Branding Room Only Interview with Damien Atkins: The Aura of a Leader
Damien Atkins is an accomplished business and legal executive who works in mergers and acquisitions, securities regulation, government investigations, and privacy matters. He is the Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Aura, an identity protection company dedicated to creating a safer internet.
Before joining Aura, Damien served as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel at The Hershey Company and as General Counsel at Panasonic USA. With a distinguished career spanning nearly 25 years, Damien has successfully guided clients through complex and sensitive matters. His outstanding legal acumen and strategic thinking have earned him a reputation as a trusted advisor in his field.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- The intangible attributes of a personal brand
- Damien Atkins’ favorite quote and how it influenced his brand
- How Damien’s obsession with technology guided his career
- Learning about your industry and finding mentors in it
- The best advice that Damien learned from his parents
- Why the right context makes all the difference
- Avoiding some of the worst branding mistakes
- Strategic ways to expand your brand over time
- The most important tenets of Damien’s brand
In this episode:
Your brand is the foundation of your leadership. The way people perceive you will ultimately dictate how they follow you. However, most leaders become so caught up in their work that they lose sight of what makes them unique. So how do you put forth the right image as a leader?
Damien Atkins is an accomplished legal executive, having worked with respected brands like Hershey and Panasonic. His approach to branding has developed over more than two decades, helping him hone in on his best attributes. Now he shares some of his best advice with us.
In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula Edgar speaks with Damien Atkins, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel at Aura, to break down his branding and how it applies to leaders. They go through his career, what he has learned from others and the importance of context. The two also dive into the best and worst practices for personal branding. By the end of this episode, you will learn how branding and leadership intersect to create a compelling personal brand that resonates with your audience.
Resources mentioned in this episode
- Paula Edgar
- Paula Edgar on LinkedIn
- Damien Atkins on LinkedIn
- The Knowledge Project
- Rick Pitino
- Dennis Hopkins
- The Purposeful Leader with Damien Atkins
Sponsor for this episode
This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.
PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.
To learn more about Paula and her services, go to www.paulaedgar.com or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.
Paula Edgar: Hey everyone, it’s Paula Edgar here, the host of Branding Room Only, a podcast where I’m talking to you about industry leaders and their influencers and how they’ve learned to build their personal brands through their experiences, skills, and all kinds of other things. And so I’m excited to be talking to Damien Atkins, who I can call a friend.
And also Damien is the Chief Legal Officer at Aura, a mission-driven technology company dedicated to creating a safer internet for everyone, and he’s the host of the Purposeful Leader video series. Damien, welcome.
Damien Atkins: Thank you for having me, Paula. You know, in addition to all those things I do in my day job, I’m very passionate about technology, transformation and I’m still working on my tennis game.
I just, it just, it’s just not working out for me. I’m in a slump. Any tips you have at the end of this or any reviewers, wanna send me a note? I’m all ears.
Paula Edgar: I have zero tennis tips for you other than watch Serena. Okay. You gave a little amplification just now of the intro. Would you consider that to be your full elevator pitch or would you like to give me your elevator pitch at this time?
Damien Atkins: That, that is the elevator pitch. Let me, let me back up. Everyone should have an elevator pitch, but you should have multiple pitches based on the right context and situation. If I’m doing an interview with a CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation, different elevator pitch.
Absolutely different, I would say transformation. I love building teams. I love collaboration, da la da. But if it’s an elevator pitch where I’m pitching my show then it’s like I’m very curious about what drives human performance, what drives excellence, what makes good leaders versus bad leaders, are leaders born, are they made, those kinds of things. So you have to have elevator pitches based on the context and what your goal is.
Paula Edgar: I love that because so often, and I think in multiple industries, people will think of this elevator pitch is literally, you’re going up in an elevator, how are you gonna talk about yourself?
But context is super important, and particularly when you’re thinking about the concept of personal branding, because your brand navigates amongst, differently, amongst different people depending on what your purpose is. So to that end, how would you define personal brand?
Damien Atkins: Yeah, personal brand is a set of, I’d say attributes that people attach to a particular individual or a product or a thing. But these are intangible attributes that people associate with you as a person that has developed over time. I think the good analogy would be, a product like my phone here, right?
This’s an iPhone. And if yes, it’s functionally I can make calls with it. I can search the internet. Those are the kind of functional attributes of it. But the intangible attributes of the iPhone, they’re very different than call it a, you know, a phone that we get from, what, what’s the Google phone?
What do you call it?
Paula Edgar: I hope you’re not gonna shade Androids right now because…
Damien Atkins: I’m not gonna shade Androids, but I’m just saying it’s different than, hey, I had an iPhone versus someone with a Nokia flip phone. So they both do the same, will do this effectively, the same thing, but there’s a certain set of intangible attributes attached to one or the other.
