway, and if you’re still reading, you may well have chosen yours too. This whole journey has been the most challenging but rewarding thing of my life so far. I don’t know about you, but I’ll continue choosing my pathway. I’ll keep on, keeping on; I’ll choose it again and again until, at some point in the future, you might read one of my books and won’t be able to put it down.



You can read about Lucy’s about book and other writing on her website at Lucyaustin.comand also check out her ‘writer’ Instagram and twitter channels.




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Celebs who “step it up”: My top socially responsible brands

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In lieu of a “Brand of the Month”, I thought I’d mix things up a bit and give a big nod to some of my all time favourite socially responsible personal brands.

Celebrities have known the power of stepping up and giving back for years. By adding a socially responsible dimension to their name, these celebs are certainly strengthening their personal brand, a win-win situation for all. It also works the other way, when already big personal brands put their weight behind causes, as we’ve recently seen with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and their planned TV series on mental health.

But it’s not just celebrities who can benefit from socially responsible branding, it can work for anyone. By looking to celebs who step it up and give back, we can learn a lot about building a strong and conscious brand.

As there’s so much to say about these socially engaged celebs, here’s just a taster on each to spark some inspiration:

Photo: Pixabay

Leonardo DiCaprio
A long-time environmental activist, DiCaprio  is a stellar example of someone who follows their passion and takes action. From his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to his “Before the Flood” documentary with National Geographic, he has used his Hollywood fame to address some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. He has even personally presented on climate change to President Trump and his administration and further spoke out against Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Check out my post on DiCaprio here.

Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry
In a huge co-branding move, Prince Harry recently announced via Instagram his plans to co-create and co-produce a landmark TV series about mental health with Oprah Winfrey. The documentary series will be screened worldwide in 2020 on the Apple TV+ online platform. The mission of the series is to help end stigma over mental illness and “empower those who silently suffer” with mental health conditions to seek help.  You can read more about this co-brand here.

Emma Watson
The same year she graduated from University, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson was appointed a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, perhaps her most impressive role to date. She quickly became a strong voice for women’s rights and equality. In 2015, Watson launched the HeForShe campaign by giving a much-lauded speech that called for men to stand up for gender equality.  My blog on Watson can be found here.

Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor spoke out about AIDS in the early 1980s, at a time when there was still a lot of fear and stigma attached, and her outspokenness rocked a fair few boats. She was a founding member of the America Foundation for AIDS research (amfAR), co-branding with AIDS researcher Dr Matilde Krim, and went on to create the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. The force of her brand (and co-brand) helped to raise awareness at the time.

Stephen Fry
English actor and writer Stephen Fry is also cherished as the respected figurehead of non-profits such as Mind and The Terence Higgins Trust. He is known for personally mingling at charity events, rather than merely gracing the programme with his name. He is an advocate of LGBT rights. He also actively challenges mental health stigma by openly talking about his mental health, and has presented several documentaries, including Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Read more about Fry in my post.

Vivienne Westwood

Our “Queen of Punk”, Vivienne Westwood, is a long time campaigner for environmental causes, having previously protested against fracking in the Arctic, as well as driving a tank to David Cameron’s  home in Oxfordshire in a protest against fracking in the UK. She showcases her values on the catwalk, using her shows as a platform for her cultural and environmental activism. She has even joined forces with the UN on environmental and ethical trade projects. Check out my post on Westwood here.

Glenn Close
Close has been an active supporter for animal charities and causes such as gay marriage, women’s rights, and mental health. She co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind, a national campaign that aims to combat the stigma and provide support around mental illness.  In 2013 Close also paid a visit to the White House to urge passage of the Excellence in Mental-Health Act, to help strengthen the mental health-care system in the US, which was signed into law by President Obama the following year.  Read more about Close here.

Find it here: https://amzn.to/2Elgxt1

Angelina Jolie
Jolie is well known as a UN Ambassador and meets with refugees and victims of national disasters worldwide. In 2006 she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation with Brad Pitt, which is dedicated to alleviating extreme rural poverty and protecting the environment and wildlife in Cambodia. Her foundation also supports humanitarian causes globally, including Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children.

George Clooney
Another UN Ambassador, Clooney is known for his work in the Darfur region of the Sudan. He co-founded Not on Our Watch with Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt to stop genocide in the region. He was even arrested in 2012 while taking part in a peaceful protest in the Sudanese embassy. He also co-founded The Clooney Foundation for Justice, campaigning for accountability for human rights abuses, with his wife Amal.

