How To Turn Personal Brand Lemons Into Lemonade

If I were to say the name Tracy Brabin to you, what would you instantly think of?

That she’s the Shadow Culture Secretary and MP for Batley and Spen? That she used to be an actress and appeared in Eastenders, Casualty and Coronation Street?

Or that she’s the woman who recently caused a furore by wearing an off-the-shoulder black dress in the House of Commons? (Because that’s the first time I became aware of her.)

When you saw that picture, what did you think?

From a personal brand perspective, which is the one I usually consider things like this from, I thought it was a bad choice (or a pile of lemons, to put it another way), for a few reasons I’m about to share. And to make this relevant to you, I’ve posed a question under each one for you to consider regarding your own personal brand.

Here’s what I’m talking about…

  • Whatever your view on their politics, MPs are in a position of authority. So it’s important their ‘packaging’ ie how they look, sound and act conveys that. Flashing your shoulder in a slinky black number, whilst trying to make an important point about journalists attending press briefings, doesn’t.

Question: Are you in a position of authority? How do you convey that to others through your own packaging?

  • I gather from the news that Ms Brabin had been to a media event earlier in the day (where her choice of dress had been appropriate) and had not expected to be called to the dispatch box. However, viewers had no idea that was the case and were judging the outfit in the context of the House of Commons (where I’d suggest it isn’t appropriate).

Question: Do you plan for unforeseen eventualities? Do you have an ’emergency kit’ that helps flex your packaging between formal and informal? (Maybe a tie in your desk drawer or a pair of heels under your desk?)

  • Once the story broke, Ms Brabin made the point that women are judged more harshly than men for their image, but people should “listen to what we say, not what we wear.” This is a point I agree with, in that it’s what should happen, but it’s not how life actually is. There’s a balance to be had between pushing for change and working within the context of where we are. (I wrote about this in more detail in my post on unconscious bias.)

Question: Does what you’re saying get overshadowed by your packaging? How can you get the balance between being true to your brand and working in the context of the world today?

There’s an upside

Although those three points convey my negative view of Ms Brabin’s brand, based solely on the little black dress incident, there are definitely some positives:

  • A lot more people know who she is than before this happened. (Think back to Theresa May’s wearing leopard print shoes at the Tory Conference, before which she was largely unknown to the general public. And look where she ended up.)
  • She handled the Twitter response with a sense of humour that said an awful lot about her brand: ‘Sorry I don’t have time to reply to all of you commenting on this but I can confirm I’m not…. A slag, hungover, a tart, about to breastfeed, a slapper, drunk, just been banged over a wheelie bin.’
  • She appeared on TV arguing her point that this was a sexist reaction and used the airtime to promote her agenda, which is pretty canny. (Interestingly, she wore an outfit that showed not a jot of flesh.)
  • And finally, she auctioned off the dress to raise £20,200, which she donated to the Girl Guides, with the comment: “I want to encourage them to really be proud of who they are, to support each other as girls and to not take any criticism from anyone – particularly boys – as I have found in my experiences with Twitter.” Now, that’s definitely a case of taking lemons and making lemonade!

One final question: If your personal brand took a knocking, for whatever reason, how would you turn a negative into a positive?

What was your reaction to this story? Did you think it was a personal brand disaster or a personal brand triumph? Or how about sharing your thoughts on the questions I posed? There’s a comment box below waiting your response 🙂

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

3 responses to “How To Turn Personal Brand Lemons Into Lemonade”

  1. Tony O says:

    Thank you for collating this, Jennifer. There were a number of things that I did not know about the aftermath of the event, and I agree that it is a superb example of working a potentially negative situation to best advantage. In her case, I thought that people were simply looking for an excuse to show indignation. If that is the biggest issue that they are faced with, then they are well blessed.

    Although I have made many mistakes, most of which I prefer to keep secret, the nearest I can get to a “lemon” was when I used an explosive detonator to finish off a training talk I gave. I nearly blew the windows out of the conference room, since I had underestimated the effect of letting it off in a confined space. Many years later, a job interviewer started off with “ah, you’re the guy who…”. “Yes, it was me,” I replied. I got the job, so achieving that bit of notoriety didn’t do me any harm.

  2. Tony O says:

    I felt that I had to do something to make it memorable, since the topic I had been given was so unbelievably dull. If they remembered why I finished with a big bang- to show the consequences of getting something badly wrong- then the objective had been met.

    They certainly remembered, just not for the reason that I had planned.

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