Fame. Everyone likes to sneer at it while secretly wishing they got a bit more attention for the things they do. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to be famous now than it has ever been. The rise of social media has ensured that almost anyone who wants to can have a taste of fame, even if it’s for nothing more than posting a few witty Tweets or videos of cats. Meanwhile, reality TV transforms ordinary people into celebrities overnight. Is it really a surprise that the most famous woman in the world among millennials, Kim Kardashian, is someone whose only obvious talent is being famous?
This isn’t a criticism. We all like approval for the good things we do and attention for our professional achievements. There are those among us who want to raise their profile as good people because it serves as a form of protection against negative press or unfounded, aggressive criticism. There are those who have worked hard and tried to give back to society, hoping (I think completely understandably) that they might be appreciated. There are people who have a message they think has great social importance and want to promote themselves so they can share it with others. And there are people who simply want to improve their job prospects. In decades of managing the reputations of politicians, CEOs and entrepreneurs, among other highly successful and wealthy people, I’ve seen countless examples of people who have reached the very zenith of their field, only to see a rival with less ability and fewer achievements—but better PR—take the plaudits.
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In my line of work, the numerous reasons that someone might wish to raise his or her profile are largely irrelevant. My clients never want to be famous for fame’s sake. My job is to make sure that they get the attention and respect that, in almost all cases, I genuinely feel they deserve.
Profile-raising is a complex exercise. When we create tailored services for the people whose reputations my practice manages, we take into account their strengths and weaknesses, their interests and irritations, and their goals, short- and long-term. Yes-men and yes-women are a blight on good personal public relations: A large part of PR is providing an expert perspective, which can include, for example, advising clients that their goals are too ambitious (or not ambitious enough), or that they will need media training before they step in front of a camera.
One major and undervalued aspect of profile-raising is empathy and creativity. A good consultant must be able to empathize with his or her clients in order to understand the driving forces in their lives, their frustrations and their desires. Consultants also need to have empathy with the public: Why, for example, should Joe and Jane Bloggs pick up the newspaper and read about a client? The needs and desires of the wider public matter. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are essential to creating a satisfying and complete narrative that will capture the attention and interest of the right demographic. Everyone is interesting. The task is to extract that information from the client and tell the story in an engaging way.
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It goes without saying that fame isn’t everything. But wishing to grow a wider audience for yourself also isn’t inherently egotistical or shallow. We have a deep need for attention and approval from other people because we’re all social creatures. Let’s just be honest about it, and go about getting it thoughtfully.