From Superstars to Students: The Impact of the Man Behind the Personal Brand

March 02, 2023

Last month, the Sales and Marketing Executives-Greater Baton Rouge (SME-GBR) awarded Department of Marketing Distinguished Instructor Tommy Karam with its Nell Mitchell Doughty Lifetime Achievement Award at an event where many recounted their experiences in Karam’s classroom. For more than 20 years, Karam’s real-world teaching methods and downright likeability have impacted LSU students long past their college experiences.

Most E. J. Ourso College of Business undergraduate students have the chance to experience Karam right out of the gate in his MKTG 3401: Principles of Marketing class, where he teaches students the importance of presenting themselves in a professional setting. Some students even enjoy repeated encounters with him through his sports marketing classes or the sports business specialization he developed within the Flores MBA Program, where he teaches sports business and finance, advanced sports marketing, negotiations, and professional communications classes.

"I have had the immense pleasure of working closely with Dr. Karam throughout my graduate studies. He epitomizes what a professor should be: someone who is an expert in his area of study and deeply cares about his students. The Flores MBA Program had a massive impact on me, and I attribute much of that to my time spent with Dr. Karam. He’s served as a friend and mentor to me throughout my time in the Ourso College, and I will forever be a better person and professional based on those experiences," said Clay Everett, JD/MBA Candidate, Class of 2024.

Aside from Karam’s passion for teaching sports marketing, he has also become known as the university’s “Personal Branding Guru.” Personal branding is a skill he views as essential for students when learning how to build professional relationships.

“Personal branding is a skill that can impact everything you do, no matter what major or profession. Once students understand the importance of managing their personal brand, everything in their life just gets ‘a little more better’,” expressed Karam.

Outside of the classroom, Karam provides media training and introduces the concept of personal branding to LSU athletes. He emphasizes that while media interviews are great opportunities for their personal brands to shine, how athletes represent LSU and carry themselves during community events can also speak volumes. Through these trainings, Karam has mentored some of the biggest names in LSU athletics and the sports world.

One of the most impactful relationships Karam has had with an athlete was that of his with Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal. As a student of Karam’s, he wondered why the basketball star never spoke up in class. When Karam learned that Shaq had a problem with stuttering when nervous, he took Shaq under his wing and performed mock interviews, giving him feedback on how to speak in interviews. He taught Shaq not to be afraid to show his personality in interviews as it could equate to notoriety down the road. Today, Shaq is arguably the most well-known and best-branded athlete in the world.

When asked why people are so drawn to Shaq’s personality, Karam simply stated, "He’s a wonderfully nice person who has a lovable childlike approach to the way he sees everything. I’ve seen him play chase with kids and help lift elderly people for a picture. He’s got a charm that’s a point of differentiation that has made him unique. He’s got a level of warmth that very few people have."

Karam had such an impact on O'Neal's life and personal brand that he was highlighted in Shaq, a new documentary on HBO Max about the life of the star.

One of the more recent athletes Karam worked with was none other than LSU Football great Joe Burrow. Now, as quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, Burrow is not only known for his impeccable football skills, but also his likeability factor. People can often see Burrow on the field introducing himself to the refs and opposing team members, and Karam thinks this is the perfect example of personal branding at work.

“Likeability is the backbone of personal branding, and it’s the ability to still be seen away from the podium. What we tell players and businesses is the Michael Jordan mantra, ‘The camera never blinks.’ They see you shaking the hand of a fan or see you ignoring shaking the hand of a fan. It’s the simple little gestures that show you are genuine and drive fan’s excitement,” commented Karam.

Karam added that the beauty of Burrow’s actions on the field is that he is not doing it for show. Of course, it’s important to be aware that people are watching his every move, but in Burrow’s case, he’s just a genuine guy. See Karam in action preparing Burrow and other athletes for SEC Media Days. 

Business majors, non-business majors, and athletes alike have all benefited from Karam’s unique expertise. In today’s digital age, crafting your own personal brand is more important than ever. It’s a skill that is not found in any textbook, but instead, Karam gives students a glimpse into some of his distinctive life lessons to teach them the importance of continuously showcasing their genuine selves.

Overall, Karam was extremely appreciative to receive his lifetime achievement award, but he expressed that the true reward is the opportunity to regularly witness his students’ successes. As an instructor universally known for his authenticity, Karam’s teachings provide E. J. Ourso College students with a unique advantage upon graduation. In addition to leaving the college with excellent quantitative skills, Karam instills in his students the understanding that relationships are essential to any successful business venture.


The Man Behind the Personal Brand

Karam receives lifetime achievement award

Tommy Karam receives the 2023 Sales and Marketing Executives-Greater Baton Rouge Nell Mitchell Doughty Lifetime Achievement Award.

Photo credit: Teresa Alvarez Photography 

Tommy Karam teaches personal branding seminar

 Tommy Karam lectures in front if class

Tommy Karam lectures to LSU basketball players

Karam teaches personal branding to LSU Basketball players.

Photo credit: LSU Athletics 

Tommy Karam sits on table as he lectures to class