Monetize your persona
(Fortune Magazine) -- One morning last week, after a night of unquiet dreams, I was called to a meeting, which I attended, since that's what I do. Because it was essentially one of those Stalinist show exercises, I had time to observe Charlie, the consultant who was running the thing.
I'd seen him before. He was lean and sleek, clean-shaven as a newborn otter, and dressed from grin to Gucci loafer in classic pinstripes. "Blah de blah blah," he said thoughtfully, looking over the room. Then he got up and walked around, ruminating for a while.
Our little group, none of whom had the authority to up and leave, sat waiting for the next portion of his pitch. "Bleh bleh blooie," he said decisively. Some of us chuckled at that. Others took notes. After another 20 minutes of this fare, we agreed to get back together on it with Charlie in the next couple of weeks.
Which left me thinking. Charlie isn't a bad guy. Like many consultants hired to screw with the chairs on the poop deck, he has very little to offer except the luster of the firm he works for and the fear he inspires in those who report to the guy who hired him.
And yet Charlie, on a bad week, makes a whole lot more than any of us. He's rolling in it. He has a boat and a McMansion and a little place in a bucolic shore town. He's no smarter. He's no more experienced. He's no master of any domain except his own. What gives?
And then it came to me. He's just better at monetizing his persona.
This was a timely answer to a question that had been posed to me the night before at 3 A.M. I got up for a drink of water, and suddenly a voice from on high beamed the following phrase into my head:
"Monetize your persona!" it said.
Hmm, I thought. What could it mean? Answer came there none. But it had the ring of something important, a key to a crucial portal in the big analog space of life. I slept on it.
I was awakened at dawn by the stentorian voice again: "Bing!" it said. It sounded kind of grouchy. "Monetize your persona."
"Okay," I said to nobody in particular. Then I got down to work. I started by taking a hard look at the concept itself.
Monetizing. A fancy word for turning something with no obvious inherent value into cash. A car dealership, for instance, can monetize fears of global warming and high gas prices into the right to charge a ton of dough for the smallest hybrid since Yoda.
Your. Something possessed by you, something proprietary.
Persona. Not just your personality; the "persona" is defined as "the role that one assumes or displays in public or society; one's public image or personality, as distinguished from the inner self."
Wow, I thought. I seemed to be getting somewhere. The individual who is actively involved in monetizing his or her persona is one who turns the public face--the basically fictional entity, owned by them alone--into money. This must be distinguished from the action of turning work into money, which all of us do all the time.
All morning I tortured myself with queries. How could it be done? What would it look like? Can one simply abandon work and rely on a monetized persona? I really didn't know, although the possibilities offered by continued research seemed seductive.
Then I sat in that meeting with Charlie. And I saw how it was done.
It starts with face. When people recognize your face, even just locally, you're on your way. "Hey, that's Bob!" they'll say as you walk down the street. That's the kind of brand identification that can easily be translated into coin.
Next comes the name. A fully monetized persona is anchored by a recognizable moniker. What would the persona of a Disney or Trump be worth without the immediate ka-ching created by the simple designation itself?
Beyond that are other considerations. Attire, for instance. You don't expect to see Jack Welch, who has monetized his post-GE persona most brilliantly, in a T-shirt and colorful Bermudas.
Finally, there is the act of salesmanship. The monetizer is out there every day, presenting his persona for people to pick up, sniff, put down, and then carry away because they think they are served by it. Half the politicians in the world operate on that basis. People don't know what they stand for. They just like what they put out.
That's it, sort of. The good news is that once you get with the program, you develop a real taste for the game. You're not working. You're not worrying. You're out there turning who you are into the way you pay for supper. It's not easy--but it's not too difficult either. Not for you and me. We've had some practice, and there are hosts of those who have gone before to teach us how it's done.
After all, it's the oldest profession in the world.
From the July 24, 2006 issue