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:

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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Celebrating Multi-achieving and Multi-faceted Women this International Women’s Day

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This month I had the honour of being invited to an International Women’s Day event at the House of Lords as one of f:Entrepreneur #ialso Top 100: one hundred “multi-achieving” female entrepreneurs in the UK known for doing more than one thing. In my case, it was my private practice as a clinical psychologist and my work here as a personal brand consultant that got me on the list. The premise of #ialso is that as modern women we are often juggling more than one thing, and founder of f:Entrepreneur, Michelle Ovens, wanted to create a campaign that recognised just that.

Photo: Pixabay

Being in the room with so many women who had more than one facet to their brand inspired me to address that very modern conundrum of being known for doing more than one thing. It’s a branding question that I often get asked about in work situations with those multi-achieving professionals, artists and entrepreneurs. With the growth in portfolio careers, integrating different sides of our personal brand is potentially a critical aspect of ensuring these sometimes disparate strands are stitched together.

We often talk about consistency in personal branding. You create a personal brand by consistently showing the same skills, strengths, attributes and even personal style so that people come to associate you with them, and them with you. However, what do we do when we have parts of our brand that are quite different? While we may wear a few different hats, it’s quite possible and, frankly, quite likely that there are a number of commonalities that run throughout (particularly as your core values are unlikely to change, regardless of what you’re doing).  As a result, identifying a string of qualities that thread together the strands of your life can weave a a pretty interesting tapestry. What are the commonalities between your various endeavours, roles and side projects? What attributes of you shine through, and how can you showcase them? These are the qualities that make your brand interesting and unique, verses a brand constrained by predictability.

Me at the f:Entrepreneur #ialso Top 100 event, House of Lords

I wear two distinct hats with my own private practice and Golden Notebook, my personal branding agency. While on the surface my two businesses might seem quite different, they are essentially about helping people achieve their fullest potential using my professional training and experience. My story ties them together in a way that reflects my personal brand.  Many of my friends and clients will know that in addition to my training and experience as a psychologist, I also have a branding background…and  I’ve always found the intersection of psychology and branding absolutely fascinating (hence the birth of Golden Notebook!). You can always read more about my brand story here!



Such brand stories can solidify our personal brand even when juggling different roles. Sometimes, however, you can have a bit of fun with the  two very different sides of your brand,  adding a bit of leather to lace.  To bring in another personal example, an important part of my personal brand is fitness, and in particular martial arts. I’ve been training in Taekwondo now for over 6 years, and while it feels like second nature to wear my Dobok in my academy, I also love swapping that black belt for that little black dress and some killer heels. As a result, my brand seems equally at home in a sweaty gym as it does a glitzy charity event, which I find quite fun! The thing that brings together these two sides of me is just that, me. Some people from my different worlds – my professional world, my social world, my fitness world – might be surprised when
they hear about the contrasting side to my brand. But what I’ve found is that this duality adds an element of interest and a hint of edginess to my brand, which I feel truly reflects who I am. And that’s something I’ve learned to not only reconcile but to embrace and celebrate!

Let’s look to one of the most famous personal brands in the world, The Queen, for another example. The formality of her personal brand is of course most obvious, complete with “the look”; the suits, the coats and the jackets with matching hats, little bags and gloves. However, she also has her equally recognisable “off duty” look of country tweed coats and wellies, more often than not with one of her beloved Corgis by her side. She swaps the structured hat for a knotted scarf and we get a different, but equally authentic, Queen. And let’s not forget the real contrast to her brand: Her Royal Highness was a Land Rover mechanic and military truck mechanic in the Second World War. How’s that for a touch of edginess?

We all have varied sides to ourselves, and such contrasts can even show up in lifestyle choices.  I have my London “city gal” side and I also have a “seaside persona” of sorts, a more relaxed variation of me. Perhaps you might have your relaxed, collaborate side in the office and yet be ultra-competitive on the netball court with your team.  Or you may work in a “dog-eat-dog” type of environment but spend a lot of your free time volunteering with young people who need a little extra help. These are all valid parts of you, parts that can make you all the more interesting and multi-faceted.

Sometimes these elements can surprise, delight and even stir things up a bit. The trick to building a truly authentic brand is not to hide these contrasts but embrace and share them with the world.


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Goodbye to the Last Great Dandy. My Tribute to Lagerfeld

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In lieu of a “Brand of the Month”, I felt compelled (like so many) to pay tribute to this visionary designer.

With his passing, fashion has lost a genius and an icon. For decades, Lagerfeld oversaw the creative direction of two major fashion houses (something truly rare in the industry), alongside of directing his signature brand. The bio on his website described him as “a force of nature, coupled with an enigmatic persona and an original perspective on fashion and pop culture.” Lagerfeld was effortlessly unique and memorable. He possessed razor sharp wit, an extravagant flair and a penchant for the more cultured and lavish things in life. Perhaps he was the last great dandy.

