Goldman crisis tests Buffett’s PR formula

Posted by Albers Communications on April 23, 2010 |

Congratulations to Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway Inc. for coming out on top in Harris Interactive’s annual ranking of American companies based on reputation. The study reflects the opinions of nearly 30,000 people.

Unlike others in the top 10 of Harris’ rankings, Warren Buffett’s company neither has a presence on 90 percent of American desktops (No. 7 Microsoft) nor does it enjoy the worldwide appeal of No. 8 Coke. This is all the more reason to admire Berkshire Hathaway’s positive brand position among America’s most visible companies. 

At the same time, Buffett has for the most part insulated his brand from the PR woes of major investments such as Goldman Sachs. Time will tell if these ties will erode the public’s perception of Berkshire. 

While Buffett may not consider himself to be a public relations practitioner – he probably just follows his instincts – each year he is the engine behind two annual PR masterpieces: 1) His annual letter to shareholders; and 2) Berkshire’s annual meeting, which attracts 35,000 shareholders.

As a lifelong Omahan, I’ve had the good fortune to hear Buffett speak on occasion. Each time, I come away impressed with his communication skills. Following are five communication lessons other CEOs could learn by studying Buffett (each lesson is accompanied by an excerpt from Buffett’s latest letter to shareholders).  

  • Be clear and succinct:  “We make no attempt to woo Wall Street.”
  • Keep audience in mind:  “It’s important to Charlie Munger, my long-time partner, and me that all of our owners understand Berkshire’s operations, goals, limitations and culture.”
  • Convey principles:  Charlie and I avoid businesses whose futures we can’t evaluate, no matter how exciting their products may be.”
  • Accept responsibility:  “If Berkshire ever gets in trouble, it will be my fault.”
  • Inject humor with a purpose“Charlie and I enjoy issuing Berkshire stock about as much as we relish prepping for a colonoscopy.”

It will be interesting to see if Buffett calls on this formula for success when addressing Goldman Sachs’ current challenges at the Berkshire annual meeting May 1 in Omaha. I have a feeling the lines at the microphone stands will be particularly long this year during the Q and A session.




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