And when you’re talking about personal branding, you are creating a set of intangible attributes that people, your consumers or your friends or whoever else are going to attach to you. And that takes time to build and whatnot. But that’s effectively what it is.
Paula Edgar: I love that description of it, and I ask all of my guests this question because while I have my own concept with it, I talk about branding pretty much every single day.
It’s important to hear how other people think about it because it impacts what our brands are and what their brands are and our perception of each other based on it. And I like to have that alignment. And I was thinking to myself like, how long have I known Damien and how have our brands shifted during that time?
And it was an interesting endeavor that I thought of because I was like, I think I met Damien through Dennis Hopkins, which is probably then through PALS, which may have been before right, which PALS is a nonprofit, which I’ll put a link in to the show notes, but probably then meaning, you were at Chadbourne still, or maybe you were just at AOL…
Damien Atkins: I think I was at AOL when Dennis was trying to get me in PALS and yeah, it was definitely AOL.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, so this, it’s been a long time, but anyway, we’ll get into some of those shifts. How would you describe yourself in three words or phrases?
Damien Atkins: Curious, curious, and energetic.
Paula Edgar: Curious, curious, and energetic. Okay. I’m gonna, I’m gonna allow you a lawyer go, but not, not doing that second one, I’m like, okay. And those work well for tennis.
Damien Atkins: For tennis I give you different adjectives. Terrible, inconsistent, and angry, but, but yeah, I think honestly I’m a very curious person for better, for worse.
And I try to bring, be energetic. I try to be an energy giver at any given time no matter what. So I think if you’re gonna give me three words, I’m gonna give you two. And I think those are the two that capture the most.
Paula Edgar: I love it. And I love that you put the caveat of being an energy giver because I just love when people qualify their brands, not in just who they are, but what they do and what, how they, and how they give and interact. And I think that’s important. Because, you mentioned that brands are the sort of intangibles and one of the intangibles are the magic that everybody brings.
And I would agree with you that you’re an energy giver and that you walk into a room or come into a Zoom space and it’s lit up. So that, I think that’s true.
Damien Atkins: I think that’s, yeah. I don’t, I just, that’s, if my dad were here, you’ve been like that since you were like, six months old.
But yeah, that’s just, that is something that is innate and that when we, as we get into branding, people know people can pick out a phony, right? Your brand has to be, it has to have some integrity to it. It has to be authentic, and that is me.
Paula Edgar: Integrity and authenticity.
Ah, I love the word authenticity so much, even though it’s overused and under explained. Absolutely right. Okay. What’s your favorite quote?
Damien Atkins: My favorite quote comes from John Wooden, former basketball coach at UCLA: Don’t mistake activity for progress. Ooh.
Paula Edgar: Ooh. I like that.
Speaking of authenticity… That’s good.
Damien Atkins: Folks I’ve worked with, they hear me say it all the time. I’m a firm believer in it. And it’s so true. Oftentimes you see people, I’m just so busy, but what have you gotten done? There’s a lot of it is like in physics right?
There’s no displacement. There’s been no work and there’s been nothing’s happened, right? So you can have as much effort put into something, but if the object that you’re moving against doesn’t move, then it’s just a wasted energy. So don’t mistake activity for achievement. Achievement is based on the amount of work that’s based on displacement.
Paula Edgar: Now that was an interesting analogy. So tell me, because I don’t think that the regular layperson would just bring that as an analogy. What did you study in undergrad?
Damien Atkins: I was a history major. I, it’s interesting. I’m terrible at math. I’m not a math person. But yeah, I’ve always found, particularly Newtonian physics to be fascinating, particularly the older I get.
So I fell in love with it again, after 40. But no, I was a history major. I had a minor in statistics and yeah, like Poli Sci, and Asian and Japanese history. But I’ve, the older I’ve gotten, the more interesting I’ve found that the more I found that the laws of physics, particularly Newtonian physics, basically govern the world and they apply in every situation, for each action is an equal and opposite reaction.
You know, there’s no displacement. There’s no work. I could, we could go, there’d be a whole other podcast on this.
Paula Edgar: That is fascinating and totally. I don’t think that I’m surprised often, but I’m often I’m excited when I’m surprised and that just surprised me. I’m like, Newtonian, I did not think if I, in my game card for today’s podcast, I did not have Newtonian physics.
Damien Atkins: That’s the downside of being a curious person. I’ll go down rabbit holes. I have a set of books near me that has like… Anyway, there’s a podcast you should check out called Farnam Street, but there’s a bunch of books that are published that go through the kind of elemental laws of physics and chemistry and everything else, particularly ones at physics, and it has real world examples.