Lagerfeld ticked all the boxes of a strong personal brand. Then there were those elements that catapulted him into brand legend status, making him iconic.

It started with an insatiable appetite

From a young age, Lagerfeld described a burning desire to escape the German countryside of his childhood. He once told The Independent, “I always knew what I wanted. As a child, I wanted Austrian lederhosen. I always wanted to be different from other people. I hated children. I was born with a pad of paper and a pencil in my hand. I was looking at images before I could read.” You might say he had a voracious appetite for self-improvement. In the 2015 documentary Karl Lagerfeld, a Lonely King, Lagerfeld also shared that as a child, he learnt a page of the dictionary almost every night. As an adolescent, his mother took him to his first fashion show in 1949, where a revelation and the birth of his fashion ambition were born. This sparked his journey.

With the blessing of his parents, Lagerfeld left home at age 14 for Paris, where he finished his education and achieved early success. A gifted sketcher, he submitted a series of designs to competitions and received a prestigious design prize in 1954 (aged 21), an accolade he shared with Yves St Laurent. The competition landed him an apprenticeship to Balmain (one of its judges), followed by a stint at Jean Patou. In 1964, he joined Chloé, followed by the furrier Fendi in 1965, with whom he stayed until his death. Then, in 1983, he arrived at Chanel.

And boy did he arrive.

A dash of Alchemy

From a branding perspective, Lagerfeld effectively engaged an alchemist archetype.  Alchemists work their magic to turn “lead into gold”, old into new. This is exactly what he did with Chanel.

Coco died in 1971, and a decade later her label was in the doldrums, reliant on fragrance and “suit sales to middle-aged women”. Lagerfeld’s job was to resuscitate it, and drag the dated fashion house into the present. When he took over the creative reigns at Chanel, he almost single-handedly restored it to a position that commanded revenues in the billions.

He explained: “Chanel was dead and everyone said don’t touch it. Now, of course, everyone is reviving brands.” In Karl Lagerfeld, a Lonely King, he quotes Goethe as inspiration: “making a better future with the expanded elements of the past.” He not only managed to turn Coco’s house around and make Chanel the  status label, but he also added a dash of fun and edginess to the brand. According to an interview with the New York Times Style Magazine, his self-professed secret was “to keep working harder than anybody else and to scent newness while renovating tradition.”

And that’s what alchemists do, they work hard at making something that is deemed worthless or mediocre into something meaningful and powerful. Lagerfeld was known as the most frenetic of fashion designers; his workaholism was an established part of his brand and he created more than four times more on average than his colleagues (he designed some 14 collections a year).

The alchemist also creates experiences where their audience feel transported to somewhere magical or different from their day-to-day lives. Our magician did just that nearly every fashion week, creating spectacular Chanel sets that dazzled and transported his audiences.



Of course he also did some magical things with Fendi shows; case in point, in 2007, the world saw the first-ever catwalk show on the Great Wall of China.

Just as he transformed fashion houses and catwalk experiences, he also had transformed himself. Vogue described Lagerfeld as “the master of reinvention”; he transformed his life at an early age and forged a powerful identity in fashion. He created an almost magical lifestyle for himself, photographing fashion for magazines, publishing poetry, creating art and even owning a bookshop, all alongside of directing Chanel, Fendi and his eponymous label.  His book, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet, became an international bestseller.  He became knowledgeable about things such as opera, furniture and architecture. He owned a vast library in his Parisian home (which is estimated to house over 300,000 books) and could read in several languages. As observed by Andrew O’Hagan during an interview for New York Times Style Magazine, “He wants to present the best of all possible worlds and impose his own philosophy of improvement.”

Lagerfeld also co-branded magnificently, teaming up over the years with brands like Macy’s and H&M, along with some more unexpected collaborations such as with Audi, Volkswagen Golf, Coca-Cola and Magnum brands. But perhaps his most surprising co-branding was with Andy Warhol.  The documentary Karl Lagerfeld, a Lonely King highlights Lagerfeld’s fascination with world of Andy Warhol, and so he agreed to be in a Warhol film in 1973.

Max Delys and Karl Lagerfeld in L’Amour, 1973

The unique embellishments (his outer brand)

The ponytail, the fingerless gloves, the dark glasses, stiff white collar, the diamante belt buckles, tie broaches and rings. Just those descriptors alone are as defining of his brand as his name. Chances are most people can identify Karl Lagerfeld, even if they know little about who he is. His image is instantly recognizable (even from the back!), an Nike swish of the fashion world. Lagerfeld started adopting some of his first style signatures – dark glasses and a ponytail – as early as the late Seventies. He had created and maintained one of the strongest, most consistent and enduring outer brands of our time.  Karl Lagerfeld became a logo in his own right.

