Why do you need a personal brand and how will it help you grow your business?
In this week’s High Vis episode, Partner Bronwyn Lincoln and Dr Sean Brady of Brady Heywood discuss why professionals need to look beyond the technical aspects of their roles and consider their personal brand. Having established successful careers in international arbitration and forensic engineering respectively, Bronwyn and Sean share helpful and practical insights into how they have built and maintained their own personal brands and the impact this has had on their practice.
Corrs High Vis tackles the issues that matter in the construction industry. The podcast series, brought to you by the Corrs Construction team, offers analysis and insights to help you make smarter decisions.
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Jaclyn Smith: Commentator
Bronwyn Lincoln: - Corrs Chambers Westgarth – Litigation Partner, Melbourne
Sean Brady: Forensic Structural Engineer, Director of Brady Heywood and Director of the Society of Construction Law Australia
JACLYN: Hello and welcome to High Vis the Corrs Chambers Westgarth construction podcast. My name is Jaclyn Smith and I’m a Senior Associate in the Construction Team. Working internationally and gaining experience in foreign jurisdictions is increasingly advantageous across many industries. It has also never been more relevant for industry professionals to be active in building and maintaining their own brand alongside that of their company or firm in the age of social media, why are these issues so important and how can they be used to grow your business? I’m joined today by Sean Brady and Bronwyn Lincoln. Sean is a forensic structural engineer, director of Brady Heywood and a director of the Society of Construction Law Australia. Bronwyn is an international arbitrator as well as an international arbitration partner at Corrs Chambers Westgarth so welcome to both Sean and Bronwyn.
JACLYN: So we’ll kick off our discussion today. I would like to ask you both how you first became aware of the importance of having a brand.
SEAN: Yes well I first became aware of the concept of brand – I was working as an engineer, we weren’t doing design work, we were doing essentially I would say sophisticated problem solving and the problem was we would go and do a really good job, we would solve the issue or at least identify the issue that had to be solved, the client would be really really happy and then we would go and we would try and sell that service to other engineering companies and the problems was when they would say What do you do? We would say we solve really difficult problems, but people really weren’t sure what really difficult problems were and they weren’t really sure when they had to give it to us as opposed to somebody else. So the problem was that when we had work and we were doing work and we did a really good job but there was no ability to communicate what that benefit was to somebody else and really the whole trying to get a brand came from the need to sell what we do – we simply had to get it and of course that was the first step, the next step was trying to figure out, well What is your brand and what do you do? and we as engineers are never trained to think like that, we are trained to be engineers and go out and sell ourselves as engineers so the concept of developing a brand was a really alien concept to me certainly at the time when we started.
BRONWYN: The concept of having a brand as a lawyer was something that came to me rather late in my career and it was really because international arbitration, which is the area in which I practise requires you to be seen internationally, you need to go out around the world, you need to speak at conferences, you need to promote your expertise because a lot of your work comes from overseas and a lot of your clients are offshore. So it was in looking for opportunities to not just attend conferences but to participate in them and to share my expertise that really made me think about What is it that I’m portraying – and who am I and how am I going to distinguish myself from all those other practitioners who are doing exactly the same thing and as I say that didn’t come as a junior lawyer, that came further down the track.
JACLYN: How would you describe what your brand actually is or what is not your brand?
