A Lesson on Personal Branding from Darren Rovell

DarrenRovellESPNI have previously written about the importance of defining your personal brand, focusing on creating a meaningful narrative that conveys your skills and experiences to enhance your career path. Sounds great, right?

But once your personal brand becomes well known, are you prepared to deal with what Freddy Mercury called “fame and fortune and everything that goes with it”?

A look at how a sports business personality managed criticism of his personal brand provides a mini-case study.

Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) has forged a career reporting on sports business at ESPN and CNBC. He tweets regularly – nearly 55,000 times – and as his profile has increased in the last ten years, so has the list of detractors. Two recent articles The $ports Guy: Why Do So Many Fans Hate Darren Rovell? and Why People Hate Darren Rovell are prime examples of negative publicity that Rovell attracts.

I’d encourage you to read these pieces and imagine how such a public attack on your personal brand would impact you. Think about it. Really think about it.

Would your instinct be to lash out at critics? Ignore them? Subscribe to the trite expression “there’s no such thing as bad publicity? Privately fume and be distracted by the criticism, but give no response? Or face it head on?

In one anecdote from the Buzzfeed story Rovell says: ““You can’t argue with everyone who wants to pick a fight,” he says. But some fights he believes are worth having, even — or especially — if he knows he’s going to lose. A Chicago sports blog called Barstool Sports is a frequent tormentor, and its author, known only as “Big Cat,” challenged Rovell to a one-on-one basketball game. So in August, right after Rovell sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley Field during the 7th inning stretch on the Cubs’ Social Media Night (it is too a thing), he drove across town, with his father in tow, and got shellacked 11-0.

“I knew I’d get killed,” Rovell says, smiling. “He had six inches on me and 60 pounds. And I suck at basketball. I’m good at tennis. He didn’t think I’d do it, none of his followers thought I’d do it. Even my dad didn’t understand — he said, ‘You’re going to be embarrassed.’ I told him, ‘You don’t understand, this is good for my brand.’ And I can’t imagine how many of this guy’s people said, ‘Wow, it’s just not fun to bash you anymore.’ I turned it. I’m not this ESPN guy who sits in his high tower. I see you. I got ya. And I’ll engage with you, let’s go. Embrace the hate.”

A media figure like Rovell faces different personal branding challenges – and opportunities – than most in the sports industry. And in this case he reacted to continued criticism by facing his tormentor directly. Clearly, while Rovell does not deal with every critic this way, it is a reminder that being self-deprecating is one approach that can disarm an adversary.

2 thoughts on “A Lesson on Personal Branding from Darren Rovell

  • November 1, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Brands are by nature polarizing. You won’t get 100% of people to like your brand. You have to decide on your positioning and be authentic to it. Doing will so will build you a loyal following. The more “out there” you are, the more people will want to publicly explain why they don’t like your brand. (See Walmart, McDonald’s, Obama, etc.) Darren Rovell is doing a great job establishing his brand and being true to it.

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