Logo from his Lagerfeld website and social media

As far as I’m concerned, the epitome of strong outer branding is having a doll made in your likeness. Not only were their Lagerfeld dolls and figurines, but his image appeared in everything from cartoons, colouring books, and even a video game.


Lagerfeld snow globe and doll, 2011



Lagerfeld phone case for iPhone 6, 7 and 8 models.

And then there’s my personal favourite, the Karl Lagerfeld Barbie doll (2014):


Forgive my fringe! Me rubbing shoulders with Lagerfeld in Paris, 2010, at a Colette launch for his “mini Karl” doll.

As Andrew O’Hagan observed in the New York Times Style Magazine interview, “There is something complete about the Lagerfeld look. The stiff white collar, the fingerless gloves, the dark jacket and pants, the rings, the dark glasses and the ponytail. When I was with him, his face was an even mask of light foundation and his hair was powdered. He has fleshy lips, Oscar Wilde lips, and a sparkle in the eye that one only sees with his permission, when he dips his glasses to let you see that a joke has made its way through to the smart interior.” A sophisticated and structured exterior did not necessarily mean there was an absence of humour. Lagerfeld could also parody himself, as seen below carrying a tote bag that read ‘Karl Who?’, which was also printed on T-shirts.


Mixed with a sharp edge

Lagerfeld’s sharp wit, his way with insults, his outrageousness; of course his brand was not without controversy.  In the days following his death, anecdotes came flooding in, and not all were gracious.  Rachel Cook, former stylist for Lagerfeld, described in The Guardian how she saw it from both sides: “the brilliance at the drawing board, and the bully who didn’t like to see his female employees in flat shoes. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other.” Alexandra Shulman described locking horns with him on a few occasions over something she had published in British Vogue, and shared how Lagerfeld once wrote to her that “nobody would ever buy [her] magazine again”.

As Cook pointed out, it wasn’t that long ago when the designer “had called the singer Adele “a little too fat”, accused “fat mummies” of being envious of thin models, and dismissed the #MeToo movement” (to name a few controversial moments).

Even after death, the controversy swirls, as his beloved cat, Choupette, is said to potentially inherit millions to continue her “lavish lifestyle of flying private jets, being doted on by a team of maids and eating from silver dishes”. Perhaps Mademoiselle Choupette wouldn’t mind sharing some of those millions with animal charities to help some of her less fortunate four-legged friends? In all fairness, it should be noted that Lagerfeld was considered a big charity-giver but wouldn’t necessarily talk about it.

Controversy and edge aside, he became a supreme taste maker who used the powerful ingredients of his own brand to cross generational lines and dictate style to the masses. The Lagerfeld brand was, and will continue to be, associated with sophistication, charm and wit.

So perhaps he really was the last great dandy.
A bejeweled 21st century Dorian Grey with a pony tail.



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How to look after yourself when your personal brand is about looking after others

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After graduating from my doctoral programme years ago, a friend of mine gave me a little graduation present, a book called “The Art of Relaxation” or something like that.  I remember looking at her like she was absolutely crazy. Why would I ever need to slow down and relax? What was she trying to say? Some years later, however, I learned just how vital self-care was, both in my personal and professional life. After all, as a psychologist and personal brand consultant, looking after others is a central part of my own personal brand.  When our focus is outwards – on others – and we forget (or neglect) to attend to our own selves, we not only compromise our own mental and physical well-being, but limit our efficacy in caring for others.

This post explores the importance of “caring for the carer”. Our guest blogger is Jo Tocher, an experienced holistic therapist, author and transformational coach at She made the decision to cross over from the corporate world after she experienced a miscarriage at 24 weeks, which changed her life and her direction. She has since dedicated herself to working with women to help them find a place of acceptance and even happiness.

Here’s Jo…

I always have to be mindful about self care, when working with women who have lost babies in pregnancy.

Using the analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first, you have to be in good form, mentally, physically and emotionally before working with others.

Last year I decided to write a book Life After Miscarriage –Your Guide to healing from Pregnancy Loss.  It was something I’d been thinking of doing for a while, and I wanted to share my tools, as a holistic therapist and transformational coach, which I have learnt over the past 20 years.  It was an interesting exercise, and a process that I enjoyed doing but was also quite hard work mentally.  I had to get myself into the right space before being in a place to write and because it’s an emotive subject I had to dig deep.

I’ve done a lot of self-development over the years to get myself into a place where I can work with others, so writing the book felt like the final piece of the puzzle.

Writing is cathartic and it certainly was for me.  I was grateful that I had many tools in my toolbox to enable me to write about my experience and in turn to enable others to heal.

