Dr. Phil McGraw is one of the hardest-working and highest-paid talents in Hollywood. His hit TV show, Dr. Phil is going strong in its 19th season, still featuring his signature comment to people who may be making questionable life choices, “So how’s that workin’ for ya?”
Although there are entertaining aspects of the show, the overarching goal is about educating his audience about important topics, many once thought to be taboo to discuss, including serious mental health and behavioral issues.
Life wasn’t always easy for the McGraw family. Young Phil grew up with his share of financial challenges and setbacks while his family moved around and changed careers between Oklahoma, Kansas and later Texas. McGraw’s father was an equipment supplier who moved the family to Kansas to pursue his dream of becoming a psychologist. On one occasion during a very stormy night on the weekend, Phil was about to leave his home to collect money for his paper route and was called back in by his mother who was concerned about him going out in potentially dangerous weather. Phil responded, “But mom, everyone will be home and I can collect my money.” Shortly after he trudged out into the storm, a foreshadowing of things to come and recurring theme in his life: perseverance and success in the face of adversity.
Phil was a student-athlete and football player who played linebacker in high school and later earned a scholarship to the University of Tulsa. During his football years he sustained a significant injury to his face and head from tackling which affected his eye and equilibrium. Back when McGraw played the game, there weren’t as many rules or sensitivities to head trauma and other serious sports injuries at the level where they are now for the NFL and collegiate leagues. He later transferred to Midwestern State University where he majored in psychology.
McGraw’s personal brand rose to a level of fame with appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the late 1990s. But becoming a TV star or hosting his own show was never Dr. Phil’s plan or intention. In fact, he resisted and declined Oprah’s offer at first. Can you imagine turning down Oprah? McGraw and Winfrey met through his company CSI, a firm which provided services in US litigation psychology, jury selection, trial consulting, witness training, and depositions.
In 1995 Oprah hired CSI to prepare her for the Amarillo Texas beef trial and was so impressed with McGraw in her victory that she invited him to appear on her show. Dr. Phil was an instant hit and he began appearing weekly as a relationship and life strategy expert. When Oprah approached McGraw about producing his own show, he declined. He had no interest in the spotlight and cited that he was “too busy with his practice” and “couldn’t make future scheduled meetings due to a scuba diving trip he had planned with his family.” Oprah responded, “We’ll wait for you.” And rest is history.
How does one of the hardest working people in Hollywood balance work and family life? McGraw has found success by integrating his family into his businesses and tapping into their individual talents. For example, Stage29 Productions, located on the Paramount Studios lot, is run by Phil’s oldest son Jay. Father and son work closely together to produce first-run syndication, scripted series, publishing and app development, including hits like Bull, The Doctors, Daily Mail TV and the tele-medicine app Doctor On Demand.
It was Jay McGraw’s vision to develop a remote on-demand medical solution years before Covid-19 amplified the need. McGraw’s wife Robin has a thriving cosmetics brand and can be found playing a supporting role at each taping of Dr. Phil. Younger son Jordan McGraw’s musical career has taken off and he has also been instrumental in rebooting Dr. Phil’s social media presence on platforms like Instagram, TikTok and most recently YouTube, where he’s been responsible for double-digit growth and profitability.
What is McGraw’s advice on building a brand? This full-length episode contains a lot of great insights and memorable quotes like, “You can’t ride a horse with two asses, so you’ve got to pick something and commit to it.”
I’d also like to offer a couple of pro tips and take aways that I’ve learned from experts like Seth Godin and Marty Neumeier and are baked into Dr. Phil’s strategy.
I believe that building a brand or personal brand is one of the most important things you can do. Here are 3 things to remember:
1. Decide ‘What it’s For’
The ‘what it’s for‘ answer is really about defining: What’s the point? What’s the purpose? Ask yourself, why should I do this in the first place? The reason should be a specific goal or an objective that can be measured. For example, if you’re building a personal brand, a good place to start might be: “My goal is to establish myself as an expert in my space.” The way to measure progress is in your execution of the plan over time.
2. Decide ‘Who it’s For’
The ‘who it’s for‘ answer should go way beyond the typical demographics which are usually like gender, age and geography — that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s about figuring out who your audience is by looking at things like culture; patterns of behavior; the stories they tell themselves; the things they believe…Finding your audience might require a little time or trial and error. That’s normal.
It usually stems from first figuring out an interesting problem to solve and identifying the specific group of people who want the solution. Find the people with the problem and serve them. That’s your audience!
3. The True Definition of Brand
What is a brand? A lot of people think a brand is your logo. A brand is not your logo. Your logo is a mark that can be identified with your brand, but it’s not your brand. Some people think the brand is a product or service — like, “I’m going to buy Nike brand shoes or a Louis Vuitton brand handbag.” But your brand is not your product or service either.
Lastly, some advertisers will tell you that your brand is a sum total of all the impressions that you do with advertising. But your brand is not about advertising or impressions. Although advertising can help with discovery and with awareness, your brand is really the experience that people have at each touch point with you.
The experience they have with your brand is how they feel about it — and so a brand is really what other people think about you. It’s their individual experiences with your product or your service — or if you’re a personal brand, with you in person.
So you could have five clients and five different interpretations of your brand. Or a million different customers with a million different impressions of who you are and what you stand for. It’s up to you to help define your mission, vision and values. The more you can walk the talk and deliver on these promises, the more your brand will resonate with people and be consistent and aligned.