So organizational culture, it’s second law of thermodynamics, right? It’s all of these things. If you look at and you study physics and then apply it to the real world, you’ll see that it’s pretty much, it matches up one for one. What’s the podcast called again? It’s Farnam Street. I’ll send it to you afterwards.
Paula Edgar: Okay. Okay. Wow. Okay. Now let’s pivot to one of my favorite things that I study, which is music. So I ask every guest what their hype song is, and just for a little context, your hype song is what you would play in either, two different areas. One is if you know you gotta go into a room and impress folks, like what’s playing in your head?
Or if you’re having a bad day, you wanna pick yourself up, what are you gonna play? So it could be the same or different ones.
Damien Atkins: It depends on the situation. Before a big board presentation. Yeah I tend to listen to, and I don’t know who actually created this song, Footprints, either Miles Davis or Wayne Shorter, like that, that is, that and All Blues.
That’s my song. I’m an energetic person. I’m hyped up. I need to like, bring it down, I don’t need a cup of coffee before, not gonna work for me. Bad outcome. So something low key where I have to be very, speak slowly, very professionally. Now if it’s a presentation like I did at TechGC in the Fall when, it’s 300 people in a room, and they have a podium up there, then it’s a different … Is this a PG?
Paula Edgar: No, it’s not. It’s mine. It’s a PGE.
Damien Atkins: It could go pretty deep, you know. Lately, before that one it was Black Rob. Yes! RIP – but I was listening to Black Rob. But it depends. Anything, whatever hype song I’m listening to at the moment, I will put that on.
Paula Edgar: I like it. I like it. And just for context and your information, cause I wanna share everything with everybody. Prince, Baby, I’m a Star is always mine. Yeah. That’s my consistent no matter what. But I do have different ones for different things as well. If I’m having a bad day, it’s probably a gospel song then followed by Prince.
Damien Atkins: Okay. Nice. Yeah, you gotta have your go-to library. But for hype song, whatever I’m feeling at the moment.
Paula Edgar: I like it. Okay, so tell me, because as I mentioned when I was thinking about how long we’ve known each other, you’ve had several career pivots and shifts and as I was thinking about this, you’ve been at really big brands in terms of organization and you’ve been at some unknown startup ones as well.
Tell me about how you have built your personal brand throughout those things and maybe talk about the different shifts that you’ve had and what’s been the mainstay? What’s endured during that?
Damien Atkins: Yeah. I’ll answer the last question first. I think the mainstay for me has been an obsession with the impact of technology and technological advancement on business. And, I got the kind of technology bug or the internet bug way back in 2000. I was at my law firm for about 15 months and I got an opportunity to join a startup, which at the time was groundbreaking. Would’ve allowed you to pay your parking tickets on the internet.
You can put on your computer and page your New York City parking ticket on the internet. And we raised a lot of money, but that, so that I was like, okay, so I, and I got the bug and the AOL opportunity happened four or five years later, and that’s, was there for 10 years.
Panasonic, it’s a big tech company, but it’s really a manufacturing company being, I would say the force of technological change of forcing it to change its culture and its business practices and its leadership. And then, Hershey is the same thing. The food space is undergoing a tremendous amount of change, particularly internally.
How you use AI, how you use technology to reduce costs, how you use technology to find the right customer segment when you’re channel blind. I’m sorry, I’m using jargon here. I know. I was like, what’s channel blind? What’s that? Yeah. So when you’re, a lot of large manufacturers what they’ll do is make, they’ll make the phone.
But then put it on a truck to then go to some distribution center or a warehouse. And then from that warehouse, it goes to the retail store. You know the person who actually has the most data about what, actually, who’s buying this phone, what time of the day, how much it costs, what features typically is not the person who made it.
It’s usually a lot of that data’s at the retail side, so you know, but with technology and sharing whatnot there, you can reduce that amount of channel blindness and the market for data has changed. But anyway, just looking at the impact of technology on business and how it’s impacted business practices, strategy, organizational culture.
And then, lastly, I’m a curious person. I was in a tech space, hardcore tech space for 10 years and it’s something I was talking to, I was interviewing for the job at Panasonic and I remember the CEO saying, have you ever worked at a company where you actually made stuff?
And it just kinda hit me. I was like, no, you’re right. And it feels, it’s a good thing about being a lawyer. You can be industry agnostic in many ways. I’m curious, how do you, how are you a global manufacturer with the rendered employees around the world and how do you get this the same widget every time, multiple times.
Paula Edgar: You know what’s interesting? Because I think that you and I may have had this conversation years ago where you talked about that industry agnostic piece of this. But you can’t be cultural agnostic. And I think one of the interesting pieces about you and how you’ve been able to shift and when I think about your brand is that you’ve been in really interesting cultures in terms of the people.