I couldn’t have done it if I wasn’t looking after myself and being aware of my limitations, my health, my energy levels and my emotions.  There were times when my self-sabotage would kick in, and I’d do everything I could before settling down to write – the kitchen never looked as clean!  When these times happened, I’d go with it until I couldn’t anymore and then go and release whatever was coming up for me.  I always find a deadline helps too!


My top tips are:

  • To make sure I’m eating well, a good balanced diet and although I enjoy a glass of wine, to be mindful of my intake.
  • Taking time out for me is important, and something I advocate to my clients. Self Care – do what makes you feel good and if you don’t want to do something don’t feel you have to do it.  As women, we often do things for others, but if this isn’t serving us, then it’s ok to say no.  It makes you feel good after you’ve said no, to something you don’t want to do – it’s empowering.
  • Journaling helps – in the morning I journal, it helps me focus and I find writing cathartic.It keeps me mentally and emotionally level.  All my thoughts and feelings come out of my head onto paper and I can look at them from a distance, I become more objective about them, and ask myself, is this really true? Or is this a belief?
  • Taking time out to have a bath with relaxing and balancing essential oils such as Lavender, Roman Chamomile and Geranium.
  • Meditation and Movement – a regular routine of Yoga in the morning, to help stretch the body and or a walk outside helps to clear your mind. I often sit in mediation for 5 or 10 minutes before the day starts.  It’s a great way to focus on the day ahead.
  • Sleep – good sleep of 7-8 hours is crucial. This is where the brain shuts off and our bodies recalibrate during this period of rest.
  • I use a tool called the Energy Alignment Method (EAM) with my clients and I find it invaluable to use on myself as well. When I’m feeling out of sorts, or know that I’m not in flow, I release the resistance I’m holding in my energy and bring in how I’d like to feel.  This is a wonderful way to bring you up the emotional scale and to be in the best place with your thoughts, mindset and emotions. I found that my bounce-back-ability is much quicker than it used to be, since using this tool.

When our personal brand is about looking after others, it is crucial we look after ourselves; otherwise we can suffer from burnout.  You simply cannot help others when you are not in flow yourself, when you are tired and exhausted.  It is so vitally important to look after yourself first.  Keeping a balance in life is crucial.  A little of everything and living by the Four Doctors. Dr Food – eating a balanced diet and limiting alcohol.  Dr Movement – walks, yoga, tai chi, running, cycling – exercise in moderation. Dr Quiet – reading, bathing, meditating, sleeping.  Dr Fun – laughing, singing, dancing, friends.    Keeping the four Doctors in mind, you can’t go wrong.


To find out more about Jo Tocher, her services
and how she works, check out:

You can also follower her here on Twitter!



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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…

Glenn Close

Here’s why…
This month served as a nice reminder of what an extraordinary talent Glenn Close is. After all, she did just walk away with a SAG award on Sunday, and a Golden Globe earlier this month (and judging by how visibly surprised she was by both wins, perhaps she herself needed that reminder!). She was also tipped for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Wife.

Huge heaps of talent aside, there are a few facets of her brand that make her truly remarkable in my eyes.

She challenges ageism and stereotypes

I haven’t seen The Wife  yet, but I hear it opens with a sex scene. This is the first scene Close and her co-star Jonathan Pryce shot. Bravo I say!

Close, age 71, is challenging the notion that aging comes with an automatic surrendering of one’s sexuality. “It’s one of the great myths that you lose your sexuality as you get older,” Close shared with The Guardian last week. “I feel as free and as creative, as sexual and as eager, as I ever have. And it’s ironic because I’m thinking: ‘How much time do I have left now?’” she continued. “There are so many things I’m interested in doing. It’s one of those ironies, I suppose, that we sometimes start feeling comfortable in our own skin only late in our lives, but hopefully with enough time to benefit from it.”

She continues, “So what comes after this I’m excited to see. Right now, I’m just enjoying feeling …Chuffed. Isn’t that what you all say? I’m feeling very chuffed.”

Close also challenged traditional gender roles during the Golden Globes  earlier this month. I loved watching her gobsmacked expression as her name was read out, but what I really loved was her speech, which paid tribute to her late mother (“who really sublimated herself to my father her whole life”) and urged women “to find personal fulfilment”.

“I’ve been floored by the response,” she shared with the Guardian. “People are coming up to me in airports to talk about my speech. It’s almost like I don’t know what I’ll say if I win again. It’ll be hard to top.”

She is an immense talent but an underdog at the same time

Close is strongly associated with her portrayal of disturbed book editor Alex Forrest in the 1987 film Fatal Attraction. While indeed one of her most iconic roles, our favourite “bunny boiler” has also been the recipient of numerous accolades, including three Tony Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, two SAG Awards, and three Primetime Emmy Awards.