Audrey Hepburn
One of the most iconic examples of a socially responsible personal brand has to be actress turned UN Ambassador Audrey Hepburn. Well-known for her love of and work with children, Hepburn is famous for saying “I speak for those children who cannot speak for themselves, children who have absolutely nothing but their courage and their smiles, their wits and their dreams.” In addition to the Andrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, she left us with a legacy of using your personal brand to do good.

Do you have a socially responsible brand in mind that you’d like to see mentioned? Please share in the comments below…


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Dealing with difficult people: Using your personal brand as a guide through tough relationships

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I often write about how your personal brand can help you in your career as a way of opening up opportunities, letting others know what you stand for and building your reputation. However, your personal brand can also be a useful tool when it comes to dealing with difficult people or conversations in all walks of life.

It’s perfectly normal to have that occasional person in your life that just rubs you the wrong way, and possibly vice versa. Sometimes we can avoid them or keep our contact with them to a polite minimum. With others, however, it’s impossible to do this, especially when it comes to family members or colleagues. Challenging work relationships are a common cause of stress, whether that’s with a boss or co-worker. A difficult family member can be hard to get away from, especially if it’s a holiday or special occasion, with all the expectations those entail.

One simple question

One of the key questions when it comes to personal branding is “what do I want to be known for ?”.  In a work context, these can be things like leadership, adaptability, creativity, boldness, or being known for a unique skill set. We can apply the same principles to our relationships as well.

Whether dealing with a person who elicits an automatic trigger response or someone you usually get along with who can irritate you after spending too much time together, it can be helpful to bring your personal brand to the forefront. Defaulting to one simple question, “Who do I want to be in the face of a difficult dynamic?”, can serve as a much-needed compass when things get challenging.

However, this can only truly work if you are able to step back before the situation explodes. This involves being aware of the signals that the situation is turning stressful. It could be a feeling in your stomach or tightness in your chest, an overall feeling of tension in your body or perhaps a more physical manifestation such as increased heart rate. When your body starts to react in this way, it’s most likely producing adrenaline which is a sign that you are being triggered.

The trick is to be able to notice you are being triggered, ground yourself a bit, and then come back to your personal brand, using it as a cue to pause and consider our question. This is what’s called a choice point. But first, it’s important to do a little grounding before being able to make a decision and act at the choice point.

Get grounded

Once it’s clear that you are being triggered, it’s at this point that you step back, breathe and perhaps even practice a bit of mindfulness. Pause and move into your senses as a way of anchoring yourself in your surroundings. Really notice what you can see, hear, touch, feel, etc. This will help to get you out of your head and into the moment. Sometimes something as obvious as taking a few deep diaphragmatic breaths will help to anchor you and slow things down. Or you may need a break to take some time to calm down and regain your composure.

This is easier said than done in a heated situation so do be aware that grounding yourself takes some practice. Sometimes you will notice your pulse racing and yet carry on anyway. Sometimes, you may step aside but fail to calm down. Needless to say, individuals who have difficulty with anger will find this exercise much more challenging. Taking a look at our own emotional obstacles and working on them independently can be an invaluable step here.

Visualize your personal brand at its best

Once you have a bit more grounding in the situation, acting at the choice point involves stepping back and noticing yourself in the situation. How would the ideal version of you respond? What would you see yourself doing physically? For example, would this version of you remain calm, maintain good posture, express open body language? What would your voice sound like? How would your eye contact be? Personal presentation is a big part of your personal brand and defaulting to these traits can help to align ourselves with who we want to be in that difficult moment.  What personality traits, strengths or values can you bring into the moment? If things like humour, compassion or light-heartedness are an important part of your personal brand, how can you demonstrate these attributes in the moment, even if only a tiny bit?

Stepping back and evaluating

It’s often helpful to reflect on why we are being triggered in the first place. There’s a potential lesson here in values, as what may be happening is that something in this dynamic is not aligning with your values, or even actively challenging them and this is knocking you off balance. Personal values essentially represent what we want to stand for in life. Some of us can articulate them better than others, but we all have them. Recognising other people’s values can help us appreciate our own values even more. Also, accepting that it’s okay to have different values or beliefs from someone else can make things easier, if only by lowering our expectations! Remember you cannot control the other person’s thoughts, words and actions. Only your own.

