The corporate head shot vs. good personal branding.

by John Furgurson on September 21, 2012

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website.  Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”

In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.

The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible.  Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality.  Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts.

Just because you’re in a professional job, such as real estate or insurance or law, doesn’t mean you have to look professional in a boring, corporate sense. That’s classic, rear-view mirror thinking… “well, that’s how they’ve always done it in my business, so I better do it too.”   Nonsense.  If that’s how it’s always been done, do just the opposite.

Better than the usual, corporate head shot.

You’d never sell yourself on Match.com with a stiff, corporate photo, so why would you sell yourself that way in professional circles? What sells on Match.com is the same thing that sells in the corporate world: Real life! Personality. Emotions. And Honesty.

Deceptive euphemisms might get you one date, but they won’t work in the long run.

Realtors are notorious for using crummy, outdated photos. I rejected a realtor once because her photo was so… fake.  She had done some good branding work, but when I met her in person I was literally taken aback. She was at least 25 years older than she appeared in her photo.

I didn’t discriminate because she’s old, I rejected her because she wasn’t honest with me. She purposely — knowingly — misrepresented herself. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.  It’s not a big leap to think she would also mis-represent my house, or my position in a negotiation.

So, no thanks.  Next candidate.

I suspect a lot of hiring managers think the same way.  It’s human nature in a superficial world. We make snap judgments without even knowing we’ve made them. We are all biased, especially when it comes to looks.

So unless you’re super-model hot or a Richard Gere look alike, why would you want to show your face on every ad? Besides ego.

A likeness of yourself does nothing to distinguish your brand or differentiate you from the rest of the realtors with boring corporate headshots.

On the contrary.  It lumps you in with everyone else. All the bad moustaches and lousy suits on the guys make most realtors look they belong in a police line-up.  And 90 percent of the women look like they’re trying way too hard. (Can you say “photoshop?”)

Successful branding hinges on authenticity, and there’s nothing authentic about most corporate head shots.

Some have argued that Realtors should include a portrait because “they don’t have a product to sell. They are the product. “

That’s only true if you’re a model.

Realtors, dentists, attorneys, and millions of other “professionals” perform a service.  How a head shot looks has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to provide a good, valuable service.

Instead of showing yourself, why not find something that’s symbolic…  an image or a logo that means something to you, and possibly even conveys a benefit.

I used a heroic shot of my kids for the masthead of this blog.  They were younger then, and the center of my world. That photo represented everything I was about, and everything this Branding Blog is about. It’s cool, personal, fun and iconic.

Way better than any face shot of me.

It also adds a bit of mystery, and mystery is a powerful marketing tool. Why show your face at all?  It’s name recognition you want, not facial recognition. They can’t look up your face on Google. (for now, anyway)

Bottom line: No one makes a purchase decision based only on your photo. But they WILL rule you out if you look shifty, creepy or bitchy. So if you absolutely must, here’s some advice for getting a photo that doesn’t look like it came from the Sears portrait studio.

1. Remember, image matters.  Execution matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you use sloppy, poorly-lit photos on your website or your LinkedIn page, that’s going to reflect poorly on you. You’ll get judged for that, like it or not.

2. Get a life, and show it!  You’re not a robot. (Of course, there’s a caveat to that: If “getting a life” to you means partying or porn, well, never mind. Don’t show that.) Otherwise, get great photos that are an accurate reflection of the real you. Use props or do something that conveys your personality.

3. There’s a HUGE difference between accomplished amateur photographers and professional photographers who can actually make a living from the images they sell. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and frustration by just using a pro the first time.

4. Realize that middle-aged women are impossible to please. If you have a staff of 10 women, nine will be unhappy, no matter who shoots the photos. Show them 90 proofs, and they’ll reject every single one, out of hand. So if you’re running the show, don’t give them too many choices.  Trust the photographer and just show the top three. And whatever you do, don’t let them take the photos home for a consultation with their sisters, girl friends or daughters.

5. Men don’t care. It’s a Venus & Mars thing. That’s good news for guys who are trying to compete for a job or a freelance gig.  If you take a little extra time to find an accomplished photographer, you’ll be immediately ahead of 90% of the candidates. It’s bad news if you’re trying to portray a good image of your entire team.

6. A good photo reveals your frame of mind. If you’re feeling confident, sexy and intelligent, it’ll come through. (Assuming you’re using a decent photographer)  If you’re defeated, depressed, or angry, that’ll show too. So do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot.  Have a glass of wine. Loosen up. Have fun with it.

7. Sex Sells. Let’s face it… Good looking people have an advantage in the corporate world.  If you’ve got it, flaunt it in a subtle way. If not… all the more reason to not do a head shot at all. If you do, you better have a photo loaded with fun and personality.

8. The camera is just not kind to some people. The minute the lens cap comes off, they freeze up faster than a popsicle in Nome.  If that’s you, look for a photographer who has a photo-journalism background or a portfolio of fine art shots. Then let them do some candid shots. Don’t pose, do something and let him capture the action.

9. Remember, photography is an art.  So be open minded and let the photographer be creative.  If you go into a photo shoot with very specific, pre-conceived notions, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity to shine.

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Revisiting Your Personal Brand | Lyndit Marketing
September 25, 2012 at 2:54 am

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Chigolum September 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

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Lyndi September 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Great post! Love the point of a Realtor using an old photo that was indeed misrepresenting her. Lots of good tips!

jordan 11 for sale September 27, 2012 at 10:05 am

Muchos Gracias for your article.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

Ashley K. Edwards October 2, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Great post, and totally agreed. “The camera is just not kind to some people” statement had me cracking up.

I manage several blogs and my branding/package blog is the only one where I don’t use a picture of myself. Do you think that’s a disadvantage?

Julian Bradder October 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm

There can be little doubt that my picture from 8 years ago looks better than the one I have today. But this says little! Suit and tie doesn’t work though. You’ll land up looking like Mitt Romney and similarly inhuman.

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