He seemed surprised. I'm sure my editor figured that someone like me, an experienced agent, would never need to ask such a silly question. But I have to be honest: It's never come up. I've never had a client ask me about branding.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm a powerful agent, so yes, I'm aware of the concept. It has something to do with marketing, right? The thing is that every few years, a new expression comes along to make an actor's life even more difficult than it already is. For a while there, everyone was talking about the need to "be proactive" and "empower yourself." As far as I can tell, "be proactive" is just another way of saying "don't be lazy," and "empower yourself" is just another way of saying "be proactive."
Anyway, I decided to research. My first call was to my own: another agent with plenty of experience. Here's what he had to say: "Branding is like when an actor who's good with comedy promotes himself as being good at comedy." His response sounded like a Buddhist koan, but there might've been some nuance there that I missed. He also explained that branding meant having a common theme to all your marketing tools, including your website and Facebook page. That made a little more sense, but it didn't sound like anything new.
In my quest for more information, I then called a very successful manager and asked for her take on branding. She responded, "Branding works best for hosts and personalities, not up-and-coming actors." That made sense. I flashed on Ryan Seacrest. There's a guy who probably knows all there is to know about branding. Unfortunately, I'm still waiting for him to return my call.
It was time to switch tactics. I tried doing an online search, and I found a lot of companies that will coach you on how to develop your brand. One of them charges $475 for a weekend seminar. Others will work with you on a weekly basis. Posing as an actor, I called one to get a price for that service, but they refused to give me a quote unless I came in for a meeting.
I did find a common question on all those websites: "What do you have to offer that is unique?" I'm not sure how a typical actor is supposed to answer that. Most people aren't that unique. "I'm talented" isn't a good response, because talent needs to be a given if you want to succeed. So what does that leave? "I'm tall"? "I'm moody"? "I have webbed toes"? Sometimes I feel like people dream up these questions to distract actors from the realities of the business.
So after doing all that research, I can't say I'm any closer to understanding the concept of branding. As best as I can tell, it involves selling out your name if you're a star and limiting yourself to a type if you're just starting out.
I turn these columns in three weeks in advance, which means I don't get to see the rest of the issue till it's published. So I'm curious about all these other articles on branding. Maybe I'll actually learn something I can use. And if I don't, I'll just be proactive and empower myself by dreaming up another vague concept that actors will shell out hard-earned money to learn.