Also watch that there aren’t any of your own personal “rigid rules” being violated in the situation. These usually have a “should” lurking behind them, and sound like “they should know” or “do” something. See if you can lighten these demands by replacing them with a preference (“it would be nice if they did x y z”) or, if it works, a “could” (“they could have done it this way, but unfortunately didn’t”). Sometimes this technique (from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help turn the volume down on these thoughts, resulting in more of a (manangeable) feeling of disappointment or frustration rather than unhealthy anger or rage. Such rigid rules or beliefs can sometimes create “static” when broadcasting our personal brands, and recognising our own obstacles is an invaluable part of being able to effectively communicate our brands.

It’s also be important to assess the need for boundaries in the relationship. Is this typically someone who helps your personal brand shine, or do they drain it? Having clear boundaries can often prevent drama or a conflict from unfolding in the first place. This involves knowing and respecting yourself and not allowing people to emotionally drain you.

In short, yes, there are difficult people out there. At the more extreme end, we find narcissists, sociopaths, radicals and cut throat characters in every walk of life. Sometimes we can influence a person by sharing alternative beliefs, values or a different position, and this can be a truly rewarding experience. However, when this isn’t possible, focusing on changing others can drain and frustrate us. When we accept that it’s almost impossible to change them and what they do, it’s easier to shine the light back onto what we can control: ourselves.


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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest Personal Brand of the Month goes to

Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Here’s Why…
Not that long ago, I wrote about the fascinating topic of “edgy brands”. This month,  I’ve chosen a brand with a refreshing provocative edge, that of writer, actress and performer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge has recently come into focus as a major British talent who manages to straddle both the US and the UK. Killing Eve, written by Waller-Bridge (based on the books by Luke Jennings) swooped up a number of BAFTs in 2019 and Fleabag, which she both wrote and starred in, has earned critical and popular acclaim as both a TV comedy and on stage on both Broadway and, soon to come, London.

Find it here: https://amzn.to/2snARY7

 Even Waller-Bridge’s first foray into theatre was pretty edgy, dividing men and women and deliberately creating a divisive atmosphere through the actor’s vignettes and bottle of wine in The Mob in 2007.

In Fleabag, Waller-Bridge shows grief, adultery, betrayal and promiscuity through the character of Fleabag. All these have been covered by TV before of course, but Fleabag does so with true honesty (and to camera), saying the things that so many of us think but never have the audacity to say. Mental health is an enduring theme of the programme, and often manifests itself as Fleabag’s self-loathing. Where other dramas and comedies offer hope and sugar-coating, Fleabag isn’t afraid to be stark and shocking.

Waller-Bridge has a distinctive outer brand, with her gangly looks, tall stature and distinctive birth-mark, but it’s Waller-Bridge’s style that seems to have made a difference on the high street.  The Guardian reports that “After the revelation that the £38 black jumpsuit worn in episode one of series two by the show’s writer and lead, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, was by the London-based label Love, the garment sold out by the end of the day”

We know Fleabag isn’t afraid to disrupt our traditional view of women, but Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve takes that further, focusing on an M16 agent and a psychopathic assassin who are not only the epitome of strong women but also unafraid at showing their mad, crazy side.  What Waller-Bridge has added to the book’s character of Villanelle is an extra dimension of playfulness and child-like curiosity, not to mention a wardrobe to die for!

It’s a talent that has been recognised by Daniel Craig who has asked Waller-Bridge to come on board as a script doctor for the new Bond film, a beautiful example of co-branding if there ever was one:

And he’s not the only one. Waller-bridge has been courted by Star Wars to play an android, yet another great example of co-branding

…and, of course, it also looks like a lot of fun!

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Building your gravitas through increasing your presence

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What differentiates us can significantly strengthen our personal brands. One way to do this is to set yourself apart with outer-branding, including your personal presence.

This month, we decided to shine a spotlight on an important aspect of outer branding: gravitas. Our guest blogger this month is Antoinette Dale Henderson, award-winning speaker, author and founder of The Gravitas Programme. Here she talks about using personal presence to increase your gravitas and give your personal brand some oomph!