SEAN: I suppose it first came from the concept of what job did I actually want to do and I think that’s – you have got to be very careful of that, you’ve got to say What do I want to do on a daily basis? We looked at the skill set we had in the company and we worked out we were really good at understanding how structures actually work – not good at how working how to design them or any of those sorts of things which is quite different from how things work in the real world and because of the academic background we had in the company we were really good at that so that was the first thing, we could do that. The next question is Where and for who do you do that and I was reading a book and I’ve read many books on this sort of stuff and suddenly I came across this forensic engineering book and read a piece of it I decided I wasn’t a forensic engineer and sounded very sophisticated and then read this portion of this book which basically set out my skillset and said this is the skillset of a forensic engineer and that was a huge realisation to realise this is what I do and this is why I am completely different from other design engineers who go out and design things on a daily basis. So that was the first piece to realise you were a forensic engineer. Then the branding became reasonably straight forward after that because you really had to distinguish yourself from the other engineers and that seemed like a really simple thing to start with until you realise that we as an engineering profession, particularly in Australia weren’t very good at separating our forensics from ordinary design. In the US they were really really good at it – the speciality of forensics had been around for about 30 years, but that wasn’t the case here in Australia and once we got our head around that we could say we specialised in identifying causes of failure by being a forensic engineer. Once we got to that part it all became a lot easier. The interesting thing to come out of that was the way you sell that became about education. It became about educating people about the differences between design and forensics and that was interesting because it came from meeting lawyers, talking to lawyers, asking them about the experts they already used, and listen to the issues they have with those experts and what you realised after a while was that these issues were due to the engineers not being forensic engineers. Once you got to that point I ended up writing a paper and Don [00:05:30] in Melbourne very kindly reviewed that paper for me and said You’ve nailed it you’ve got this concept really well. He said why don’t you get this published? I said where would you get it published? He said you need to talk to a guy at Melbourne Uni called Matthew Bell who I had never even heard of. I emailed Matthew and said I have this paper I’m interested in getting it published. He said you should get it published in construction or international. I did and then he rang me one day and said we’ve got this thing called the Society of Construction Law which you probably haven’t heard of and would you be interested in being involved? We’ve got a conference coming up and would you come and deliver your paper at the conference? And that really was the beginning of the brand actually working. Suddenly to get on that forum and have something meaningful to say the difference is the brand from everything else and that was the point where I realised – No this is what I do and now I know how to explain it to people in a way that differentiates me from all the other engineering companies around and really articulates the benefit that you bring to a job.
BRONWYN: I think as a lawyer that you have a slightly different concept of a brand than the brand that Sean has just spoken about, in part because it is a lot harder to differentiate yourself from other lawyers that have a particular expertise, they have qualities that appeal to clients and they have a similar depth of expertise once they get to a certain level in their career. So for me brand is more three distinct elements. The first is that the way you present yourself and I know that sounds trite, but all of the psychologists and communication specialists will tell you that impressions are formed in the first few seconds, so if you want to work in the professional world you need to look professional, you need to act in a professional way, you don’t wear your gumboots to a client’s conference, you don’t turn up in a swimsuit at a conference to speak to a hundred people. You actually fit in and you look the part, so that’s really important. The second part for me is values so for me my brand needs to represent who I am and the values that are important to me. One of those is integrity it’s absolutely essential to me that when people talk about me in a professional context that they recognise I hope that I have integrity, honesty, reliability as well as doing the job professionally and so that’s a critical element of establishing the brand you need to be aware of it, you need to see how other people see you and I suppose it’s really important if you are going to uphold a brand that it is something that you feel comfortable with. It took me a long time to realise that actually you can take elements of other people’s brands or the way that they operate in the professional environment and try to copy it and you do a lot of that in your early days of your career. You see someone doing something that has been highly successful for them and you think Great, I’ll do that. The difficult is that if it’s not really you as a person and it’s not consistent with the way – with your values, with your ethics, then it is very hard to maintain and it is not ultimately you, so I try to make my brand consistent with what’s important to me personally as well as maintaining that professionalism and the professional persona in everything that I do in my professional life.
SEAN: I just add to that as well, one of the really interesting things about brand is neither of us have really talked about being a good lawyer and being a good engineer – what happens is when – as Bronwyn says – you get to a certain point in your career and people just automatically assume you are good at what you do, so that in of itself being good is not a differentiator and I think a lot of younger lawyers and engineers think Well I’ll do really well because I’m a really good lawyer or a really good engineer and that’s not really the way it works. If you are a bad engineer or a bad lawyer you will not get far, but being a good one is not enough and it is not a brand in and of itself and you need something else to have a brand as balances the values and the way you present yourself or having a differentiator they are really a key to have a distinctive brand that will stand out and make people want to pick you over somebody else.