What may it be from other countries or different segments of this country or different types of people in terms of entrepreneurship. Talk about that navigation.
Damien Atkins: Yeah, that’s a good question. For me, it kind of comes natural for me. I grew up, originally from Oakland, California, but my father was in the foreign service, so we moved every two years.
So every two years we’re in a different country, different group of people, different language, just different food. Kinda different everything. So I learned to not only get used to it, but also thrive on that. And being in thrown into a different situation and just figuring out okay, how do things work here?
What’s right, what’s wrong? What’s left, what’s right? What’s up, what’s down? And I went to high school in DC public schools, right? So then, another radical shift, right? I was coming from Panama and, wearing corduroys and OPs in DCPS in the eighties, culture shock, right?
But I love it because you know, learning how, there’s different ways to be human and different ways to folks organize themselves. To go from a very fast paced and it was not fast paced when I joined, but it did become that very fast paced, very agile, smaller tech company with a big brand to, a hundred year old Japanese manufacturer with not just the Japanese business culture, but one focus on Osaka. Which, to me was like the ultimate challenge. Because, the business culture there is, 180 degrees different than us. Then you go to Hershey, which is a typical American brand, but in many ways more similar probably to Panasonic than AOL.
So it’s just, but it’s just, I love looking how people organize themselves and understanding the culture of what works and what doesn’t.
Paula Edgar: So, what you just said. I thinking, okay, agility flexibility, being able to pivot. All those things come out of that and it really makes sense when you explain, how you grew up and being in that space.
And curiosity also makes a lot of sense too. But I got a little nervous when I thought about your experience. I was like, oh my gosh, I’d be so scared if it was me in each thing you’d have to do. So what has been your process in that first 90 days and in learning the who and the what about wherever you’re in and, even if you’re industry agnostic, how do you learn about the space that you’re in that time when you start something new?
Damien Atkins: It starts with, being curious and then being a good listener. And it’s funny, something Dennis Hopkins told me a long time ago, you have, two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. Use them appropriately. And it’s exactly right. It’s something that it’s amazing things you pick up on just asking questions and listening and just asking more questions. But, for the first 90 days, I just watch and listen and observe. Eventually you will find one or two people will offer themselves or solely become a guide for you. Typically it’s someone either in the department or outside of the department or you click with someone.
But, I’d always look for guides. For example, at Panasonic, they institutionally give you a guide just because they know the culture’s so different. And he and I clicked. You find other guys, like I found another person actually an Indian guy, but had worked at Japanese companies for 10, 15 years, was new to Panasonic, but he knew how everything worked and he and I would just, we’d connect after work for drinks or he would join me for meetings.
It was like, Damien, look, this is what’s really going on. This is his title. He’s there to gather information like it was. So it just, you gotta find your guides and you build relationships with those guides. And then, you make a lot of mistakes. I had one time I remember I got to Panasonic.
There was someone who I didn’t quite know what he did. No one really knew what this person did, and I was like, so you’ve been here seven years and no one could even tell me what you do. So I was like, you could go. Low and behold, like a week later I got an email. I just, it was in kanji characters, so I didn’t really know the person’s name, but it was like, Damien-san we’re coming to New York.
We need to talk. Cool. I get some visitors from Japan. I’m all like, I’m kicking it. I must be, I’m killing it.
12 people got off the plane. I had 12 people in my office. Damien-san, so-and-so was our window person for this. And, you fired him and we were paying his salary. And so sometimes … I learned a lot. You’re gonna make a lot of mistakes.
Hopefully none fatal. That’s also an important part of the process. You had a whole jury get off the plane. I had 12 guys come off the plane, come talk to me, have dinner. I had presentations about what they did. It was a whole day.
Paula Edgar: Huh? How far from when the firing happened to when they came was that, was it?
Damien Atkins: One week.
Paula Edgar: Yeah. All righty.
Damien Atkins: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. It was oh. I really hope Damien-san that we can collaborate more effectively in the future.
Paula Edgar: At least that there was some grace given too.
Damien Atkins: Polite, but message received.
Paula Edgar: Uh huh. I love, and what you were talking about and finding the people and Mr. Rogers used to always say, find the helpers. And that’s a perfect example. And when I think about how you can navigate your brand, it’s also with the people, right? It’s with who your squad is. And, we’ve mentioned Dennis several times because he, he’s somebody who both of us have in common.
When you think about the folks who have been mainstays throughout your career, is there anybody, it could be Dennis or other people that you wanna shout out that have been your mainstays in terms of helping navigate your relationships and your experiences. And I know we have somebody else in common who I’m thinking of who might be in that space as well.
