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Becoming Your Own Brand Manager

Bridget Coyne Gabbe borrows a strategy from MBA students and applies it to her budding acting career. logo

Bridget Coyne Gabbe TMU contributor and working actress

'Tis the season of the red carpet, with all eyes on the stars and what they're wearing. Leave it to Sunday's Style section in The New York Times to distill the importance of the moment: "Dressing for a major red carpet isn't simply getting ready for a big party and looking pretty, in recent years, it's been about selling yourself as a brand," according to George Kotsiopoulos, E! network's Fashion Police host and former Times T style editor.

This got me thinking. If one moment in the right dress can be a pivot point in a career, changing perceptions and landing plum new roles and lucrative endorsement contracts, well, clearly, I need to get a new wardrobe.

But, of course, "branding" yourself goes much further than clothes.

At my day job, where I play the part of not-so-savvy PR girl, we represent the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, a top-ranked grad school. Incoming MBA students go through an intensive two-week program called "Me, Inc." during which they work on identifying their "personal brand." The purpose of this grown-up "camp" is to help them figure out early how to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other MBAs who will be their competition.

Sounds a lot like what all of us actors are trying to do, and so I wondered: Can actors take a page from the MBA playbook?

According to Josh Perry, a "Me, Inc." counselor and professor of law and ethics at Kelley, it's about authenticity (and we thought actors were the only ones concerned about being "true").

"A personal brand is knowing who you are and being able to communicate that across a variety of platforms," Perry said. "It absolutely applies to an actor; in your case, these platforms would be your headshot, resume, website, and any social media that you may use to promote yourself."

That sounds simple enough, right? To begin crafting a personal brand, Perry said I should first identify my "points of parity," the things that I have that everyone else has at my stage. Okay: dirty blonde hair, green eyes, about 5'3"; BFA in theatre and ongoing training at various schools of note. Then, he said, figure out your "points of difference." In other words, what does set me apart from everyone else in the waiting room? (I once painted with my toes in a college theater class. Does that count?)

All of this (and a lot more) combines to make up "Brand Bridget." My story, my passions, my goals. Then what? Well, "Brand Bridget," like other brands, needs to remain authentic -- and needs to be communicated.

Perry admits it's not easy to understand your personal brand, but he believes employers or casting directors or artistic directors will pick up on the authentic you that is right for the role. (So ix-nay to that casting notice for Cats, even though I played a purrfectly fine feline at summer camp.)

Regardless of where you are in your career, with or without representation, think about taking a page out of Kelley's MBA playbook and becoming your own "brand manager." I'm putting stock in building "Brand Bridget," working to stay fresh and relevant, growing as an artist, and being authentic -- holding tight to the real Bridget -- and understanding how that translates to my acting.

Great brands stand the test of time because they're based on something real and lasting. And so, in coming posts, I'm going to share with you my process for identifying and fine-tuning the Bridget brand.

Meanwhile, excuse me while I go find that right dress...


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