Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Personal Branding Under The Microscope

Short Version
David Armano, widely considered to be a really smart guy has left Critical Mass to join a startup company called Dachis Corp. Some people are happy about the above and think this is great. Others are completely pissed.

Long Version
For the last 12 months there’s been a lot of discussion in the interactive space regarding “personal brands.” Not familiar with the concept of personal brands? Let me give you the down and dirty.

For years employees have been cogs in a company’s machine. Employess were expected to live, breathe, and die for the greater good of the organization. But, the rapid evolution of interactive marketing towards “social media” started to change that concept. People mattered. Yes, people mattered. Frank Eliason from Comcast, the man Business Week called “the most famous customer service manager in the U.S., possibly in the world” is perhaps the best example of this evolution.

The people that are pissed about Armano’s decision to leave Critical Mass believe the following:

  1. He was brilliant in getting Critical Mass to fund the trips for his speaking engagements.
  2. He was brilliant in getting Critical Mass to embrace his personal blog, tweeting, and column in Adweek.
  3. He became the outward face of Critical Mass.
  4. He established and built a reputation in the industry because of Critical Mass’ willingness to fund his “personal interests” and “ego.”
  5. He leveraged #1 and #2 to jump to a “better” more lucrative position – and in doing so has left Critical Mass in the lurch.

This comment from a reader of Brian Morrisey’s article on David’s departure captures the spirit and sentiment of those who are pissed at his decision to bail.

Critical Mistake

April 10, 2009
Armano is giving up the sweetest deal of all: Critical Mass paid him a salary to build his own brand at the expense of theirs. So today Armano is a social media rockstar and Critical Mass is still an unknown agency. He’s always feeding us some line about learning from people. Love for him to teach us how he managed to pull that one off.

It’s an interesting point and one I can understand. It’s similar to college basketball coaches that are given an opportunity by a school, paid well, and treated like rock stars – only to abandon that school for a more lucrative or better known school. The people in Memphis are saying this very thing about John Calipari’s decision to leave them for Kentucky.

Here’s the facts, as I see them:

  1. Critical Mass is a great shop
  2. David Armano was a smart guy before coming to Critical Mass
  3. Critical Mass enabled David Armano to become the well know welebrity (his word, not mine) that he is today
  4. David left for a great opportunity
  5. Critical Mass is weakened by his departure

To me it’s that simple. Companies cut employees all the time. Sometimes for good reasons. Sometimes for silly reasons. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it happen, and recently I was part of it.  Whenever we leave an organization we hopefully do it on our own terms and for good reasons.  I left Fallon in 2000 while I was working on BMW Films because the culture had changed too much.  Publicis’ acquisition of the agency really altered the company and made it a place I no longer wanted to be at.  I left Leo Burnett 3 years later for the same reason.  I’ve seen people leave for a title, 5K a year more, and because the company stopped offering free beer on Thursdays.  The point is, people leave a for a variety of reasons.

I’m happy for David. I wish him well. But, this situation definitely shows us the danger of companies investing in personal brands. David has clearly benefited from Critical Mass’ direct investment into his brand, and I’m sure on some level so has Critical Mass.  How much we’ll never know.  What we do know for sure is that Critical Mass invested a lot and now 2 years later they have a massive hole to fill.