Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Limits of Brand Control

One of the things fledgling and prospective authors hear a lot about is "managing your brand".  In rough practice, it's a good idea.  Your brand is, in essence, your own name, and you want your name to be thought of in the context of "successful writer".  Or something in that ballpark.  You want a Google search of your name to bring up you and the things about you that you want people to know.  You don't want it to bring up a Livejournal rant where you call some famous writer a crazy hack who isn't fit to write shampoo directions. 

But, at the same time, there's only so much one can do to really influence people's opinions of you, and you certainly can't control them.  Sometimes even trying to do one thing can have the exact opposite effect, despite your best intentions.

Many years ago, in my earlier life as a local theatre director and producer, I was putting together a show in which I had hoped to get one particular actress.  That actress, however, was planning on doing another show with a relatively big name, locally, and that show would conflict with mine.  No big deal.  However, at one point in my casting process, some other people approached me saying that Big Name Director's show was already cast, and we should let the actress know that so we could get her. 
Now, I didn't waste a thought entertaining this notion, and told these other people that it was none of our business.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I get an email from Big Name Director, in which he tears into me for spreading rumors about his shows and sticking my nose into his business.  Apparently the idea that I was the one telling other people his show was already cast had reached his ear, and I certainly don't blame him for confronting me given what he believed.  I wrote back explaining my side of things, received a terse non-apology, and that was the end of that. 

But-- and I can't confirm this with certainty, but I have a strong sense-- a certain amount of damage was done to my reputation, through no action of my own.  It's hard to say if it affected me in the local theatre community.  I only ended up doing a few more shows before more or less retiring, mostly because I wasn't that good as a producer/director.  (For most of the shows I did, I will fully say that the elements that did work were due to the good people I had working with me, and those that did not were in all likelihood my own failings.) 

The point is, control of one's brand, one's reputation, can only go so far.  Once it's out there, it's out there, and you don't get to decide what other people think about it.

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