Personal Branding 101 for Aspiring Public Relations Professionals

By Dan Toland

We conduct a lot of branding projects at Shift•ology, including the creation of logos and some neurologically-pleasing claims and messaging to help our clients reach more, convince more and win more of their key audiences. The term “personal branding” has become increasingly prevalent, however, with the advent and growth of social media, as individuals harness the power of these platforms to showcase who they are and build their own brands.

We discussed personal branding, particularly as it applies to students and aspiring public relations professionals, in a recent episode of our Shooting the Shift podcast. Below are some takeaways and tips to help ensure your personal brand is on point as you set out on your PR career journey.

What is a Personal Brand?

“My all-time favorite definition of a personal brand is by (former Amazon CEO) Jeff Bezos, who said, ‘Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,’” said Shift•ology Account Manager Emily Bennett. “Whether you’re talking about a company or a person, there’s so much more than meets the eye.”

“I think a lot of young professionals and high school and college students don’t realize that those things start so early in their lives,” she said. “Especially in this day and age where hiring managers can go back in time online and find things you might not want associated with your personal brand. All sorts of things can negatively impact your personal brand, so it’s important to do as much as you can to curate and accurately portray yourself to others starting now.” 

According to Bennett, personal branding is about first establishing what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about and what you want to do. From there, you can grow and make the connections you need to grow your brand and your career.

The Importance of Social Media

Social media is a big starting point for students and young professionals to showcase their abilities and their brand, but you need to be aware and intentional about who you are connecting with and the type of content you are posting to each channel, as well as the privacy settings you’re using. 

Some Online/Social Media Personal Branding Tips:

  • Make it easy for employers to quickly learn about you. Create and share an online portfolio/website that showcases your work samples, references and resume. 
  • Your potential employer will be researching you. Find out where they are active on social media, and be active there as well. Google yourself and audit your social media accounts to make sure you’re represented well.
  • Remember, it’s not always about what you post; it could be what others posted about you. Ensure content you’re tagged in accurately reflects your brand.
  • Have and maintain an active professional account on LinkedIn where you’re intentional about your connections and content. Follow and share from strong brands that reflect your interests and aspirations. Communicate what sets you apart and shows the value you’d add to a team.
  • Join and participate in interest-specific groups on social media platforms to be seen and connect with those who can help you along your career.
  • DON’T try to manage separate “personal” and “professional” accounts for yourself on single platforms. It’s risky,  can cause confusion, or potentially lock you out, leaving all you posted public for perpetuity.
  • Remain a student of your industry. Subscribe to newsletters and connect with, follow and re-share content from your peers to stay current.

Offline Is Just as (Actually More) Important

All things online and offline add up to your personal brand. How you interact with others, get along with teammates and the professionalism (or lack thereof) you display in-person is even more important than being a social media personal branding wizard. Some “in-real-life tips” below.

  • Our personal and professional lives are not always separate. Be aware of with whom you associate.
  • Take advantage of in-person networking opportunities and how you are presenting yourself to peers. Be engaging vs. sitting quietly in the corner.
  • Mind your manners. Pleases, thank yous and other common courtesies are simple ways to carry yourself in a professional manner.
  • Research and know what’s important to your potential employer. For example, double-check your writing to eliminate typos and grammatical errors in cover letters and resumes for PR positions.
  • Follow up after interviews via handwritten notes or email. It still goes a long way these days and says a lot about your personal brand.
  • Obtain internships. They are a fantastic way to hone your skills, learn if you’re right for certain careers, and also enhance your networking skills and professional connections.

Above All, Don’t try to “Fake It Until You Make It” 

You’ll always end up burned when your employer quickly discovers that you’ve portrayed yourself to be somebody you’re not.

Shift•ology’s Lydia Henry and Emily Bennett share tips for students and aspring young professionals to shore up and showcase their personal brands in this episode of Shooting the Shift.