Damien Atkins:Yeah, there’s a lot of people. I would, generally say, the person I’ve gotten the best advice from, from starting out through mid-career later career higher level positions, however, has actually been my dad. I love it. He was a career diplomat for 30 years and working in the state department is known for being the snake pit of all snake pits.
But as a black foreign service officer in the seventies, through the eighties and nineties, his advice… Again, it’s different context, not a commercial context, but his advice and his analysis on personalities… I’m like, dad, you should have you got you, you have a Machiavelli prince in you, like you need.
So I, I would say he has probably been, he and my uncle as well. Actually my uncle his little, his younger brother. I’m not gonna say little brother. But I would say those two. Absolutely. I have never made a move without talking to both of them. And my uncle was on Wall Street for, 30 plus years.
So those two, that’s from family, outside of that? Yeah. Dennis has been, from the moment he came to my law firm and he tried to take the title of “that guy” at the firm, we’ve, he’s always someone who’s been on my corner.
Paula Edgar: I love it. So, when you think about your dad and your uncle, and then I know you also have children, is there any advice that you find yourself saying that you have received from those folks that you say to your kids now?
Damien Atkins: Oh my God, one of my son knows, he’s so sick of it. I do it like almost like nursery rhymes. Whatever you do, big or small, do it well or don’t do it at all.
Paula Edgar: It’s like hip hop and nursery rhymes.
Damien Atkins: You just mistook activity for achievement yet again. Wow. But Dad, I spent so much time doing that. I still see… I’ll come up some other things that my dad and my uncle have said, but especially the, whatever you do, do it well or don’t do it at all.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, my mother used to always say the minimum is not something that we even know about.
Damien Atkins: We don’t do the minimum. Oh, the standard is the standard. That’s another one.
Paula Edgar: I love it. I love it.
Damien Atkins: You need anchors to go to, as especially someone who’s curious like me, I tend to go off and, who knows? But you, and it’s an anchor, right? The standard is a standard. And what that means is, no matter what you do, whatever it is, it has your name on it. It’s gonna stay with that for a long time. So you’ve gotta put your best on, no matter what it is. And my first assignment, I remember at AOL, it was a terrible assignment. When I see the guy that gave it to me, I still give him crap about it 20 years later was, it was like managing the, anyway, it was just a terrible assignment.
But I remember I was complaining. He was like, standards are the standard. You do a bad job of it. You’re not gonna see anything better.
Paula Edgar: Right.. All you gonna do, we’re not gonna trust you to do anything better if you can’t get this done. Yeah.
Damien Atkins: That’s all you’re gonna be doing, right? Yeah.
Paula Edgar: When I talk to organizations about branding, I always say that, perfection is not the standard. But excellence is, and it’s always what you should be driving towards.
And so that, that resonates really true for me but I think about branding and our conversation. That you should be looking at excellence and that your name is attached to anything that you do and you are, you’re connected to.
Damien Atkins: Yeah. Love it. And you’re, you put your name on it that speaks for you long after you’re gone.
Paula Edgar: Hundred percent. A hundred percent. So you are doing this Purposeful Leader video series, and so you’ve spoken to some leaders who I was like, oh, I gotta go back and watch some of these. What have you learned from the leaders about leadership and branding that you can share with our audience?
Damien Atkins: Wow. I’ve learned a lot. Those are probably some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had at least in my professional life. I think the first one is, the first person you have to lead is yourself. And you have to do that in an authentic, in a very authentic manner. Cause people spot a phony in a heartbeat.
And particularly, just because you know you have a team of people working for you or on your team so to speak, doesn’t mean they’re less intelligent, doesn’t mean they have a lower EQ than you. They’re just, they’re in a different role, right? So if you are not true to yourself and authentic people will be honest.
So you have to find as I say, the Paula Edgar way to be the leader. There’s no person could be the Paula Edgar better than Paula Edgar the leader.
Paula Edgar: Facts.
Damien Atkins: No, but it’s true. So I have to, I, and one of my mistakes and it’s interesting in talking to the leaders who’ve done this it’s, oh, I’m gonna look at so and so I’m gonna look at so and so I’m gonna be just like that person. And I was reading books. I was reading, basketball coaches, I was reading Phil Jackson’s book. Just all of this stuff. I was all into it. And I was like, none of this is working.
Because then, and I realized that you have to, you do have to read widely, talk to people, emulate people, but at the end of the day, you have to make it your own. And it has to be an authentic expression of yourself. And for me, and I’ve found that other leaders have done the same thing is through trial and error.
