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…
With the recent launch of her new series, I thought I would take this opportunity to showcase the impressive brand that is J.K. Rowling. Most of course know her for the exceedingly popular Harry Potter book series and the series of films based on them. Whether you are a fan of her work or not, there’s little debate that she has built one strong personal brand for herself.
J.K. Rowling. Photo: Debra Hurford Brown
When I think of J.K. Rowling, a few things come to mind.
She has incredible resilience and determination.
Most of us might view a train delay as a frustrating inconvenience. But Rowling actually turned it into an opportunity, conceiving the idea for Harry Potter on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. The next seven years were marked by major life events such as the death of her mother, divorce from her first husband, subsequent single motherhood, struggles with depression and brush with poverty until the publication of her first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. Rowling’s is truly a story of “rags to riches”; within five years, she transformed her life from relying on state benefits to becoming a multi-millionaire. She ranked as the world’s highest paid author in 2017.
Just last month, the BBC released Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was also picked up by HBO for distribution in the US and Canada.
She calls the shots.
Rowling’s own hand shapes her product, and quite literally her name. For one, she seems to maintain careful control over her work, as seen in the way she brilliantly positioned herself to have final approval over the Harry Potter films. She also went on to become a producer for some of the final films in the series.
When Rowling decides to put her name out there, it’s out there. If she decides to hide her name behind a nom de plume, it’s hidden…until it’s not, and then it’s a sensation. She wrote her first crime fiction novel, The Cuckoos Calling, in 2013 under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The novel was the first of her Cormoran Strike series, followed by The Silkworm (2014) and Career of Evil (2015). Rowling shared that she had found it liberating working under a pseudonym (she reported taking the name from one of her personal heroes, Robert Kennedy, and a childhood name she had invented) and was quite angered when her identity was revealed. However, within days of Rowling being revealed as the author, sales of the book rose by 150,000%, and publishing house Little Brown printed another 140,000 copies to meet the increase in demand. In March 2017, Rowling revealed the title of her fourth novel, Lethal White, via Twitter in a game of “Hangman” with her followers.
Part of staying in control involves managing her reputation. For example, she knows how to take ownership of missteps. After being called out for misinterpreting footage of President Donald Trump appearing to refuse to shake the hand of a disabled child at a White House event, she quickly took to Twitter and apologised “unreservedly” to the boy’s family.
Her reputation also took a brief hit following a damaging Daily Mail article in 2013, but quickly bounced right back after getting an apology from the Mail and winning a lawsuit (the damages were donated to charity). Speaking of which…
She’s a dedicated philanthropist.
Rowling supports a number of causes through the Volant Charitable Trust, which she established in 2000. Her charity’s annual budget of £5.1 million is used to combat poverty and social inequality, and gives to organisations that aid children, single parent families, and multiple sclerosis research. She is also the founder and president of the international children’s non-profit organization Lumos, whose mission is to end the institutionalization of children across the globe and promote safe and caring environments for children.
Some might be surprised that her three companion books to her Harry Potter series were written in support of charity: Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in support of Comic Relief; and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in support of her children’s charity, Lumos, which raised millions for the charity.
She isn’t afraid to share her voice.
Rowling has become one of the most popular voices on Twitter, with nearly 13 million followers. Whether it’s shutting down trolls, sharing candid political commentary, or tweeting messages of hope, she shares an refreshingly authentic voice social media. She certainly doesn’t hesitate to add her voice to the ever growing chorus of people condemning President Donald Trump. Her razor sharp take-downs on twitter have been brilliant, as seen in this piece.
Rowling also campaigned against Brexit, sharing on her website: “I’m the mongrel product of this European continent and I’m an internationalist. I was raised by a Francophile mother whose family was proud of their part-French heritage. My French ancestors lived in the troubled province of Alsace, which spent hundreds of years being alternately annexed by Germany and France. I’ve lived in France and Portugal and I’ve studied French and German. I love having these multiple allegiances and cultural associations. They make me stronger, not weaker. I glory in association with the cultures of my fellow Europeans. My values are not contained or proscribed by borders. The absence of a visa when I cross the channel has symbolic value to me. I might not be in my house, but I’m still in my hometown.”
Thank you J.K. Rowling for your strong, unwavering voice when we need it most!