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What actors need to know about personal branding

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Portrait of a handsome man a ready to film a new scene

The days of getting an acting job via a scouting mall or open casting call are over. Today, casting agents look for new talent on the Internet. In this new casting climate, you need to market yourself online. This means ensuring you have a consistent and recognizable online brand that will attract fans and get you noticed by casting agents.

What is a personal brand?

As an actor, your personal brand is your “story.” It’s the image that you want casting directors, producers, and your fans to remember when they think of you. Just like a corporate brand; your personal brand explains who you are. It’s what you stand for, which values you embrace, and how you express those values.

“Actors who understand their brand are the busiest working actors.”—Amy Jo Berman, former vice president of casting for HBO

It’s not typecasting

Some actors confuse branding and typecasting. However, they are two different things: Branding focuses on projecting a certain message about who you are as an actor—showcasing the “sweet spot” of your range of abilities, while typecasting is when casting directors assume an actor can only perform a certain kind of role.

Another common misconception is that personal branding leads to typecasting. In fact, having a strong personal brand is what prevents people from typecasting you. If you have a weak or unclear personal brand, then casting directors will typecast you because they don’t have anything else to judge you by other than your most popular role.

Examples of actors with a strong personal brand

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Mindy Kaling—Mindy Kaling has succeeded in Hollywood by branding herself as a smart and witty actor, writer, director, and producer who pushes back against society’s stereotypes while retaining a girl-next-door friendliness. Her message is one of authenticity: Be yourself because trying to be someone else never works. 

Tom Hanks—Even though he’s a Hollywood superstar, Tom Hanks has made a name for himself as a genuinely nice, down-to-earth guy—both on and off the screen. He has leveraged this persona to land a wide variety of heroic everyman roles that have amplified his fame and garnered the trust and respect of his fans, earning him the nickname America’s Dad.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—Unlike other ex-wrestlers who made it big as actors, like Hulk Hogan or André the Giant, Johnson has branded himself as more than just a film-sized version of his wrestling persona. Instead, he has promoted his charm, his self-deprecating sense of humor, and his acting skills to play a variety of characters in several blockbuster film series.

How to create your personal brand

To construct an authentic personal brand that helps you achieve your career goals, you need to do the following:

1. Google yourself

Before you start creating your brand, you need to know what the Internet is already saying about you. You might already have a personal brand and not even know it.

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Therefore, you need to google yourself and see what the search results for your name reveal. If what shows up online doesn’t reflect the version of yourself that you want others to see, then you need to practice some online reputation management techniques to improve your search results and refine your brand.

Make sure you search for more than just your name. Add other identifiers, such as your location or projects you’ve worked on, to expand your results. Don’t forget to search for photos and videos too.

2. Decide which values you want to project

Next, you need to define what you want to stand for. This is your brand “message.” Choose three words that best represent your outlook, beliefs, and general demeanor. 

When deciding which words to use, you should consider which terms people associated with you in the search results for your name. You can also ask people close to you which words they think best describe you.

For example: loyal, hardworking, insightful

The three qualities you choose will be the foundation of your brand. As such, they should reflect your authentic self and remain true for your professional—as well as your personal—life. 

3. Know your audience

Before you can start building your brand, you need to know who you’re building it for. The people you’re targeting will often have different requirements when it comes to looking for talent. As such, you need to give these people the information they want, presented in the format they prefer, via the platform they use most. This means you’ll need to do your research on the casting directors you want to work with.

“Depending on the person you’re trying to build a relationship with, the marketing tools you’ll use will change. Some casting directors aren’t on social media and so will welcome postcards or snail mail. Others won’t even look at anything on paper, but love interacting on social media. Even the specific social media networks you use will vary.”—Heidi Dean, social media expert for actors

4. Identify what makes you special

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When it comes to getting roles, it’s a bad idea to sell yourself as someone who can play any part. In fact, trying for too broad a reach can often make you appear bland or non-committed. As such, you need to focus on your strengths and what makes you unique to stand out in a crowded industry.

To find out what makes you special, ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my best qualities?
  • What things make me feel alive?
  • What can I do that other actors can’t do?
  • What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
  • What about you surprises other people?