And some people just realize, look I’m not that kind of leader. I don’t wanna be out in front. I wanna be doing a… I’m more of a Stalinesque type person where you just don’t see me. And that, that works for people. Sometimes, just, but you have to figure out what is the most effective for you.
And I think the second thing has been, the best leaders not just the best lawyers, but the best leaders are driven beyond just career achievement and beyond just making money. It’s, they’re driven by a purpose. And it’s this word, like you’ve said, it gets abused and it’s ill-defined, but they have a reason for wanting to take on the responsibility to help others grow.
And they’re motivated by that more than anything else. And like I, I talked earlier about having anchors, that is their ultimate anchor when they’re trying to make a decision. And there’s a lot of tough calls, particularly people decisions. That is the, that is the most important thing that animates the best folks.
And each one, each person I’ve talked to, they’ve been on a very different journey in terms of finding their purpose, but over time they, they realize that, that, that’s the whole point. Some, it’s, getting the next generation of leaders. Some is, some are motivated by, I want everyone, here to be the best lawyer they possibly can be or whatever that is.
But you gotta be authentic and then have that purpose behind it.
Paula Edgar: Real legacy cannot just sit with you. It’s about your impact.
Damien Atkins: Absolutely. Absolutely right. Yeah. And there’s plenty of bad leaders out there who, they just want the title of the money and, and it shows, right?
They don’t have a Leadership Tree, they don’t have people following them wherever they go. It shows and it shows, right? Yeah. That is, those are probably the two most important things. And I think lastly, a third is, leadership is very contact specific as well. It’s something I’ve learned, about the hard way and the good way is that, you, let me back up. So this morning I was at the gym and I ran into Rick Pitino at my gym. He’s in there he’s there doing bench pressing, and I’m like, I’m not gonna let this opportunity go by cause you curious energy. But, I was like, yo, coach, congrats on the St. John’s job. Whatever. Yeah. And I was just like, look, so tell me, how was it, how have you changed, your thoughts about leadership and building teams because you were just at Iona and then you were at Kentucky and Louisville and he was like, look, Damien, it’s all about, the right context that you’re in and who’s there and what drives them.
You gotta, he is I know I like helping young men succeed and grow in life. And I do that through being a coach. When I started off Iona, it’s very different than being in Providence and very different than Louisville. So you have to adapt, like you have to have fundamental principles and a philosophy about you, but you have to be flexible enough to understand the context and situation that you’re in.
Phil Jackson was a great coach, didn’t work at the Knicks. No. Didn’t work. Didn’t work, didn’t mean he is a bad coach.
Paula Edgar: Yeah.
Damien Atkins: Just didn’t work. And that’s, yeah, he left that with me today.
Paula Edgar: It’s fresh and new off the presses. Nobody else has heard this yet.
Damien Atkins: Yeah, I saw him. I was like, there’s no way I can’t leave the gym and then not talk to him. You know?
Paula Edgar: That resonates deeply because I went to UMass Amherst and so in the morning the basketball team would be like at breakfast, and I was like, I never asked any profound question. I was just like, oh my God. It’s goes again. I was there just, anyway.
Damien Atkins: I’m old. I’m old. I just, if you don’t shoot your shot, you’re gonna miss’em all.
Paula Edgar: A hundred percent. And I love that you said that, and we’re absolutely gonna pull that out because I just it pains me how many people don’t consider the fact and this is the brand piece too, that you are not left any worse off if you don’t shoot that shot than when you were before it. And I just want everybody to understand that we have got, we are losing out on opportunity by not making those asks.
And so I’m glad you said it because we are aligned in that a hundred percent. All the time.
Damien Atkins: The energy’s coming, right?
Paula Edgar: Exactly. You gotta shoot your shot. Okay, so you started talking about some mistakes that you have made when you had the whole jury get off the plane, but when you think about either people who you’ve worked with or folks who were your colleagues or just throughout your career, what mistakes stand out when you think about people and their brand that you wanna share?
Damien Atkins: Yeah, I found, a couple mistakes I’ve seen is when people overextend themselves, like brands are made when, again, it’s a set of intangible attributes associated people, associate with a particular person, and couple things it takes when people rush to oh, I wanna be branded as the corporate governance person.
I wanna be branded as the privacy person, right in this legal audience. And they don’t necessarily realize that you don’t… that building a brand is not something that happens overnight. And number one. Number two, if you have a great branding, branding strategy where I’m posting on LinkedIn, I got my little videos, but the product is terrible.