Developing presence is one of the most important traits for a leader and crucial if you’re looking to increase your gravitas. Neuroscientific research indicates that in a world full of stimulation and distraction, our brains notice what’s unusual and remember what’s different. Although it may sometimes feel easier to keep a low profile, actively cultivating a presence and knowing how and when to ‘dial it up’ is key to getting the attention you deserve at work.

So, what can you do to increase your presence?

In this article, I’m going to focus on three key areas which will increase your impact on others: your mindset, body language and voice.

As a starting point, let’s examine how presence comes across. As you reflect on the table below, consider in which ways you naturally ‘shine your light’ and how you may inadvertently compromise your presence when communicating with others.

Three tips for increasing your presence:

While it may seem like some people have `it’ and others don’t, we all have the ability to develop presence.

1. Your Mindset

When you meet someone, who has a strong presence, you will usually find that their state of mind is calm, focused and uncluttered. This creates an energy or aura which radiates outwards and, because emotional states are infectious, positively affects everyone around. Achieving this can be challenging as, like a computer, we often have multiple programmes running through our head at the same time and are easily distracted. The secret to achieving an uncluttered mind is the decision to bring as much energy and attention to the present moment as you can.

Once you have achieved a state of presence, you can decide to increase or decrease your impact depending on the situation. Reflect on whether you’d like your presence to be a subtle glow or a beacon of light, based on the attention you’d like to receive and what is appropriate. Consider what your purpose is, what you want people to remember about you after you’ve left the room, your key message and how will you communicate it with conviction.

2. Your Body Language

We live in a snap judgement world. Your physical image is the first thing that an individual sees before they decide on what they think of you. If you already have presence, you will be comfortable in your surroundings. You will be energised and at ease with whatever situation you are handed. Your overall image will be someone’s who’s comfortable in their own skin and happy to take and receive attention from people in the room.

The way you position your body is directly linked to your ability to radiate a strong and confident presence. When you’re standing, plant your feet on the ground, stand tall with your weight evenly distributed rather than slouching or folding yourself in. Feel the solidity of the ground beneath you, the gravity of the earth drawing you down. Breathe deeply and evenly into your diaphragm. If you’re walking into a room, walk with purpose and intent. Before you cross the threshold, put your shoulders down and back, open your chest, look up at the ceiling, smile and stride into the room, imagining the air parting before you as you enter.

3. Your Tone of Voice

Your voice is the instrument you use to communicate your message. So often, people mumble, waffle, speak too slowly or gabble too quickly, thereby minimising their presence and impact.

Take the time to plan in advance, not only what you are going to say but how you’re going to say it. The energy you convey through your voice will become a deciding factor in whether people want to listen to you or not. Choose the amount of energy and volume depending on the context: ‘bright and breezy’ won’t work when conveying bad news.

Presence can also be enhanced through your breathing patterns, with free, deep and steady breathing that will start to exude calmness, confidence and ease.

Your presence will truly start to develop once you pay attention to how you think and what you sound and look like. In doing so, you will develop the confidence and gravitas to fulfil your role as a leader and attract the attention you and your message deserve.



Antoinette Dale Henderson’s book Leading with Gravitas is a good way to find the direction you need and become the best leader you can possibly be.

If you are more interested in a hands-on approach, join her for a Gravitas Masterclass to build up your leadership potential.



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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest Personal Brand of the Month is actually a co-brand, consisting of two former Brand of the Months who have joined forces! My (co)Brand of the Month goes to…

Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey

Here’s why…
Earlier this month, Prince Harry announced via Instagram his plans to co-create and co-produce a landmark TV series about mental health with Oprah Winfrey. The documentary series will be screened worldwide in 2020 on the Apple TV+ online platform.

The mission of the series is to help end stigma over mental illness and “empower those who silently suffer” with mental health conditions to seek help. According to a statement from Kensington Palace, the project hopes to inspire “honest conversation about the challenges each of us faces,” adding that it aims to equip people “with the tools to not simply survive, but to thrive.”

Just a word about co-branding here, which is an important aspect of personal branding that often gets overlooked. Co-branding is essentially a partnership between two brands (or organizations) that leverages each other’s reputation, and in turn can amplify awareness about a certain product, service or cause. If done right, co-branding can give your personal brand a powerful boost.

Now, when two brand legends such as Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry unite, the outcome can be powerfully transformative. Given the mission at hand, the status, visibility and power of brand legends such as Oprah and Prince Harry might be just the ticket to creating a real impact on a social level.

