Keeping a Personal Brand Intact: Lessons to Learn from Sexual Assault Scandals

Heat Design Group — November 15th, 2017

Personal branding in 2017. Why it matters, and what can be learned from the failed branding of celebrities in recent sexual assault scandals.

For both high profile celebrities in entertainment and ranking executives on the business side of the industry, personal branding is a key element to success in the modern age. Careers rise and fall on the strength of personal branding, and this has never been more evident than today where it’s possible to look at a number of high profile cases where careers have been destroyed almost overnight.

Cases like the Harvey Weinstein Scandal, recent allegations against actor Kevin Spacey, or even resurfacing accusations of sexual harassment placed against comedian/director/actor Louis C.K., are all perfect examples of how serious misconduct can damage a personal brand. Each of these cases cover behavior that could universally be described as abhorrent, but there are still lessons to be learned in the industry for those who do maintain integrity.

Personal Branding Represents Both a Personality and a Skillset

Celebrity branding and personal branding for aspiring professionals in any industry, is as much about personality as it is skillset and achievements. Personal branding could be considered the resume of the current generation, with employers looking social at media profiles and other areas of online presence to form an opinion about potential candidates.

In the entertainment industry, employers and the general public also look at aspects of a personal brand to determine the figures that they can admire and relate to. A lack of branding leaves entertainers in relative obscurity, and poor personal branding can stifle or completely derail a career.

Branding should not only be authentic and audience appropriate, but it should also be skills based and focused on what any particular figure (celebrity or otherwise) has to offer.

Personal Branding Can Be Used to Respond to Difficult Situations

Before 2017, Kevin Spacey would have been a strong example of an actor who had a bulletproof personal brand. Achieving fame in the early 1990s, he developed the image of a mature actor that could bring great charisma into the characters that he portrayed. He received numerous accolades and won prestigious industry awards from the Screen Actors Guild, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He was not only known for his skill on stage and in front of the camera, but also for a personal brand that represented integrity and a lack of any real controversy or drama.

When accusations of sexual assault surfaced in 2017, Spacey’s brand was in trouble, but by no means unsalvageable. However, in an ill-advised move, Spacey publicly responded to the accusations in a way that came across as almost dismissive, while also creating a distraction by bringing his sexuality into the picture. He went from A-List celebrity to public enemy almost overnight. He was pulled from a film he had already completed (and which will likely be an Oscar contender), and his highly successful Netflix Originals drama show was cancelled.

Whether or not the accusations against Spacey have basis or not (this will likely come to light in time), the simple fact is that he mishandled the situation and buried his personal brand. His acting skills remain unquestioned, but, again, personal branding represents both a personality and a skillset. No matter the skill he has in his chosen craft, he has now developed a public personality that nobody will work with.

Takeaways for Branding in the Entertainment Industry and Outside

Amoral actions are not negated by a strong personal brand, and that is not the point of learning from recent examples. The key takeaways are that personal branding is not only critical, but that a failure to maintain a brand (or to respond to threats against the brand), can be just as or even more damaging than not building a brand in the first place.

Brand building requires being in the public eye or in the eye of a relevant audience, using social media and other forms of media for personal marketing, and interacting with the audience. A brand should be developed with integrity and it should focus on attributes that will aid in career progression.

While poor personal branding can help to end a career, getting things right will do just the opposite. Branding is something that any aspiring celebrity, politician, or professional should take seriously in 2017.