However what I find extraordinary is the fact that she’s been nominated six previous times for an Academy Award but has yet to win her first Oscar. She received previous nods for her performances in “Albert Nobbs,” “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Fatal Attraction,” “The Natural,” “The Big Chill” and “The World According to Garp.” As Close’s film debut was relatively late, at age 35, following an acclaimed stage career, she has essentially been an academy award nominee since the beginning of her film career. She now holds the record for being the actress with the most nominations without winning. The Wife will be her fourth nomination for Best Actress.

But if she wins an Oscar, she’ll become the 25th performer to pull off what’s known as the Triple Crown of acting awards. She already has three Emmys and three Tonys, and an Oscar would put her in a tie for first place with Maggie Smith for the most number of these awards.

She steps it up and gives back

Another thing I truly admire about Close is her philanthropic endeavors. In fact, I was “chuffed” (couldn’t resist!) to discover that she shares a lot of my values and causes.  To name a few, she has been an active supporter for animal charities and causes such as gay marriage, women’s rights, and mental health.

As a psychologist, I have to commend her involvement in mental health anti-stigma initiatives. Close co-founded Bring Change 2 Mind in 2010 after her sister, Jessie Close, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her nephew, Calen Pick, with schizoaffective disorder. The national campaign aims to combat the stigma around mental illness, to provide access to information, and to provide support to those with 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.

She’s also a fellow dog lover! She has been involved with a number of causes for our four-legged friends and is also an advocate of dog adoption. She volunteered and produced a documentary for Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that trains prison inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and first responders.

She frequently promotes her charitable causes through her Instagram account. (As a cute side note, I discovered that her dog Pip has his own Instagram account, Sir Pippin of Beanfield).

With the Baftas and Academy Awards around the corner, next month could be a big one.

“It really does feel different,” she told Today about her seventh Oscar nod. “I’m thrilled to be in this time in my life and this time in my career, to be invited into this incredibly special room. It feels amazing.”

Well, I think she’s amazing. And seven is a lucky number.



“Does this fit my personal brand?” How to test drive a new career

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Your job, career or vocation is a huge part of your personal brand which means that when you start thinking about changing it, the question “does this fit my personal brand?” has to come into the equation. One woman who is trying to make this easier for us is occupational psychologist Lucy Standing, founder of job shadowing service and career change website ViewVO. I spoke to Lucy about how you can use job shadowing to help scope out whether a new job, career or starting a business is for you…

Tell us a little bit about you and the concept behind ViewVO?

I’m a psychologist by background.  I used to run graduate recruitment for an investment bank and found interns we recruited were performing better than graduates – the key difference being interns had experienced working in the bank, so knew more about what to expect. Importantly, they weren’t just performing better, they were happier.  It shouldn’t be a shock or surprise to anyone that we make better decisions about what we want to do when we experience it.  I wanted to make it possible for more people to experience jobs they were thinking of doing because in a world where there is no ‘job for life’ anymore, the need to change jobs is going to increase, but there is still not enough practical help or opportunities to get access to this experience. ViewVo – which stands for ‘view a vocation’ is changing this.


This sounds like it’s a good way to tell if a job is authentically you…are there any things you should be looking for during your experience or questions you should be looking for or asking to help determine that?

Yes – as much as possible you want to use this as a chance to get as much information as you can.  Being too prescriptive when every role is different is not helpful, but if we look at what the key things are that correlate with happiness in a role, we can see it’s helpful to ask questions around:

  • How much autonomy there is in the role.
  • What the barriers to entry real and unwritten.
  • The income.  I don’t ask any of my career mentors to share their income, but I do ask them to review and point all our clients in the right direction.
  • The team/the social side of the work.  One of the biggest drivers of the satisfaction we have at work is those we work with.  If you’re applying for a straightforward role, I’d always ask to come and meet the rest of the team, shadow a day in the office/dial into a meeting.  You’ll get a good sense of the atmosphere and what sort of level of informality there is.
  • The main skills needed/the tools you need to use. People overestimate the value of knowledge and underestimate the value of skill.  If you understand what knowledge is needed and what skills are useful (driven in some cases by the tools you’ll need to use) then you’re already in a better position to evaluate your strengths relative to the work.
  • Related to autonomy is the flexibility/work life piece.  This is such an important driver for most people, but it’s the area they feel least comfortable asking about during an interview.  The reality behind the website or JD is so much more helpful than the sales picture often painted!

If you have little to no experience when entering a new job, what’s the best way to build confidence and not feel like an “imposter”?