Let’s take a peek at what’s behind their co-branding magic. Yes, these are both hugely popular mega-brands (and yes, both met through Meghan Markle), but are a few more variables in this co-branding equation.

Shared commitment

A strong thread that binds this co-brand is a longstanding commitment to ending stigma and raising awareness around mental illness. Winfrey has devoted quite a bit of air time across various media platforms to topics of mental health, whether that be on her own blog, over interviews, or on TV. Her brand stature and commitment to highlighting various societal challenges have allowed her to shine a consistent spotlight on issues such as mental health stigma.

On to Price Harry. In a former Brand of the Month, I featured the co-branded team of Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who spearheaded the “Heads Together” mental health campaign in 2017, which aims to tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness. Harry’s  Apple TV+ collaboration with Winfrey will build on this work.

Shared inner branding…passion, purpose and values

The core of our personal brands – our passions, sense of purpose, values and vision – shape the direction of our brand. In previously writing about Winfrey’s personal brand, I describe her as a “total package”; she combines these core attributes  with her charisma, emotional intelligence and authenticity to create a magnetic force.

If we turn to our co-brand and their discussions about their joint venture, we get a solid sense of their shared attributes, fueling their mission and propelling their sense of commitment.  Winfrey shared with “CBS This Morning” that their collaboration began after a conversation in which she asked Harry what the most important issues impacting the world were. “He said climate change and he said mental wellness, mental fitness, mental health.” Winfrey then caught his interest when speaking of the series she was working on for Apple. “He said at the end of the conversation ‘If there is anything I can do to help…” she recalled.  She further disclosed that the pair held secret meetings in London to collaborate on the project.

Of their collaboration Harry shared a values-laden statement, “Our hope is that this series will be positive, enlightening and inclusive — sharing global stories of unparalleled human spirit fighting back from the darkest places, and the opportunity for us to understand ourselves and those around us better.”  He further shared on his Instagram, “I truly believe that good mental health — mental fitness — is the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self”.

Striking a similar message, Winfrey shared “Our hope is that it will have an impact on reducing the stigma and allowing people to know that they are not alone, allowing people to speak up about it and being able to identify it for themselves and in their friends.”

Shared stories

Both Harry and Winfrey have shared their own personal stories of struggle.

Harry disclosed how he struggled to cope with his mother’s death on The Telegraph’s Mad World podcast in 2017: “I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he shared. “I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.”

Winfrey has also been open about her history with depression. In an interview with ABC News, Winfrey talked about a depressive episode was triggered after her film adaptation of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” in 1998 turned out to be a box office flop. Winfrey not only starred in the film but also bought the rights to the book. She explained that “[depression] is more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?” Similar to Harry, in sharing such personal experiences and her own beliefs, she is not only disseminating information about mental health issues but also normalizing them.

 Shared sense of opportune timing

Perhaps most importantly, they are both seizing a unique brand positioning opportunity; a way to leverage the power of their brands to make a much needed and meaningful impact at the right time. Given their personal disclosures, this also takes courage.

Winfrey’s power to influence public opinion has been named “The Oprah Effect” by CNBC. It’s been shown that this effect works particularly well with consumer purchasing choices, and chances are it will work equally well with public beliefs about mental health. Winfrey and Harry’s joint endeavor is another example of her impeccable timing, what Matt McGarrity, a speech teacher at the University of Washington, described as Winfrey’s kairotic response: “In ancient Greek, kairos was a sense of time. Chronos was the ticking of the clock; kairos was the “opportune moment.” That chance to say just the right thing, in just the right way, at just the right time.”

Winfrey has said herself that her partnership with Apple TV+ offers a “unique opportunity” to tackle the “daunting challenges of our time”.  And Prince Harry is also tuned into this sense of kairos. “What I know is, if we do our jobs right, we’re going to replace shame and we’re going to replace stigma with wisdom, with some compassion and with honesty”, Harry shared.

As a psychologist of course, I consider their mission a very near and dear one.  And I just know that the power of their joint voices will resonate with many.

Bravo Harry and Oprah!




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The harsh truth of the camera’s eye: A press photographer’s take on politics, personal branding and the media

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Have you ever come across a newspaper or magazine photo that gave you an instant impression of that person’s personal brand? But exactly how accurate is this image?  And how much control does the subject really have over their brand in front of the camera?  Of course, there are so many other factors that shape these perceptions, from the strategy of the photographer to the beliefs of the beholder.