So you gotta, people, advice to folks is the product’s gotta be tight. The product has to, particularly as a lawyer, it has to fulfill whatever, it has to fulfill either deep human need or has to have some functional purpose, but it has to be, fulfill that need consistently, over time. And then the second thing is, one essay or one book, or one podcast not gonna create your brand. And there’s a lot of pitfalls out there, but you have to consistently deliver what your product says it’s going to deliver. All the time. And I find that people wanna rush it, hey, I’m gonna, I’m gonna be on this panel and I’m gonna talk on this.
And did you see that article I wrote with the new SEC’s regulations? No, no one cares. But I’ve seen people doing an excellent job building relationships in this space that they want to be known for, consistently providing actionable insight on these things.
And, four or five years later, you then will have a nice, there’ll be a set of intangible attributes that people will say, hey, this person’s really smart about this, or this person is very knowledgeable about that. Go to so and so for that, right? And that’s because people use brands and branding to make choices.
We’re living in a world where there’s thousands of choices. We’re bombarded with choice. Yeah. But you use brands as a way to differentiate A from B and C to D. And they do the same thing with, lawyers and everything else. Be patient. Products gotta be tight. And be consistent.
Paula Edgar: I’m like sitting here at the church of Damien yes. Preach. Amen. All of that because inconsistency when it comes to your brand or deviation and not innovation, but deviation, can totally derail what you have tried to build. And I preach it all the time because I know the power of it.
I know that when people can rely and say that person, they’re gonna deliver this, this, and this, or in these ways, and it is not a lie. It is the truth. Consistency, regardless of even if they’re trying to innovate makes sense. But if you’re like, all of a sudden you’re a dog lawyer, when you have never seen a pet, you’ve never done any of these things. It is, it’s a brand killer.
Damien Atkins: Yeah and you know the key, you know the best brands are ones that are differentiated, because at the end of the day, it’s a very crowded space. There’s not, there’s thousands of corporate lawyers in New York, right? Yep. You’ve gotta figure out, again, and I say this about being authentic.
What your angle is individually to it. As a, this is the Damien Atkins view of leadership. But, and I’m not, and it’s not branding, but it’s true, right? This is my take, and my take might be a little idiosyncratic or it might be, energetic. I might bring the laws of physics in whatever that is.
Yes. But people are gonna look, oh, you want, oh, just talk to so-and-so, and, deviating like to build on what you said, you don’t see me talking about tax inversions…not me, right? That’s not, oh, the latest things and GDPR and this. I know it.
But let’s, you’re not gonna be looking Yeah, you’re not gonna be looking at me talking about, yeah. But I see people do it all the time, or they skip around trying to find their, no, that’s fine. Once you pick a lane ya know.
Paula Edgar: Yeah, I always say you can skirt it a little bit, but you can’t be going outside of the lanes.
Damien Atkins: Unless you shut it down for two years or so, and then you reemerge and hey, Damien’s really into basket weaving. Did you know he did this?
Paula Edgar: Next up, everybody, Damien Atkins, basket weaver.
Damien Atkins: Like Jamie Foxx. He was a comedian. He started off, he was on In Living Color. He was like, what was the character’s name?
Paula Edgar: Wanda.
Damien Atkins: He was Wanda. He’s just a funny guy. I remember I met him like a long time ago.
He was like a young guy. He was hilarious, right? Yes. Yeah. And the next thing you know, oh, he’s singing. Oh, okay. Okay. Yeah. Okay. Oh, now he’s acting. Okay. And the brand is, and so yeah, he, he went to adjacencies, but over time, time, that wasn’t a year. It was a 10 year plus effort where he went from Wanda to playing Ray Charles to singing Blame It.
Paula Edgar: You gotta put that in the soundtrack that we’re building for this.
Damien Atkins: But it’s true, right? If you watch and this is the best analogy I think for lawyers, is look at someone like a Jamie Foxx. Look at entertainers who’ve created brands about themselves and how people think, oh, he’s just a funny guy.
No. He’s very thoughtful about what he does, how he does it, where he does it, with whom he does it. Like Jamie’s, his brand is energy. Yep. He’s funny. Talented, right? Yep. And, but always, but you don’t see him as like the rugged guy or the no. But he built that over time.
And it’s the same, I think lawyers would do a good job of would do well by looking at someone like a Jamie Foxx or someone like that who’s thoughtfully and built that brand.
Paula Edgar: It’s, it’s all strategy because you can be multi-skilled and you have to be excellent in multiple things, but you have to understand how we’re gonna pivot it and to use it and and to be consistent and and I think that Jamie Foxx is a perfect example.
All right. So as we are rounding our conversation out, there’s a couple things that I need to know from you. Number one, we’ve talked about, the work stuff. But I wanna know about the fun stuff. What is the fun part about your brand? What do you do for fun?
Damien Atkins: Oh I love my show. Love having the video cast and talking and learning from interesting people.
