Those crucial first three minutes

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According to Mary Spillane, founder of Image Works UK and author of a recent book on the subject*, your personal brand is an amalgamation of your assets (your skills, abilities and experiences), your values, and your image.

Creating a brand is not something that should be left to chance, says Spillane, who regularly counsels bankers seeking top promotions. 'At the top, you're joining a club, and you have to project the right image,' she says.

Being visible and memorable is key. Research shows that the first three minutes of any encounter are those in which enduring opinions are formed, and that these opinions are often accurate.

Creating your brand requires preliminary soul searching. Spillane advises that brand seekers compose a list that includes achievements and personal and professional goals. This list provides the starting point for the establishment of brand values. Conferring with colleagues able to recollect and evaluate their initial impression of you, plus further soul searching, will eventually lead you to your Personal Brand Identity (PBI).

Determining your PBI is only the first step, however. The remainder of the marathon is in conveying this identity to others. The look of the brand (stylish, international, successful), the sound of the brand (influential, powerful, compelling), the behaviour of the brand (dynamic, energetic, assertive), and even the feel of the brand (motivated, determined, high quality), must all be taken into account if the goal (promotion, job retention, being buddy to the boss) is to be achieved.

Bankers' main failing, says Spillane, is the assumption that being good at the job is a sufficient condition for promotion. It isn't. Brilliant executioners need to show that they can also be brilliant rainmakers brilliant rainmakers need to show that they understand the intricacies of the deal. People must also want to work with you. 'You have to consider how you come across behaviourally. Are you just there to dazzle, or do you really want to make others feel good?' she asks.

Spillane's banking clients are coached in the art of being charming. Interesting small talk, a willingness to listen, magnetic eye contact and pleasant handshakes are all part of the coquetry. Being boring and frazzled from overwork will not impress. Read at least one book of fiction and one of non-fiction each month to ensure that you remain interesting, sleep well and look happy, she advises. Spillane notes that the higher one rises in the world of business, the less one smiles.

Once you are projecting your brand, you cannot stop there. It must be updated to move with the times. Match the mood and assess the situation. Mergers are invariably occasions for corporate re-branding, and a bit of personal re-branding to bring you into line with the organisation will not go amiss.

However pleased you are with your brand, it may not be wise to promote it too widely. Firms do not look kindly on those whose brand eclipses their own. As a result, there are relatively few people in the banking world whose brands have gone public.

Among those that have are John Thornton (tough but liberal) and Guy Hands (asset stripper-cum-value adder).

If you do feel confident in poking your brand above the parapet, it may be best to focus on its cuddlier sides. 'Branding work tends to be done through the press. But people find it hard to empathise with business. Try to present a personal perspective on your activities and it will make much more interesting copy,' advises the PR guru to one well-known brand, says Spillane.

*Branding Yourself by Mary Spillane. Pan 2000. ISBN 0 330 481487.

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