Our guest writer, who has asked to remain anonymous for this piece, is an editorial, corporate and PR photographer covering news and politics in the UK. His range includes social issues, crime, civil unrest, fashion, sport and royals to name a few. Here we interview him on the fascinating intersection between personal branding, politics and press photography.


As a press photographer, what captures your eye from a photographic point of view? For example, in political stories?

If it is a group of people engaging in the same activity, for instance sport or a protest, then I am looking for movement and energy, an emotional moment of interaction between people in the frame is bestEye contact with the lens, as it makes for a more striking image. If it is a single politician, the subject being active, waving, pointing or gesturing in some way improves the picture with that energy.

A picture of them by a backdrop with a slogan is good to show the context of the story that day. However, a picture with a plain background is financially more important as it can be used as a stock picture and has a longer shelf life.

I try to get an image of most politicians looking serious and powerful but equally important is amusing facial expressions and signs of weakness. I feel both types of image show them as human beings and that is eye catching.

From the financial side, left wing papers will be looking for pictures of right wing politicians looking silly, as will right wing papers of left wing politicians. In this sense, politicians are never going to win the game of, being perceived in a way they want. If they did win, journalism would be dead and propaganda would have replaced it.

How do some politicians manage to portray confidence even on camera?

It depends on whether or not the politician has been influenced by a PR team, and few have not. Historically Jeremy Corbyn would attend events and give speeches with very little given over to how he looked or how the media would perceive him. Looking confident and powerful was not important to him. If he was angry, sad or happy he showed it. There was a natural confidence about him though. Corbyn’s dress sense was attacked during a Commons debate, he was mocked for his clothes during a remembrance service at the Cenotaph. In his pre-leadership days, he was generally singing to the choir and people admired him for his principles not his image.

Fast forward to the 2017 General Election and a PR team, Corbyn is dressed in sharper suits, his facial expressions are less expressive and he is more aware of his surroundings, backdrops, exit signs etc and how they can be played with by a good photographer. Think Nigel Farage with the mic under his nose giving him a Hitler moustache.

Most politicians are now acutely aware of how they might be perceived on camera and have PR agents advising them on how to look confident or empathetic or deadpan. I feel that most try dampening down their facial expressions whenever they can. Generally, they will pause during applause, look up and to the side, the old Mussolini chin up stance still holds for confident. The Tory power stance was mocked ruthlessly and press photographers instinctively pick up on attempts by politicians to deliberately manage a particular look.

A good photographer will make something out of it and not always what the politician and their PR team envisioned. So it is very tricky for politicians to deliberately portray themselves as confident these days. A welcome change in my opinion is that some politicians have decided to side step this game completely and let the cards fall where they may. Boris Johnson and Theresa May are both powerful politicians who, in my view, have decided to let it all hang out. Boris has for years been extremely relaxed and open to being seen in a dishevelled or silly light. I think this shows true confidence and the public pick up on this too. Ultimately, I think this is what ‘it is’. They both realise that a silly look rather than a confident one can equally win the ‘show’ in the media. Think Theresa May’s apparently embarrassing dancing during the last Conservative conference. Even though this was very funny, it was a massively confident move. She knocked Boris Johnson off the front pages and arguably he has never truly returned. After all, as long as you are taking up more space in the newspaper than your opponents, you have won.

What conveys people as less powerful?

Andrea Leadsom during the last Conservative Party leadership contest in 2016 is a good example. Whenever she saw a camera, a massive welcoming smile burst across her face, she walked slowly to allow photographers time to get their picture. However, once she had made her deal to duck out of the leadership race in exchange for a Cabinet position, she actively avoided cameras and seldom smiled. It was like photographing two different people and ultimately she looks less powerful now. Politicians who try to avoid the camera end up looking sly and sneaky.

Being caught skulking in or out of a back door (we usually cover front and back doors) is always going to make them look sneaky. It makes them look like they have something to hide, and sometimes they do. Arriving and leaving by the front door, looking at the cameras, perhaps answering a question is far more powerful than sneaking around avoiding the media glare, even if they have been naughty. Naughty but powerful is better than naughty but sneaky.

How do they make themselves look more approachable verses closed off? In other words, how can they convey “ready to take on the world” versus “having a bad day”?