You have to do it.  You can power pose all you like and convince yourself to spend lots of money on coaching yourself into a confident mindset, but it won’t work.  You need to accept at the beginning you won’t know it all and that’s not just OK, it’s normal.  Your first attempt at peeling a potato was probably terrible.  You improve over time. With things like jobs, which have a huge complexity of people, tasks, skills and knowledge, there is always a learning curve.  You will not be as effective at the start as you will be once you’ve got your head around things. So in answer to your question, I’d say you will feel like an imposter, but why on earth is feeling like an imposter bad?  If you’re new in a role, it’s the only way you will feel.  It’s only when you’ve got stuck in and got your head around things, that you will start to feel more comfortable.  Your discomfort is useful: when you feel exposed because you don’t have the knowledge, accept it and ask for help.   If this is a new role and you have no experience, acting as though you do is inauthentic and looks ridiculous.  Embrace your imposter!

If  an employee would like to shadow a job of someone more senior in their organisation, what’s the best way to ask for that without sounding like you want to steal it away from them?

My response is to ask: do you want to steal it away from them? If you do, I think an honest approach is always best.  The reality is, you may want to steal it away, but you don’t control that, so wanting it and getting it are two different things.  An approach along the lines of: ‘I really want to do your job one day, but to work out if it would be right for me and to understand more about what I’m missing, it would be really helpful for me if I could shadow you at work’.

You also have to accept having someone shadow you is a complete hassle.  There is very little in it for the person offering the shadowing and whilst many people are orientated to help others, what you are asking for is a big deal. On ViewVo I ask people to pay for the day to help compensate for the hassle factor. If it’s someone internally, then I wonder what else you could offer in return?  Do you have a skill set you can offer to them as payment (e.g., proofreading a document, testing a website as a user, reviewing their recruitment interview questions).  Whatever the skill set, the point is, you rarely get something for nothing.  So acknowledge the hassle and think of how you can compensate others for this.

How best should an interested participant prepare for a shadowing opportunity, with you or otherwise?

I’d refer to the question above on thinking of the sort of areas you can ensure you get some coverage.  If you are meeting a business owner, take a business plan with you (Virgin start up do a great one:

Before a shadowing opportunity, I always get everyone to start with a phone call, so the career expert gets time to get their head around what you most want information about.  For example, I had a client who wanted a book published, so she wanted to shadow a book publisher.  She spoke to him beforehand and when they met, he’d brought with him two other editors.  He’d also asked her to send over a chapter before they met, so the meeting was then more focused on which sort of publishers she needed to approach and what changes she needed to make before she’d be ready to do that.  It was a great way to make the time more productive.

What are some things you should consider reflecting on after your shadowing experience?

Most of the time, shadowing someone does inform your thinking.  Even if it’s ‘I know I don’t want to do that’ you’ve moved forward massively.  Knowing what you don’t like is almost as useful as knowing what you do.  You should be prepared to be disappointed, but disappointment with an idea, is a heck of a lot more comfortable than feeling scared because you’ve just invested life savings into something you realise you don’t enjoy.  As long as you are learning and gathering data, this is a valuable process.  You should also be prepared for that big imposter.  Remember,  you won’t do a job you love.  Over time, as you work more in a field of work, you develop skills and strengths which become and are unique. As your expertise develops, so does your confidence.  The more entrenched you are with your work, the more you’ll feel a sense of ‘love’ and commitment.  This is where you will end up – but it won’t be where you start.

Tell us a little about the charity side of ViewVo. Sustainability and charity is a big part of my brand so I’m always keen to hear how others incorporate that into their own brands…

I didn’t even start ViewVo until I got clearance from HMRC that organisations that use this can donate the funds to charity.  When I started talking to potential mentors, it became clear that whilst not all of them wanted ‘paying’, they did want commitment and value from the person doing the shadowing.  The mentors might not need the money, but if they knew a fee would be supporting a charity for example, this convinced many they’d want to get involved.  Certainly, if I’m getting mentors from a larger corporate, they can’t ‘earn’ a fee on the side whilst working during employers hours.  What they can do however, is a charity day/volunteer day. ViewVo gives them a chance to donate their time for free – but their fee is donated by ViewVo on their behalf to a charity of their choice.  In effect, we are the first organisation who encourages a ‘give as you learn’ philosophy.



To learn more about Lucy Standing and ViewVo, be sure to check out, or connect over Instagram  or on Twitter @viewvo




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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. As it’s December, I wanted to select someone who truly shined; a strong, glimmering personal brand to bring 2018 to a close. And the winner is…


Here’s why…
Of course our Queen Bey is immensely talented; ever since her beginnings with girl-group Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé’s music has been universally acclaimed.  But her talent is just one dimension of what makes her brand so extraordinary.

A big part of Beyoncé allure comes from the balancing and melding of two personas within one brand.  For one, there’s the hyper-sexualized “Pop Goddess” image she projects in the limelight, contrasted with the maternal figure portrayed with her family. She has become shiny example of a woman who can be both sexy and maternal.

But there’s another interesting phenomenon going on here.

