By Andris Pone – President, Coin Branding
“…Ghomeshi’s lawyer strides up the centre aisle to the defence table, sweeping past in a stunning black dress and designer jacket like some exotic import from Suits. A slash of scarlet lipstick hints at her sense of showmanship, and the brisk clip of her black patent stilettos leaves no doubt about her flinty reputation. Without uttering a word, Marie Henein commands the room.”
As epitomized by this thoroughly delicious writing of Toronto Life’s Marci McDonald, the media, legal community and wider public has an almost fetishistic fascination with Henein, lead defence counsel in what has become the highly sensational sexual assault trial in Toronto of former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi.
A former client compared her to Hannibal Lecter.
The Toronto Star has her striding ”across the courtroom in heels that thump ominously, like a hungry T-Rex.”
The Globe and Mail has her ”smacking her lips” with anticipation.
She “demolishes” witnesses.
Whatever you may think of her intense questioning of Ghomeshi’s accusers on the witness stand, who among you – if you are trying to get ahead in your career – would not want such a powerful presence in your realm of endeavour? In other words, who wouldn’t want such a potent personal brand?
How Did She Do It?
Here’s what we can learn from Henein’s triumph as one of the most distinct and powerful personal brands to emerge in many years (it doesn’t even matter if Ghomeshi is convicted, by the way: she has established her brand so clearly and distinctly, not even losing this case can significantly damage it). It all comes down to Henein’s complete mastery of these five personal branding principles:
Henein was a star from square one. She graduated from Toronto’s prestigious Osgoode Hall Law School and was chosen immediately in 1989 by one of Canada’s most prominent lawyers, Alan Young, on what has been described as the most important case of his career to that point. Shortly thereafter she went to work with Canada’s most respected, highest-profile criminal defence lawyer, period: the legendary Eddie Greenspan.
To the National Post, she is ”ferociously capable.” To the Toronto Star, she is a ”freakishly gifted trial lawyer.” To the Globe and Mail, she has “prodigious legal talents.” Another prominent defence lawyer, Jonathan Rosenthal, said before start of trial that Ghomeshi “will be very, very well represented.”
This lady is good. As anyone – if they want a killer personal brand – must be.
2. The Halo Effect
A huge part of Henein’s brand strength comes from her affiliation with the tremendously strong brands of others. The legal luminaries she’s worked with are a crucial component of her brand narrative. Then come the prominent brands of her high-profile clients, including Ghomeshi of course, along with former Nova Scotia premier Gerald Regan, former Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant, rapper Ja Rule and even the lady who threw a drink at ex-Toronto mayor Rob Ford.
The big takeaway is this: like brands attract. If you hope to do any sort of work with people of accomplishment, you yourself must exude big-time brand strength.
Henein’s personal style – from her nonplussed facial expression, to her chic clothing, to her hair and makeup – is a constant theme in media coverage of her. And of course, there are the heels – always the heels.
Does any of this focus on Henein’s looks mean we don’t take her seriously? Of course not. This is a woman who is taken extremely seriously on every level. Her big brain will always be her most important brand attribute, but her style brings her trademark incisiveness visually to life. What would happen to your opinion of the Starbucks brand if the coffee and service were kept exactly the same, but the stores were made to look like Dunkin’ Donuts? Exactly: their entire promise would be much less believable.
A distinctive look matters. A lot. This is wonderful news for anyone looking to build their personal brand, because virtually everyone looks the same, regardless of industry. In the notoriously conservative legal community, Henein has decided to smash the “rule” against distinctiveness with highly differentiated marketing materials, most notably the photography she’s had done for her firm – referred to in the Huffington Post as “straight out of an HBO miniseries.”
Despite the importance of visuals to your personal brand, a brand is not – as very commonly believed – a logo or a website or a business card or any other marketing piece. Instead, it is what people think of you. That’s why the number one rule of branding is this: be consistent. Because if you’re not consistent, people won’t know what to think.
Over the course of a more-than 25-year career, Henein has demonstrated awe-inspiring consistency in terms of taking and winning high-profile cases and rubbing shoulders with prominent lawyers and clients. Her distinctive personal style has been a more recent endeavour, something she has clearly mastered by gracing the courtroom steps each morning of the Ghomeshi trial with what appears to be the exact same polished, precise look.
Henein did exactly none of this overnight. Her career began in the 1980s. She did not truly break through in the public consciousness for 20 years, with her defence of Michael Bryant in the death of bike courier Darcy Sheppard, in 2009.
Which confirms that branding is a process, not an event. So: start now.