Again, as with Leadsom before she dropped out of the leadership election, standing tall, smiling unless it’s a solemn affair, looking directly at the lenses and take time whilst passing the cameras makes them seem approachable, confident and ready to take on the world. In some instances looking closed off is a safer bet. Perhaps viewing the scene of a terror attack or a remembrance service. There is a fine line between being closed off and looking solemn, clearly if they are worried about how they will be perceived, it is probably better to err on the side of closed off than a silly expression or a smile during or after a tragic event.

After the Grenfell disaster Theresa May stayed well out of sight, even when visiting the scene it was heavily restricted. Corbyn, although more touchy feely, was deadpan most of the time. The royals on the other hand took the opposite approach and went down the totally approachable road, gentle smiles, cuddling and handshakes. Unlike politicians though, royals have less or nothing to lose.

Have you ever submitted a photo and been surprised at how someone who wasn’t there has read it?

I am not sure if I was surprised but I have had pictures of refugees and migrants stolen and used on racist websites. To me the pictures showed vulnerable people struggling to survive in makeshift camps. The same images were used by the far-right to portray them as desperate “savages.” I also once took a picture of police officers eating donuts from a box handed to them by a shopkeeper at the Notting Hill Carnival. The following day people thought the police officers were placing evidence from some crime or other into the box. A case of looking at the picture and not reading the caption. One of my favourite politicians is Diane Abbott, ideologically we are on the same page and I think she is an inspirational person. I have been horrified that pictures I thought were nice were used to ridicule her. The eye of the beholder I suppose.

Do you have any tips for anyone being informally photographed?

I would say move around calmly and purposefully, keep chin straight. Head straight good, head down bad. If you can, make eye contact with camera lenses at least once during the event, if there are lots of cameras try to make contact with as many as possible. Those are the pictures most likely to get chosen. Once a photographer has a picture with eye contact and a gesture, they will likely move on.

Don’t shy away from the camera, if asked to pose, take your time and ask the photographer what they need. Talking to photographers helps both parties. If you are in a group of people candidly being photographed, make eye contact with the people around you as much as possible. If you are in conversation and you are not looking directly at the person you are talking to, it will show in a picture. As Boris Johnson and Theresa May have shown, it is probably better to let it all hang out (within reason of course), don’t be afraid of how you will look, accept yourself.

It is probably better to look slightly less confident being yourself, than looking fake or rigid attempting to look confident.



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The “Brand of the Month” goes to…

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Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…

Meghan Markle

Here’s why…
I find this Brand of the Month an interesting one on a few different levels.

Find it here: https://amzn.to/2sr5f3E

This month, we saw Markle take a seat on an International Women’s Day panel for the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, holding her own next to the likes of activist, model and mental health campaigner Adowa Aboah, pop icon and advocate of ‘global feminism’ Annie Lennox, and Australia’s former prime minister Julia Gillard.  She spoke passionately and articulately about the importance of male involvement and using your voice in advocating for gender equality, and not just on social media (stating ‘Hashtags are not enough’).

Markle, who comes from a privileged, all-girls private school background, once shared, ‘I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches – I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.’ She certainly worked her way up in her acting career, becoming a skilled, well-paid lead in a highly rated TV series. She also cultivated a social conscience, and worked that as well with her involvement with UN Women as an advocate for political participation and leadership.

Markle has also shared: ‘With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility – to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I’m lucky enough, to inspire.’ Given that the word ‘fairytale’ continues to be a ubiquitous label for royal romance, perhaps we should keep these words in mind as a modern-day mantra. Markle’s is no Cinderella story (thank God).

In Markle, we can certainly see a strong sense of an authentic inner brand – passion,
purpose, values, vision – shining through. We also see plenty of evidence of a strong outer brand.  During countless appearances now, she has demonstrated a refined, poised yet strong personal presence, matched with an elegant yet cool personal style (a refreshing contrast to the dowdy ‘standard uniform’ many of the royal females have adopted). Her personal brand reminds us that being a feminist and being feminine are not mutually exclusive.

And I should add that not many women can pull of Maternity Chic. Here she is radiating in a stunning cream-colored cape dress by Dior:

There’s another thing that stood out this month: the polarizing effect of Markle’s brand, and not just what’s been splattered across the tabloids over the past few months.