5. Tell your story

Use what you’ve learned in identifying your brand message and your unique qualities to write up a short story that distills your personal brand into an engaging story. This biography is what will communicate your personal brand on your website and social media profiles. 

The goal of a personal brand story is to connect with your audience. Therefore, your story needs to include how you have overcome obstacles. Did you abandon the security of obtaining an engineering degree to pursue acting? Did you have to fight your fear of failure to leave home and start your career? This information humanizes you and makes you more authentic.

“A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result.”—Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story. 

When writing your story, keep the following tips in mind:

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Keep it short—Nobody wants to have to read a whole page of information. As such, you should restrict your story to a few paragraphs. Ideally, you should be able to communicate a version of your brand story in a single sentence so that people can easily remember it and share it with others. A good example of a powerful yet concise brand statement is Angelina Jolie’s: “I am an Academy Award-winning actress who is committed to philanthropy by providing resources and aid to refugees and immigrant children in war-torn countries.”

Make it specific—It’s the details that make a story more believable. Don’t gloss over the “where,” “when,” “how,” “why,” and “who.” A very detailed statement, like “I graduated in 2007 from Thomas Jefferson College, where I played lead roles, including Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth, in the school’s yearly Shakespeare festival,” is much more interesting than “I participated in my college’s Shakespeare festival.” 

Make it memorable—You don’t want your story to sound like a resume. So, don’t just list off a series of dates and events. The most memorable stories contain an introduction, a conflict, a climax, and a resolution.

Ensure it’s authentic—Don’t try to sound like someone you’re not. Otherwise, you’ll come across as inauthentic and untrustworthy. Instead, tell your story the way you’d talk if you were speaking to someone face-to-face.

Focus on your audience—When writing your story, think about the things hiring managers and your fans want to know and focus your content on this information—even if there are other things you want to talk about. After all, you are writing for your audience, not yourself. 

6. Build up your online presence

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The Internet is the first place people go when they want to learn about someone. Therefore, to promote your personal brand, you need to maximize your presence online.

Create your own website—Having your own website is essential if you want to promote your brand. When designing yours, make sure the site is easy to find and that your information is well organized and clutter free. The goal is to reduce the effort involved in viewing your work. One way to make your site more visible is to purchase a domain name like FirstnameLastname.com. This ensures your website ranks highly in the search results for your name. Purchasing a domain in your name also protects your reputation by preventing anyone—including those with a grudge against you—from registering that domain to mock you or mislead others about you.

Start bloggingBlogging involves regularly posting content on your website. Whether you write articles or post video blogs, the important thing is to create content about what you know. Good topics include your experiences trying to make it in the industry, your memorable successes and failures, or audition tips casting directors have given you. Just make sure that whatever you share aligns with and promotes your personal brand. 

Host a podcast—Hosting a podcast can help you establish yourself as a thought leader, connect with your audience, and build a network of influencers. One example of an actor using a podcast to market his personal brand is Rory O’Malley, of “Hamilton” fame, who hosts an ironically titled podcast “Living the Dream.” In this forum, he engages his audience by swapping hard-luck stories with friends in the entertainment industry. 

Get active on social media—The people you want to impress are on social media. To engage with them, you need to be active on these platforms too.

“When an actor comes across my plate, and I’ve never heard of them, the first thing I do is google them.”—Benton Whitley, casting director/partner at Stewart/Whitley.

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A good way to showcase your talent is by creating your own YouTube channel and filling it with videos that represent your current skill set. You should also create an official page on Facebook or an official Twitter profile to promote your personal brand.

Remember to keep your social media profiles focused on your acting. Being professional is key. While your niece may be cute, you shouldn’t post her picture on one of your professional sites. 

7. Be consistent across all platforms

The idea is to have people associate your name with your personal brand. To do this, you need to project a consistent voice and appearance regardless of where people encounter you online. Some ways to do this include using the same username and color and design themes on your website and social media profiles. Ellen DeGeneres, for example, uses the same profile picture on her Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. 

For more information

To learn more about controlling how you look online, give us a call. We offer complimentary consultations over the phone.

You can also find information about personal branding and online reputation management in the following articles: