It used to be known as your reputation. Today the gurus call it personal branding – the actions that define you and your career – don’t underestimate its value.

It's something Auckland Mayor Len Brown will know all about following last year's much publicised fling with Bevan Chuang.

"He has broken the trust of many of his voters, and trust is the most valuable commodity a brand has," says career guide Tom O'Neil of "What do you think of when you hear the name Bill Clinton - his reduction of the US national debt or Monica Lewinsky?
"To come back from this, Len Brown needs to understand that mud sticks. This fling will be a part of his political legacy forever more."

Tom O'Neil says people's personal brand no longer start and stop with them as a person, it is reflected in everything they do - across the physical and digital worlds, at work and at play.

"These days, everyone is a brand and the smart people are always on the lookout for the next career opportunity," he says.


"In the old days the term only applied to celebrities and sports stars, then came CEOs, and now - particularly because of professional social networking sites such as LinkedIn - everyone has the potential to become a brand.

"And whether or not people understand this, they need to start getting their ducks in a row about their brand or other people will do it for them.

"And this is where Facebook comes in, photos end up on the site showing people doing all sorts of things, and with facial recognition (tagging) they can be quickly picked out - sometimes doing silly things."

Tom O'Neil says building a brand, and to avoid being seen online doing something you might later regret, can mean changing the way you behave.

"Outside work you might be a rampant Waikato Chiefs' fan, wearing branded clothes at home and bore everyone about how wonderful they are. But at work you modify this behaviour and do your job," he says.

"So at work we do change our personality, to conform to certain societal expectations. The change may need to be extended."

Does that mean people should act in a particular way to fit themselves into a job they want?

"If people think they can change their persona to get a job that is out of whack with who they truly are, then there is no hope for them," says Tom. "If you are a reserved person, happy coding computers, working in isolation, why would you want to be a sales' rep? That's not being true to yourself."

When developing a brand, there is some essence of personal marketing, and this can include your photo says Tom O'Neil. He recommends people use the same photo of themselves whenever they go to post it online or publish it.

"Your face is your logo, and you don't have to look too hard to see how companies stick to one logo, using a defined set of colours and shapes," says Tom O'Neil.

"I believe that if you put your face to something, people will trust that information more than if you didn't. Therefore, using just one photo across all the different mediums is really important for the sake of consistency."

Among the brands linked directly to people include mortgage firm owner Mike Pero, Virgin's Sir Richard Branson, politician and even real estate agents. However, Tom has a word of caution if you hope to achieve fame and fortune simply by adding your face to a website.

"The brand Richard Branson has is incredible and worth millions of dollars, but 'John Smith' the customer services' manager is on a hiding to nothing to achieve the same level of brand recognition," says Tom O'Neil.

"I'd also say there is a difference between brand and profile. I have a strong profile in the career space, but I also have a profile in goal setting - so my brand has to cover those two areas."

But before you start to build your profile and brand, Tom O'Neil says you need to first know what you want to be known for. Dog grooming, project management, web design?

"It's pointless embarking on the personal branding process unless you know where you want to end up," he says. "If you just want to be famous, apply to appear on a reality TV show.

"But if you want to be known as a leader or expert in your chosen field, then that is where your focus should go. Then you need to ensure that everything you do points to that goal."

If you're really motivated to raise your profile Tom O'Neil suggests people start a personal blog site and write something original at least once a week to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. For the really ambitious, he suggests starting a radio-style podcast that could be heard around the world.

"You can interview people or talk about your area of expertise, perhaps using something topical to base each podcast on," says Tom O'Neil. "Not only can you get to speak with some very interesting people, but you get to be heard by movers and shakers in your industry."

Tom O'Neil says building a brand and developing a profile as the 'go-to' person in your chosen field can take up to a year of blogging once a week, include approaching editors to be featured in their publications, and putting yourself forward to be interviewed on radio and TV.

However, for those who have no interest in the fame game, Tom O'Neil advises they put 100 per cent effort into always looking smart - from clean shoes, appropriate clothing and neat hair - even if it may appear they are over dressed "better that than to be misjudged".

"If you want to get ahead at work, dress like the CEO," he says. "If you are going to take your brand seriously, you have to be 'on' as much as possible."

And once you have an established brand, Tom O'Neil says the work doesn't stop - it needs to be protected and maintained.

"You have to be conscious of not putting yourself in positions that would compromise your reputation and brand," he says.

Steve Hart is a freelance journalist at