Issue. Brand management Consultant. Brandi Kamenar Key. Don't avoid personal branding when trying to grow a business.
For the last 17 years, Brandi Kamenar has made herself an expert in personal branding.
Kamenar was a 40 Under 40 winner in the Business Observer in 2010 for the company she founded and ran, Tampa-based Icon B. Marketing. Icon B. grew into one of the largest publicity firms in the Southeast. But just two years later, Kamenar left Tampa to grow her business in the land where personal branding is king: Beverly Hills.
Kamenar's move out west has also been successful. She was recently nominated for the Los Angeles Business Journal's Women Making a Difference Award for her approach to personal branding through three phases: discovery, development and delivery. And two months ago the publication Women's Summit nominated Kamenar, 39, for CEO of the year, where she's in the running against celebrity entrepreneurs Shonda Rhimes and Jessica Alba.
In Tampa, Kamenar built a big business based on the traditional marketing and branding agency model. But now she limits the payroll, and instead runs her business on a strategic partner model. “I'm able to identify the right publicist or marketing teams, depending on the client's budget, niche in the marketplace or if they are a startup,” she says. “I love being a solopreneur. I'm putting all the teams in the right place. I'm still managing the orchestra.”
The Business Observer spoke with Kamenar when she was in Tampa recently for the 2016 Working Women conference, held at the Straz Center Sept. 8-9. Kamenar was one of three keynote speakers for the event. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Why did you leave Tampa?
My entire life's journey has been a quest. So this was one of my many quests for my next adventure and the next up level of my career.
Just like any other business, you have to go where your audience is going to accept your value proposition. Los Angeles really is the land of personal brands. I've been bicoastal four-and-a-half years.
What's your earliest memory of this quest?
When I was 6 years old, I was the pitcher for the boys' baseball team. At that age, I thought women should be able to have the same opportunities as men. And I wasn't gonna sit my butt on that bench. So I asked my brother and father to train me to be the best darn pitcher I could ever possibly be. I ended up winning MVP and starting a league in Pittsburgh, Pa., for little girls to play baseball.
What encouraged you to switch from an agency model to one more freelance-based for your business?
The agency model, it doesn't move quickly. If you can't be agile, then you're dead in the water. If your overhead is too high and clients can't afford to pay $10,000 a month retainers, you're dead in the water. And so I really wanted to create a model that was going to be good for either startup brands or personal brands.
And a lot of times too when you're working with an agency, the agency sometimes can hold you hostage to your own intellectual property. So I wanted to be able to build a model that by the time I'm done with the one-year program, I'd like to be able to walk away.
How did you come up with this whole three-point strategy?
Because we need to “keep it simple, stupid.” If you can't articulate it in three seconds or less, then nobody knows what the hell you're talking about. Discovery, development and delivery makes perfect sense on how you're going to launch a brand. Obviously, there are many tactical points along with each of those areas. But at the same time, I needed it to be simple for them to understand and also simple for the team members to understand and execute on.
In your three-phase process, what's the most important step?
Discovery. If we don't have a strategy, then we're not investing money. In the land of personal brands and influencers, you see so many people going online these days on their social media feeds and seeing for $1,995 you can be your own best publicist, you can be your own best branding, you can be your own best journalist... no don't do it! These are great tools, but you need a team, you need a strategy. You are investing your money to get ROI or looking to build brand equity in the marketplace.
So we always start with that discovery process. That process typically takes six weeks, and I handle that directly. I do also have a different group of strategists, depending on whom I need. Then once they have that deliverable, the client literally knows everything from the brand positioning, what marketplaces we are going to develop into and what we have to develop in order to prepare them for launching the brand or up-leveling the brand.
What's your biggest challenge that you face in your business?
My biggest challenge is focusing on myself, for sure. So now I'm only going to take a handful of management clients a year so I can focus on educating on a national level and focus on my brands. There's so much that entrepreneurs and thought leaders need to understand and know that I can share.
What are some of the most common challenges that people come to you with?
Right now it's, “I've already seen it done.” Everybody is already an expert doing that. With the land of social influencers when you look on social media, there's somebody of every single kind putting themselves out there as a personal brand.
And my reaction to that is always, “there's no you out there yet.” So I help to guide them through the fact that there's no such thing as oversaturation when it's an authentic part of their journey and their quest in their personal brand.
Why is having a personal brand is so important?
Because it's literally the most important thing that you can do. It is your equity in a marketplace. Your reputation will be with you forever. It's not even just a legacy, it's truly something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
If you're not showing up in a digital space, then somebody else is. There's so much fraud out there with people taking your credible name and putting it onto their websites. So, if you're not managing your reputation, then somebody else is managing it for you.
When I was working on personal branding 10 years ago, it was important for the leaders who really wanted to step out and put their companies on the map. But now it's essential for everybody. You look at what's online now, and everything that has to be managed, and it's truly a skill set to learn personal branding and to make sure that you're utilizing it in an authentic way that's going to support your success.
Why do you use the word “authentic”?
Because everything is online now; we are savvy consumers. We can see window dressing a mile away.
Now we like seeing the vulnerability. We love it. That's what makes it approachable for us to work with brands that we love because they're not perfect. They've shared that they've done something wrong, or they've faced a challenge, or they've faced a disability, or they faced abuse.
It's not like you should air your dirty laundry on your website, or on your bio. But if you're able to share a little piece of your history with somebody, then you're really going to connect and bring the right folks to you.
What is the best business decision you've made?
The best business decision I've ever made is to truly jump and move forward for my next quest when I'm ready. When I (exited) Icon B., people said, “Brandi! What the hell are you doing? You just created all of this success and you know, big fish, small pond.” And I'm like, “Nope, now I'm going to downsize and I'm gonna move and I'm gonna do it all over again.”
And so the best business decision I continue to make is the fact that once I succeed, I like to start all over again. I start from scratch and do it a different way, and make it better and innovate.