Bey the Paradox

Beyoncé personifies effort and effortlessness simultaneously. VOX magazine called this phenomenon the “Bey Paradox”. Referencing her performance at Coachella 2018, the article makes note that Beyoncé never once let her audience forget how much work she was putting into her two hour performance, yet simultaneously created the illusion that that it all just flawlessly emerged with little effort.

This paradox, the hardest-working woman in the business and someone who achieves effortless, natural perfection, is a fascinating and powerful differentiating dimension to her brand, one that provides an element of surprise, mystery and magic. She is effort and effortlessness all at once.

Bey the Feminist

Beyoncé also brings a strong feminist and activist angle to her branding, albeit one presented in a glamourous pop-star package. She literally spelled this out for audiences in 2014 when performing in front of a screen emblazoned with ‘FEMINIST’ in giant wording during her Mrs Carter world tour and at the MTV VMAs.

While the media had lots to say about this, it started a dialog about feminism, which, as Beyoncé shared, was the purpose behind the messaging. “I put the definition of feminist in my song and on my tour, not for propaganda or to proclaim to the world that I’m a feminist, but to give clarity to the true meaning,” she explained to ELLE magazine. “I’m not really sure people know or understand what a feminist is, but it’s very simple. It’s someone who believes in equal rights for men and women.”

By embracing the issue of feminism, Beyoncé has created a strong brand association with it, one that helps to differentiates her brand from other pop celebs. There’s also little doubt what Beyoncé’s brand has done for black female identity in particular. Even President Obama has hailed her as the perfect role model for his daughters.

Bey the Business Woman

In a male-dominated corporate world, Beyoncé distinguishes herself as the founder and CEO of her own record label and production company, Parkwood Entertainment. An astute business woman, Beyoncé isn’t afraid to take risks and shake up the music industry. For example, there was her decision to release her innovative self-titled album (2013) directly to iTunes in the dead of night without any promotion, which became the fastest-selling album in the history of the iTunes Store at the time.

Beyoncé has also demonstrated tremendous marketing savvy, particularly in the art of effectively communicating her brand to her target audience. She has gone on to create a global brand for herself, with her name appearing on everything from perfume and fashion to Pepsi commercials. She was also executive producer of her own HBO documentary “Life Is But A Dream” (2013), which offers a rare glimpse into her private life. She’s masterfully positioned her brand so it reaches the right consumers…or target audience.

Until just this year, Beyoncé was the highest paid female performer in the world (Katy Perry snatched the title last month), and has shone a spotlight on issues ranging from sexism to racial identity in ways never before seen in the mainstream music industry.

And let’s not forget Bey’s co-branding.

Beyoncé shares that she’s “Crazy in Love” with one of the most powerful men in music, Jay-Z. These two powerhouses certainly create one explosive co-brand. At the same time, our Bey still projects a fierce, independent personal brand. Beyoncé managed to become the biggest female pop star in the world while cultivating her marriage and her role as mother. Which brings us to…

Bey the Total Package

Perhaps this describes Bey’s brand the best. With Beyoncé’s brand spanning the worlds of art, entrepreneurship, activism, and family, we get the total package, a Renaissance woman…and an icon with a devout cult following.

And what a shinning example of personal branding to end 2018!

Happy New Year from all of us at Golden Notebook!



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Adding a Hint of Edginess to Your Brand

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When it comes to personal branding, one way to catch people’s attention is to add a hint of an “edge”, or a dash of controversy. You can do this by the way you look of course, as many people do with piercings, hairstyles or the way you dress. Another approach is to play around with the language you use perhaps a term when it’s least expected. I’ve been particularly intrigued by some people who have brought it into their work, adding a touch of edginess to their business, their events, and even their Masters dissertation.

I decided to dig a little deeper by getting to know some “edgy” women…

Michelle Minnikin

Michelle Minnikin of Insights Psychologyis a business psychologist: a group of people you would imagine have to be seen as being extremely professional and even traditional. Michelle, along with a colleague, has built up a strong following for her Newcastle based events which they have titled Don’t Be A Dick.

Michelle explains: “We basically share the common truth that HR and recruitment isn’t that complicated. Are you treating this person fairly? Are you listening to X? No, then you’re being a dick. Stop being a dick. It all started when people kept saying you should meet Rob Baker, founder of Tailored Thinking, you’d get on like a house on fire. Finally, when we did get together at Newcastle Start up Week, we were challenged to come up with a proactive new brand and Don’t Be A Dick was a result of that.  In start-up culture swear words aren’t that uncommon, after all people are putting two fingers up to corporate life in most cases, but it can be surprising for those who don’t come from that background.

The name has a multitude of uses. As well as catching the eye, it also acts as a filter, sifting out those fussy stuffy clients who wouldn’t want to work me with anyway. I can be quite sweary and loud. I’m chatty and informal, certainly not corporate. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m not afraid to get excited, be messy, be vulnerable. I’ve worked in construction and engineering and can banter with the best of them.  You get a flavour of me. The real me.