JACLYN: Moving to more of the practicalities of what you do to maintain and build your brand, what are some of the tools and activities that you do to help you in this process?
BRONWYN: One of the advantages of practising in the international arbitration space is that there are lots of tools that you can use and there is always a conference you can go to, so it is important, the international arbitration community both from an arbitrator perspective and a practitioner perspective is a global community. Your reputation, people all around the world will see what you’re doing, they’ll know what you’re doing if you are working on high profile type cases, taking into account confidentiality of course, but people hear what you’re doing and they watch what you’re doing, so you need to take opportunities that you see to speak, to share your expertise, but also to learn so you need to be a little bit discriminate about how many conferences you go to and how you travel but it’s a really important part of developing the brand and showing people who you are. The other is of course social media. I was thinking about how you might go about establishing a brand or how I might have if I had thought about 25 years ago, and at that time you had to look people up in the phone book, and then you made a cold call, and then you talked to people, they couldn’t see you, they couldn’t find a picture of you anywhere, they knew nothing about you. It was so much more challenging then to actually establish yourself and to build up your reputation and your brand whereas now we have a LinkedIn page, we have Twitter and Twitter again I was a bit sceptical about because I thought that’s where you put things when you were watching MasterChef on television, you put tweets across the bottom of the television screen, but actually I went to a lecture by a former journalist who talked about disciplined use of Twitter to establish expertise and I think that aligns with developing a brand. If you use it the right way you are very conscious about what you post and what you don’t post. It can be an incredibly powerful tool and you can use it to share more detailed journal articles that you might write, you can use it to tell your contacts and others about what you are doing in the community, professional achievements and you can do it in a way that’s not seen to be I’m yelling out and telling everyone what I’m doing it’s simply a way of updating your online profile and all of that has been hugely important in maintaining a brand and developing it in the first place.
SEAN: Yes I would agree, when I started off – I started off with the three things you had to do which was seven years ago now which was write, present and go out and network. I did all of that and it is really only in the last two years you realise you are a bit of a dinosaur if that is all you’re doing and you do have to move to Twitter and LinkedIn and the idea of podcasting that all becomes really really important. I was reading something recently and it basically said your brand was equal to your reputation plus your visibility and I think when you come from a professional services background we are really trained to get the reputation bit right. Do good work, write, present. It’s the visibility we’re not trained on and I think that’s where Twitter and LinkedIn are fantastic – that you can show far more of what you are doing and where you are and that sort of stuff you are doing professionally than you ever could before and when we started the company we decided not to have a brochure because brochures were things I was handed that I had to carry around with me and nobody wants that any more – we don’t want that and now even a website, you still need a website but if I get a call from someone the first thing I do is I look them up on LinkedIn to see who they are, I don’t look them up on their website, I probably will eventually. There was a study done recently and it basically said that the number one reason someone will hire you as a professional services person is from a recommendation from someone you trust. The big change there has been in that data in the last three years is social media is now reason number two. If you go to social media and you see a consistent brand picture of who that person says they are, you immediately become much more comfortable with them than you would from just seeing their profile on their website because you able to look at their behaviour over time in terms of what they publish on LinkedIn and Twitter and how they behave.
JACLYN: And do you think there are any challenges to using social media this way or is it may be easier to damage a brand?
BRONWYN: I think you can very quickly damage a well-established brand by being a bit indiscriminate or not as disciplined as you might be in posting something. We tell our children don’t post anything on social media because it’s going to be there forever and I suspect that’s the case, but it is not just that it is there forever, it is just that it goes around the world so incredibly quickly and that’s why you really need to know what persona you want to portray and then do the test – test it every time you go to post – is this actually what I want to world to see me as – and I faced that challenge when I do both litigation as both arbitration although arbitration is my passion and my specialty and occasionally I’ll come across a really fascinating case that doesn’t particularly relate to the areas I practise in and I have to stop and think – As much as I would love to tell the world about this and publish or speak on it it’s not consistent with my brand at the moment and so I need to put that to the side and I need to really focus on what I want people to see me as doing and where I want my expertise to be showcased.