It is enabled me to learn and explore and discover things about myself that, I never would’ve known. I think that, loving and I love a challenge, but I love kind of transformation. I love change and I’ve seen, I’ve been able to be in situations where I felt like I could have a meaningful impact.
And that’s fun, right? Coming to a situation, saying a, and then three years later oh, whoa, it’s totally different here. People have fun having a good time. That to me is, I do that at, I do it without getting paid. That’s the fun stuff. But at the end of the day…
Paula Edgar: But pay him though, pay him.
Damien Atkins: But it’s the people, right? It’s, I’m a people person. It’s the energy and the, it’s the energy I get from folks. Love it. Absolutely love it. I love that. And then, I enjoy sometimes, learning from the mistakes, right? It might be painful in the moment, you go back and man, oh really? What did I rip?
But it’s the people it’s working with the people right. And helping people and, growing personally.
Paula Edgar: I love that. As a fellow people person I think that is awesome. Absolutely. So in my podcast, I ask all of my guests these two questions. So question number one. Stand By Your Brand, what is the authentic to that point aspect of your personal slash professional brand that you will never compromise on?
Damien Atkins: Yeah, I will never not be a curious and energetic person. I will, I am someone, and this is probably the, probably not to my benefit, but I am not one to, yeah, let me back up. In addition to be curious and energetic, I’m somewhat of a nonconformist. I’m, I was even 10 years ago, I’d be the guy wearing the red pants in the meeting.
Paula Edgar: Yes Fashion.
Damien Atkins: Right? Or, I’m a hat person. I like wearing, I like my fedoras. Okay. That, sometimes it’s, if you wanna build a brand, it’s good. The only way to really build a brand is to be different or better. And I focus on both. And, sometimes I might over, but sometimes being different, it attracts, often oftentimes it attracts negative energy.
Just because you’re shining, as always brings out people wanna block the shine. Steal your shine. And, I’ve, for a long time I would be like, ah, whatever. And then think about it and get angry and get upset. Why you stealing my stuff? That was the, you over here quoted in the paper I told you like what?
Like in hip hop and eighties Oh, the biters, the biters, right?
Paula Edgar: Yes. Biting my style.
Damien Atkins: Yeah, that is but that is me. I’m authentic and I realize that if the moment I start compromising on that energy level goes down, curiosity goes down, then I go from energetic Damien to disengaged.
Yeah. I just. Just, yeah. Yeah. Not a good spot. Yeah I’ve learned the hard way many times that you’re better off being, yeah. Being a little different, but better off being me and authentic as opposed to, and it, there’s some people that works like that, that works for folks, right? That’s just not me.
Paula Edgar: I think that’s great and I love that fashion came into this because, I love an outfit, so you hit me where I love. Okay. And this might be along the same lines, but the podcast is called Branding Room Only. So what is something about you, your unique special gift, attribute, et cetera, that would pack a room of people to stand up and see you do, show, or be?
Damien Atkins: Yeah. I think it’s, I think it’s… One is the energy. Because I, I tended, I’d always like to be either the last person or the first person to present it. I love it. People don’t like that, but those are the people who, if you wanna be remembered, be first or last, right? And I like to bring the energy because everyone’s either like nervous or whatever else.
I’m just tired. So that’s important too, but it’s bringing the energy. Two, I like to think, and this is just my own personal opinion, is that I like to take, being a curious person that can take concepts and ideas from a lot of different fields and apply them in ways that you might not think or just, might be surprising.
Like I said, most things in life can be explained by the laws of physics. You know when you have two frequencies and you put ’em together, when you have harmonious frequencies, it expands. It’s louder, it’s better, it’s, anyway, there’s just a lot of different things. So I’d like to read widely, take concepts from people who are doing things that are not lawyers.
I think lawyers, particularly law firm lawyers, could talk to salespeople. Spend time. You wanna learn how to sell, go talk to salespeople. Lawyers don’t do it. I wanna talk to really good lawyers. This is what people do, you wanna learn how to swim? Are you gonna go talk to a carpenter?
No, you go talk to somebody who swims. But I like to bring, bring ideas and notions from a lot of different fields and apply them in ways that are either entertaining or novel or concept. So you combine that plus the energy. I think that, at least for me, is what I think I offer folks, particularly if I’m first or last…the middle…
Paula Edgar: That is awesome, and I am so excited that we had a chance to bring our harmonious frequencies together for this podcast. Oh, see, I’m out here learning. And Damien, I wanna thank you for being a guest on Branding Room Only and everybody, I’m so happy that I had a chance to do this and I’m excited to hear what you think about today’s conversation and tell a friend to tell a friend to stand by their brand. Thanks everybody.
Damien Atkins: Thanks for having me.