I’ve been presenting workshops and presentations on risk branding for half a decade now, but never got around to sharing the step-by-step process it takes to really drive us in the right direction to create a lasting, powerful risk brand.  When a peer of mine asked me where to find the ultimate guidance on risk branding, I thought I should get off the dime and create the “starter kit”.

The steps in any risk branding effort should follow this simple sequence:

1) The Goal

2) The Portfolio that Supports The Goal

3) The Image behind the Portfolio

4) The Language to Support the Image

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The key is that branding is not created from a single experience.  It’s built over time and it’s built through sheer repetition and affirmation.

The Goal

What do you want to be known as?  That’s actually a huge question.  For me, it’s “The Risk Guy.”  And I didn’t choose the word “Guy” lightly.  “Guy” has a sense of the ordinary surrounding it.  Unlike the UK’s Dr. David Hillson (the Risk Doctor), I wanted to be recognized not for my academic wherewithal, but for my ability to translate risk down to the ordinary and commonplace.  I’m just a guy.

Do you want to be a risk “quant?”  How about the master of mitigation?  The crown prince(ss)  of contingency?  The marvelous modeler?  We need to know up front what we want to be recognized as if we’re going to lay claim to being effective at what we do.  If someone’s looking for a risk quantification expert, I point them toward some of my peers.  But if someone wants to be able to translate the challenges of risk into lay language, I’m that guy.

Saying that you want to be “good” at risk is far from sufficient.  That’s not really what we’re looking for here.  We’re trying to identify the aspect(s) of risk management that truly represent our capabilities and our areas of renown.

The Portfolio that Supports The Goal

I have a risk portfolio.  I have clients that I have supported, scores of presentations given and a host of workshops trained.  In each, I stress the accessibility of risk management practice to the everyday project or to the simplest echelons of the organization.  It isn’t the exclusive province of senior executives or those who have done statistical homework until they’re blue in the face.  It’s the province of every player on the organizational team.  Talk to anyone who has participated in a risk discussion with me through the years, and they’ll affirm that’s the message I send.  I send it in articles, in my books, in discussions with clients and in every aspect of my life.  And because I’ve captured that notion time and again (in the written and spoken word), I have a portfolio.

Artists have it lucky.  When they want to present a portfolio of their accomplishments and reinforce their brands, they need only identify where to find the folder or collection of their work.  It’s not hard for them to pin down what they’ve done.  For most of us in the corporate world, however, maintaining a physical portfolio of our accomplishments is somewhat more daunting.

If you’re in earnest about wanting to build a risk brand, then you need to start writing.  You need to start collecting.  You need to be able to prove that you have a body of work.  This article is a case in point.  While I’ve talked about this subject for over five years, I’ve never written the beginner’s article on how to make “risk branding” really happen.  When my peer asked for this type of guidance, it served as a powerful NUDGE to remind me that I had promised myself that it would become an element of my portfolio to reinforce my role as a  risk guru,and the risk “guy.”

Each time any effort is complete that reinforces our goal, we need to capture the documentation that goes with that achievement.  In doing so, over time, a portfolio of our risk brand evolves.

The Image behind the Portfolio

As we develop our portfolio, we need to be sure that we reinforce the image that goes along with it.  Imagine a risk quantification expert.  You have a mental image, don’t you?  He’s probably wearing a tie and is crouched over a computer monitor, running a Monte Carlo Analysis.  He’s a little on the nerdy side.  And every conversation is laced with some measure of statistics and probability.

Now, think about a “guy.”  If you envisioned a guy who lives to take his tie off, wears Converse All-Stars(r) (custom Chuck Taylor low-tops with the words “Risk Guy” embroidered on the heel), and whose idea of the perfect day is kicking around in an Aloha shirt, then you have my image.  I work to sell that image.  Why?  It makes me accessible, and by virtue of that, it makes risk management more accessible.  It’s not formal or stuffy.  It’s about doing what works, and what makes us comfortable in dealing with risk situations.

In building an image to mirror our portfolio, it’s important to take the time to think through the look, feel and general demeanor associated with someone in our “goal position.”  If we can identify what that person looks like and then build ourselves into that image, we’re in GREAT shape.

The Language to Support the Image

No single component of the image is more important than language.  Consistent use (and enforcement) of language is critical to the success of a risk brand.  What does “high risk” really mean?  If no one has defined it before you, it’s up to you!  What’s the distinction between a risk and an issue?  (One’s in the future, the other is realized).  But again, it’s a matter of whose definition will rule?

In most organizations, no one has laid out a comprehensive risk language.  While we may default to professional guidance (Risk Management: Concepts & Guidance, 4th Edition), we still need to ask whose guidance we’re going to apply.  By making these choices, we create our own language, and if we created it, we’re never going to be wrong!  That’s a very special place to be.  Those who control the language largely control thought.  And those who control thought, RULE.

Is this all that’s involved in building a risk brand?  Absolutely not.  It’s a starter kit.  It’s a few critical first steps and questions that need to be addressed in order to create a personal culture for how we will deal with risks.

More thoughts or feedback?  Please post them here!  Or e-mail them to me at carl (at) carlpritchard.com