SEAN: Yes I think it is really important to see social media the same as you see anything else you do, but the temptation is with social media so quick and immediate you just hit a button and it’s out there and you have to be very careful of that and I agree with Bronwyn – if you have a really well defined brand, every time you interact with potential clients or your industry you have to always ask Is this consistent with the brand? If it’s not you shouldn’t do it, if it is then you consider it and that makes things so much easier in life when you’ve got that discipline, it doesn’t matter how good the idea is if it is inconsistent you simply don’t do it.
JACLYN: How do you think your brand has changed over your career? Do you think the way that you brand yourself now has evolved as you’ve developed in your career?
SEAN: That’s a really hard question and a really tricky question and I think the answer is – well I like to think it probably hasn’t and I say that because when I decided to get the brand together for the company of which my personal brand is just completely connected – that was a really deliberate, carefully worked through choice. We brought some marketing people in, we sat down, we worked through all the rules and when we got that brand that was totally deliberate to embrace it and then follow it, so it wasn’t a matter of an evolving brand it was having zero brand to a hundred percent brand and then having the discipline to stick to that brand. I think what has changed for me in the last seven years is that we brought those marketing people back in two years ago – well probably last year and they immediately looked at what I was doing and saying you’re writing loads of articles Sean is very very nice, but nobody reads anymore so you have to keep writing articles but you need a different delivery mechanism for those articles and that’s where we start to move on to the blogs and [00:17:40] where people can read them on trains when they’re commuting it’s just a different way – so I don’t think the brand has changed, but technology has changed how you present that brand to people – there’s different and easier ways to make them engage with it. I think that if your brand evolves too much then you’ve got a problem because you are going to have inconsistencies and that will always confuse people. The minute people see inconsistency they begin to doubt your technical ability and your ability to do the job, even though those two things are not necessarily correlated at all.
BRONWYN: I agree with Sean’s comments and I was wondering as he was speaking if I might actually damage my brand if I were to look back and identify some of the elements of it as a junior lawyer. So I’m not going to do that but I do think it does change, I think that I’ve become more commercial and that probably is reflected in the way that I present to the market. it is having that focus that has given me opportunities such as sitting as a conciliator as one of Australia’s four designees for ICSID for the World Bank and it was the focus that gave me the opportunity to take up the role as chair of the Melbourne Arbitration Centre, so in hindsight it was right for me what I chose to do, but the brand has I suppose matured and is now more reflective of my practice and who I am.
SEAN: That’s really interesting the way you talk about focus because from a beginnings it never seems sensible to decide you are not going to do certain things but one of the key bits of a brand is the focus – is saying I am deliberately not going to do this other type of work – or certainly going to deliberately not sell myself as doing this other type work and that’s a really powerful thing and people in companies tend to be very uncomfortable with saying we want to limit the offering of what we have, but that just makes you more expert in your particular area and that’s what people come to recognise further down the line.
JACLYN: If you look back over the way your brand has been maintained over your career can you point to any particular lucky breaks or things that particularly helped you in developing it and maintaining it?
BRONWYN: For me it’s about having had the opportunity to meet with people who were not formally mentors but I could see what they had achieved in the area that I was practising in and it gave me something to aim for and I think as I said earlier that you probably take aspects of other people’s brands and professionalism and you actually build that into your own brand over your career and so it was looking at people who were on the world stage, were highly regarded arbitrators who had started their careers in Australia, who weren’t necessarily based overseas, which was always seen as a bit of a challenge establishing a career in the area in which I practise, but looking at them, seeing what they could do and then trying to replicate in a way but with my own style was what really helped me in the long run.
