I am often asked by leaders and marketers of professional service firms whether they should emphasize the firm’s brand or the personal brands of its partners and thought leaders.
Normally the argument goes something like this: “This firm has been here for more than X years. It was successful before (insert name) started and it will be successful after he’s gone! We have a master brand strategy, and the firm brand dominates.” Others argue: “It is (insert name)’s thinking and expertise that is getting attention from clients and the press. Clients hire him, not a firm.” Both are very real and valid arguments.
There is a symbiotic relationship between a firm and its thought leaders. A firm’s reputation, whether it is one year old or a 100 years old, is made up of nothing more than the behaviors and actions of its people. Some older firms may have some equity banked, but they play by the same reputation rules nonetheless. A master brand simplifies messaging and gives economies of scale, but people don’t engage firms; they engage people—people they like and trust as experts and professionals. Having said that, ask a thought leader to hang out his or her shingle as an individual and watch the expression you get. When push comes to shove, consultants know the value of a firm platform and its resources.
True: the best thinkers may leave, but that is why culture and people strategy are so important. Build your brand with the people you have while you have them. The rest is out of your control.