In marketing the only problem anyone has is obscurity and the more controversial and shocking you are, the more chance you have of being noticed. I’m increasingly becoming more comfortable with the fact that you can’t please everyone all the time, and so more comfortable being me. There is a caveat to this though – this is the authentic Michelle. I think if you’re being edgy and it’s not authentic, not really you, then not only will you come across an inauthentic but you just won’t feel comfortable yourself.”

Annie Brooks

Annie Brooks is the co-founder of women’s business club Sister Snog.  Annie and her business partner Hela Wozniak-Kay first used “Snog” for their branding consultancy “Snog the Agency” and Sister Snog was the natural choice when they started their business club for women.

She admits that the reactions they’ve had have been mixed: “Some women love it. They’re on our wavelength and we know they’ve got us. Some people, ask if we are a gay club. My response is “the membership criteria are that you are a remarkable woman in business, who is a decision maker with an entrepreneurial spirit, we have no interest in our members’ sexual preferences!”  What it does do is wheedle out the women that aren’t right for us, saving us, and them, lots of time and energy.

I probably see it as more memorable than controversial and that was the aim behind the name. 20 years ago, when we first started, it stood out more. Today, it’s not so unusual. When we chose the name we wanted something that would be remembered and Snog ticked that box. It was cheeky without being vulgar. We also liked that it felt a bit retro. It also has that Virgin element to it, in that it can be used as the parent brand for other businesses. Indeed, you can see parallels with the Virgin name, as that was deemed outlandish when it first came out, now no one blinks an eye about it. It’s mainstream.

It does, however, help sum up our brand identity. We are distinctive. Remarkable. Unconventional and not at all like other women’s business clubs or networking clubs. We’ve loved creating a brand we can live by and we don’t deviate from it. We are big, big brand advocates and live it every day.”

Paula Gardner

Paula Gardner is a business psychologist and coach and the founder of The Bitch Network, an online platform and club coaching women around confidence, self-esteem and assertiveness.

“I had been running women’s events for over a year but changed venue to a private club and needed a name for the evening that was a little more edgy and controversial to fit in with the club’s brand. I chose The Bitch Night. The response was amazing; three times the usual amount of guests. There wasn’t enough room for people to sit and we even had men join us, which was a first.

After that evening, people started asking me to do more along similar lines, and it was on a business retreat with psychologists, which included Michelle Minnikin of Don’t be A Dick fame, that the idea for The Bitch Network was born. I remember Michelle getting quite nervous that I hadn’t registered the domain!

Reactions have been interesting. It certainly provokes conversations! There have been a few people who have said that it wasn’t for them but so many women actually get it and love it.  As part of branding is making sure that it’s followed through I’ve made sure I’ve been doing that with little touches like naming our coaches Bitch coachesand have online Bitchin’ sessions.”

Tracy Pound

Tracy is the founder of IT software trainers which has been running for 18 years. Their unofficial strap line is that they “take the SH out of IT.”

“We don’t put it on the website,” says Tracy, “but it comes out in out networking and our workshops. It’s how people know us. We like it because it echoes out training: there is a lot of laughter and we make an effort to get people to relax. Software training with us is not dry. People are sometimes afraid of technology, especially the higher up the ladder you go, and we find an informal and fun approach from the very beginning puts them at ease and helps them learn better.

I was a bit nervous about using it originally, but my marketing people said go for it. We don’t put it on everything so this allows us to gauge our audience and use it when we see fit. However, it’s made a big difference to our business, helping sum up our unique proposition. We think outside the box. It’s a little rude, yes, but it’s not offensive and that’s important.

We deliberately chose trainers that live up to our message. They’re charismatic, with a knowledge of business as well as the software. Above all, they suit the brand.”

Rachel Daniel

It’s not only businesses that can benefit from a little edginess, Rachel Daniel, a masters’ student, entitled her dissertation A gift of shit: A study on professional burnout from a Lacanian perspective, looking at burn out in three professions: plumbers, midwives and therapists.

“I chose to be a bit edgy because I thought it would help me stand out and help me to achieve a better grade. Having said that, I was lucky enough to come across the quote…gift of shit etc. by the person I was basing the dissertation on – and this was literally a gift to me!

My mother was mortified and shocked by the title, my peers thought it was funny, and my tutor thought it was brilliant. I love talking about it to people as I feel it shows my playful side in work and life. I ensured my work lived up to the title by weaving this into the work as a main theme and using the three respondent groups in my research as holding the theme is some shape or form. So the plumbers deal with shit as an integral part of their work, midwives can often do so too, and counsellors deal with metaphorical shit also.”


Thanks ladies for sharing your inspirational and edgy stories! Anyone else up for adding a little spice into their brands in 2019?



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