SEAN: Yes I certainly got a number of very big breaks. I think the whole trick to this is you just work really really hard and you write and you try and present and try and get yourself out there, but at the end of the day what always happens when you’re trying to make it is someone takes an interest and someone helps you out and that’s where the magic happens and I said earlier I wrote an article and that article would have went nowhere without [00:21:33-34] grabbing that article and running with it and that was a big changing thing. The other thing that was a big step and opportunity for me was when I did my first few presentations overseas and they were done through the Society of Construction Law which I didn’t really know that many people involved at the time but someone said Oh you’re in Hong Kong, you’re in London you should talk to these people and see if you can do a presentation and pretty much with no background whatsoever those people said Okay, you can do a presentation and that was my first step onto the international scene and I find it incredibly welcoming, people helped me as much as they could, they put me in touch with a whole pile of other people, they said What you do is very interesting and different and would be really valuable over here and that really opened my eyes to the whole concept of doing this outside Australia, but that didn’t come from a place of me decided I wanted to do it, it came from a place of people saying Hey Sean, you should do this in this bigger world and that just wouldn’t have happened without those people.
BRONWYN: I think it’s right that you do get a lucky break, but I think it is actually that you have the brand to start with that gives people or encourages people and gives them the faith to actually give you that lucky brand, so it is a bit of chicken and egg but as Sean said it’s about working incredibly hard and putting yourself in the position that when the opportunities arise someone might think of you.
SEAN: Yes I think that’s it, and that’s it isn’t it. One of the ways I sort of think of it is if you’ve got a really good brand when you meet someone in 30 seconds you can communicate to them what you do and that means that the rest of the conversation you can talk about other things, you can talk about music, you can talk about books, you can talk about movies you like, you can get to know the other person and they can get to know you and you can both ultimately figure out whether you want to work with each other. If it takes you 20 minutes to explain what you do which is what it used to take me before we actually had a brand, you ultimately are saying to people I can’t really tell you or articulate what I do, and I’ve just used up all the space in getting to know you so I don’t even know if I want to work with you, and you lose all those opportunities really really really quickly, so [00:23:39] 30 seconds this is what I do and this is how I can assist you that’s immensely powerful and very underrated and that’s not saying I’m a really good lawyer and it’s not saying I’m a really good engineer it is saying something quite different and distinctive.
JACLYN: So Sean if we could look at one of the specific tools that you use to help with your brand can you tell us a little bit about what prompted you to start the Brady Heywood Podcast and how you’ve seen your business change as a result?
SEAN: Yes the podcast was interesting and the podcast came out of a discussion where a friend of mine, a very good friend of mine called Nadine, he’s a lawyer and we were sitting at a conference one day and she said to me You write fabulous articles Sean, they are really really good, but there’s only one problem with them – nobody reads anymore and I sort of sat there and said Okay what do I need to do about that because I’m writing these articles and I thought they were really really good and she put me along the lines of the podcasting and the – particularly the podcasting but also the blogs and then when we brought our marketing people in and went through all that and formalised it and really to me it’s all about trying to engage with people in a different way, it’s not changing how you engage so you still need to write the really good articles because there are still people who want to read them. It’s different people who read the blogs and it’s very different people again who listen to the podcast, so you’re really trying to say I’m going to take the concept of my brand and the content that underpins it and deliver it in a variety of ways that different people will want to engage with and I think they do different things, the blog, they are 900 words long which apparently takes people three minutes to read and they’re designed to get across a simple idea or a nice concept for someone on a train ride, very different than printing out an article and sitting down and reading it and certainly very different from printing out a 5000 word paper and making a conscious decision you are going to read that. The podcast then are different again they tend to be impressed by people who are really interested in things going on in the world and they attract a totally different listener or person out there to want to engage with them and they have a habit of going viral in a strange way, they’ve led to speaking engagements that you would never ordinarily get and this whole concept, it’s funny I meet people who have listened to the podcasts and I don’t know them but they feel they actually know me because I’ve been in their ear for an hour or two and that’s a really weird, but a very very powerful concept that you don’t have to be presenting all the time, you can still engage with someone and hopefully get the essence of presentations and the way you engage with people across in a way that you never would in a blog or certainly never would in a paper and it really gives people the opportunity to say Would I be interested in working with this person – do I like the sound of them? So it gives people a chance to engage with your personality that they never normally would have.
