What a weak personal brand might be saying about you

Mistaken identity spurs an online branding campaign.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

For the past few months, I have been releasing a weekly video series called “Momentum Monday.” The short video segments provide tips and challenge viewers to set up their work weeks for success, and one video focused on why it’s incredibly important to create a strong personal brand. It received a lot of attention and produced great feedback, so I’d like to share the story and challenge with you, the loyal readers of In Business.

Last year, while scheduled to speak at a national conference in Orlando, Fla., I noticed that one of the other speakers was Kevin Harrington, CEO of As Seen on TV and one of the original “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank. Since we were both staying at the same hotel for a few days, I thought it would be great to introduce myself and maybe learn a few business pointers. I wrote a quick note to identify myself, explain my role at the conference, and invite him to meet over a drink. Leaving the note and my business card for him at the front desk — a great strategy to connect with a conference keynoter that many people don’t take advantage of —  I looked forward to his reply.

The next day, after giving my presentation, a woman came up to me with an excited look on her face. “Oh my gosh, are you Jenna Atkinson?” she asked, prompting an affirmative nod from yours truly. She continued, “I’m a friend of Kevin Harrington, and he is dying to meet you.” I was a little bit confused about their excitement but also a little flattered. An incredibly successful multimillionaire was excited to meet me! She told me to follow her.

She led me to Kevin and said, “Kevin … THIS is Jenna Atkinson.” He looked at me with a confused look and said, “Excuse my question, but are you in the adult-film industry?” He could obviously see the shock on my face — because NO, I am not — so he continued quickly, “You left a note for me at the front desk, right?” The conversation continued, and it turns out that after Kevin received my note, he had googled my name. The first thing that came up was someone with a slightly different name who is in a much different industry than me.



Since I was recently married and had just changed my last name from Weber to Atkinson, I hadn’t had time to work on creating a strong personal brand or online presence around my new name. Luckily, we got a good laugh out of the whole situation, and we had a great conversation.

The moral of the story is this: whether or not you are aware of your personal brand, you do have one, and it can give people a bad first impression. In the digital age, it’s pretty easy to find information about people. Before you get a new job, meet someone for coffee, or do just about anything, it’s quite possible they have googled you. What will show up is up to you. You need to take action to proactively manage your personal brand both online and offline. Luckily for me, this little branding mix up with a multimillionaire is now just a funny story, but things could have ended much differently.

Due to this situation, I was forced to quickly build my online personal brand for my new name. I’m happy to say that now when you google Jenna Atkinson, the real me — a brand I’m proud of — shows up first! What steps are you taking to make sure the same is true for you?

Fast Track Action Items for July:
■    Google your name. What comes up? This will give you an idea of how your personal brand is perceived. Do the right things show up? Bad things? Nothing at all?
■    Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and optimized. Google and LinkedIn are closely connected, so if you have a strong profile, that will be evident when people search your name. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of advice columns online to help you optimize your Linked-In profile.
■    Email Jenna@JennaAtkinsonConsulting.com to let me know your top questions about building a strong personal brand and what you’re doing to help strengthen your online personal brand.

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

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