Earlier this month, I was at a dinner for the National Theatre, where Markle’s name was announced as the newest ambassador of our ‘Young Patrons’ group (her other sole royal patronages champion education, women’s employment and animal welfare). The room applauded, with the exception of a fellow table guest who emitted a sound like a dying goose. When a few of us probed him, our heckler couldn’t provide a precise answer…he simply didn’t like her. I received a similar response from friends the following week, who, in almost trigger response to her name, dismissed her as ‘tacky’, citing her lavish baby shower as a recent example (we’ll get to that).

When her engagement to Prince Harry was first announced, Markle was largely portrayed in the media as a ‘breath of fresh air’ for the royal family. She has since plunged head first into royal duties and has done her fair share to dazzle the media. But the Markle Pendulum  swings.

I’ve of course raised a curious eyebrow at the increasing barrage of harsh media: ‘Demanding’ Meghan ‘emails staff instructions as early as 5 a.m., as personal assistant quits in tears’ blared the Sun. ‘Feuding’ Kate and Meghan (or at the least a cool distancing) rumours went viral. And then there’s the imminent departure of Sussex’s private secretary, which fueled the ‘difficult Duchess’ storyline.

There are certain dimensions to her brand that might be immediately polarizing for some, whether it be attributed to racism (covert or overt) given her mixed-race and American background, and/or association with black social-spiritual activism, to the belief that she has less worth as a human, a ‘commoner’ with a different type of ‘blood’ from the long-entwined royal bloodlines. Such prejudices run deep of course and have fueled an ugly barrage of online abuse towards Markle. But some of the polarizing of her brand seems to be more ‘surface’ than this.

Case in point, the baby shower.

As the press were quick to point out, her stateside visit came at no additional cost to the taxpayer as it was a privately-funded affair, with Markle flying on a private jet. But in the royal family, there are traditions to uphold…and perceptions. The criticism seemed to center around the fact that her baby shower looked more ‘celebrity’ than ‘royal’. After all, the star-studded guest list included the likes of Amal Clooney and Serena Williams, with Williams reportedly funding the soirée. Could it be that the Infamous Baby Shower of New York  was just too glaring a contrast to the ‘sober mainstream’ of the royal duties facing the Duke and Duchess of Sussex?  Perhaps my friend was right; if it is all about perception, a lavish New York baby shower may have very well been Markle’s biggest recent misstep.

I imagine this is a tricky one to navigate. As an American, Markle may have wanted to pay homage to her roots and celebrate her baby-to-be with her friends, like her friends. And, as a celebrity, glamourous friends and all the accompanying glitz come with the Markle package.  As a royal, however, her behaviour is judged much more rigorously.

This raises an interesting point. Is there room for respecting both tradition and maintaining one’s own personal brand, at least to an extent, in the royal family? Will we see more glimpses of the Artist formally known as actress Meghan Markle or will she default to more of a pre-packaged Duchess of Sussex version?  I’d personally be quite surprised (and quite frankly disappointed) by the later (and let’s not forget who her ‘co-brand’ is!).

I came across the following analogy made by Margo Jefferson of the Guardian: ‘Today the House of Windsor is like a venerable and all too predictable fashion house. Its cultural currency depends on history packaged as costume drama: The Queen, The Crown, The King’s Speech, Darkest Hour. To flourish it must attract new designers, new ideas and new muses.’  She has a point. Perhaps the royal family needs that magic touch from a Lagerfeld; a deep respect for tradition while adding something contemporary and relevant to the mix. Jefferson also reminds us that last year, Virgil Abloh, a Ghanaian American designer, became artistic director of menswear for Louis Vuitton, ‘a fashion house founded in 1854 when Queen Victoria was on the throne and the royal family had yet to be rebranded as the House of Windsor’.

While our ‘Cambridges’ will undoubtedly uphold the more traditional perceptions of the royal family, I’m sure our ‘Sussexes’ will continue to provide a refreshing counterbalance, challenging and breaking the mould.

We’ll of course just have to wait and see (I for one can’t wait). In the meantime, I hope we can sit back and enjoy the style, passion, charisma and modernity Meghan Markle injects into the royal family. Love her or hate her — and similar to other fabulously unconventional royals of the recent past like Grace Kelly and Diana — there’s no doubt that Markle’s a brand eliciting a strong response; one that may even prove to be an empowering example for generations of young women to come.






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