JACLYN: And just to bring our discussion to a close I would like to ask you both what would be your advice maybe to young practitioners about what they can do to start building and working to maintain their brand.
BRONWYN: The first thing I would say to anyone who talked to me about developing a brand is Think about it early, think about who you want to be professionally, not only in the short term, but over your entire career – and you need to bear in mind when you are establishing a career as a lawyer that one of the benefits of law is you can reinvent yourself as practice areas develop new areas – become the ones that people are looking for advice in, so think about it early but it needs to be able to be adapted but true to you – you need to make really conscious decisions about your brand, you need to develop the brand which aligns with you as a person, something that you can be true to and don’t give in to peer pressure because I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges to me during my career not so much as in the early days or now, but in the middle stages there when you are five to six years out of law school and as I said earlier you see people doing things that you think Wow that’s working for them and I should be like that and if only I had been a particular type of person, or I had had a particular brand I might have got that piece of work, but when you look at it over the long term you realise that no that was not the right thing to do, I needed to be true to myself and I needed to be true to my brand and to develop my brand I needed to be brave enough to say No sometimes. As Sean said earlier, you need to say No to things that don’t fit within your focused area and it is a really hard lesson to learn but if you take a leap of faith and you do it – it can actually be highly rewarding. The other simple things are being disciplined about the use of social media which we’ve talked about and making sure that your brand really represents your values.
SEAN: Yes I totally agree with everything Bronwyn said. I think the worst thing is you sometimes see people who are trying to develop a brand and my first question to them is What do you want to do? And they haven’t figured out what they even want to do and you can’t get a brand until you have figured out what you want to do and so I would say – What do you love doing? Because you better love it if you’re going to make this work – Who else does it and why do you do it differently? And that becomes the foundation of your brand, whether it is saying I do a different job like forensic engineer from a design engineer or I am a lawyer as Bronwyn says like other lawyers but I do it in a different way I have a different personal style, a different way of working with people – you then need to work out that and that’s where your brand comes from, but figure out what you want to do first, and then make sure that the content you produce is genuine content, make sure – and that’s really hard and it takes a lot of work, you can’t write frivolous articles and hope that people will read them and decide you are good at what you do, you have to write good content that actually informs people and helps people do their jobs and creates something and then, that becomes part of the core of your brand as well and then you use social media and those tools to deliver, so in summary I would say work out what you love and what you want to do and then you work out why you do it differently to other people and who you do it for and that’s really important and then you just – that is the hard bit – if you’ve worked that bit out the rest of it is just a matter of logistics, how do you write articles, network, what conferences do you go to, how do you use social media, but you are in a well-known space with lots of help available there, the trick is to understand how important brand is and I think some people feel – certainly I see it with engineers that brand is sort of a dirty word, that the selling of what you do is a dirty word, it’s not a dirty word, the branding is a way of communicating clearly, simply and consistently with people about the value your service is and that benefits absolutely everyone, you and the people you see so I agree with Bronwyn you have to get into your head the concept of branding is really important very young and start using it straight away, you can’t suddenly develop it when you are very late in your career and hope it’s going to make a difference because the problem then is you will have automatically created a brand in people’s heads anyway but rather than you controlling what that brand is, they will have controlled what that brand is and that’s why people find themselves pigeon-holed in their careers and they wonder How did this happen? And it’s largely because someone else had control, not in a bad way just everyone has a brand what matters is whether you control it and develop it in a way you want to and that’s back to the discipline that Bronwyn was talking about earlier as well.
JACLYN: Thank you both Sean and Bronwyn for your time that was a very informative discussion. To our listeners we hope you will join us again for the next episode of Corrs High Vis.
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