SIX PUBLICITY LESSONS FROM WARREN BUFFETT
This weekend, I’ll watch the world’s greatest showman entertain nearly 50,000 adoring shareholders for eight hours straight at an annual meeting.
To my husband, this man is a business god.
To me, he’s a communications powerhouse everyone can learn from.
He’s also the man we quoted throughout our wedding, including our vows.
The rest of the world knows him as Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha.
But back in the day, due to issues with stage fright, there was a chance the world wouldn’t have known his name at all.
Hearing him speak now, it’s hard to believe that there was a time Warren couldn’t put two sentences together in front of a crowd.
Or that the mere thought of giving a sales pitch would paralyze the man.
But, as he needed to make a living selling investment in a new startup fund—you now know it as Berkshire Hathaway—Warren needed to learn how to speak and come across like a pro.
Which is what not only makes him a genius, but an excellent publicist for himself.
Here are six lessons in publicity you can learn from Warren Buffett—no matter your industry.
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.
Warren’s mindset has never been based on the short-term. Case in point, he would never have purchased a failing textile business only to eventually turn it into the multi-billion-dollar business it is today.
In addition, if he had a short-term mind, Warren would never have bought more than 60 companies—most of them struggling to stay afloat—and gone on to influence each one into becoming a highly-profitable businesses decades later.
Warren has often said that the goal should be to build a brand, position your mindset for the long-haul, and go big on reputation in several years so that you end up building a business that stands the test of time.
It’s common now in business, especially for entrepreneurs, to want quick wins and to be an overnight success. There is an incentive to start something, make a big splash, exit after a few months or years, and walk away rich.
While this may happen for a few lucky souls, it’s not the case for millions of startups, brands, and influencers every year.
By not thinking long-term, and only focusing on quick wins such as purchasing press or followers, hosting PR stunt after PR stunt, not having a publicity plan, and aligning with the wrong partners, will actually end up negatively impacting your brand.
It could even ruin your brand’s reputation in the blink of an eye.
Change your mindset to focus on long-term goals. Then, slowly build towards achieving those goals.
Sure, it may take several years to get where you’d like to be. That’s more than okay. Great things come to those willing to wait (and put in the work).
Authentic leaders gain others’ loyalty and commitment through trust-based relationships rather than by compelling and manipulation. They are aware of their own personality, strengths, and weaknesses and by others’ as well. Their behavior towards other individuals is stimulating and motivating as, enable them to learn, grow, and succeed.
A celebrated staple to the business community, Warren’s Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder letters are easy to understand, instructive, and fun to read.
They are also extremely forthcoming about Warren’s and his company’s mistakes.
For most brands or entrepreneurs, admitting errors, failure, or that they aren’t well-versed in all the things means hiding out, ignoring, or avoiding the topic in question.
Not for Warren.
He’s a firm believer that being completely transparent and authentic in every one of his relationships is crucial to success.
When he was diagnosed with stage 1 prostate cancer in April 2012, he wrote a letter to his shareholders and employees spelling out he wasn’t the superhuman the media made him out to be. Later that year, when he was cancer-free, Warren again shared the news with the same crowd.
Admitting as a fearless leader that he was sick was a huge risk for Warren. The admission had the risk of bringing his company’s stock—and entire life’s work—crumbling down.
But no one flinched. And the stock didn’t even dip.
Because Warren had long before set the standard of being transparent—even if that meant owning up to his weaknesses and admitting when he made a mistake. Whether it was a misstep with a stock or something far greater.
As entrepreneurs and influencers, it’s important for us to learn that transparency is not a weakness. If anything, it makes your customers and employees trust you more. This binds them closer to you as a community. And, in turn, makes your ideal tribe gravitate towards you more.
Invest in yourself
The most important investment you can make is in yourself.
As mentioned above, Warren was not born an excellent public speaker.
However, knowing public speaking and how he presented himself to investors was crucial to his personal brand—and overall success—Warren enrolled in a Dale Carnegie course shortly after graduating from college.
With this one simple action, he actually is teaching us two very valuable lessons.
The first: It’s okay to not be an expert at everything. And, it’s even better to seek out someone who is an expert to train you on how you can become one at that exact thing.
The second: There’s nothing more important to your brand or business than taking time out of your day to better yourself or your skillset.
No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.
Above any other, the virtue that most defines Warren is patience.
Investing in stocks that at times have taken decades to turn around into great investments requires a lot of patience. It makes for a long-term game.
Warren wasn’t always patient, however.
When he was 11, Warren invested in his father’s business by buying a stock at $38 a share. He then sold it a few weeks later when it hit $40. A few months later, the stock went on to rally up to $200 per share.
Because he chased out earlier, Warren missed a big earning opportunity due to his lack of patience.
Entrepreneurs and influencers can learn from his mistake.
It takes a lot of patience to build a brand that is worth its weight in gold. Every year, so many entrepreneurs quit on their dreams, some selling early, while others quit outright if their vision doesn’t turn a profit in a few months.
The same can be said about publicity efforts. No one is an overnight success. And there are very few brands who send out one pitch and reap hundreds of media hits as their reward.
Public relations is not a short-term game. It takes several days, weeks, and sometimes a few months to see the publicity tables turn in favor of a brand. And that brand sees success because it has been patient enough to create a strategic plan, build media relationships, and implement PR tactics consistently over time.
Use plain English
To succeed, I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.
Do you know how to speak to your target audience?
Better yet, do you know how your target audience wants to be communicated to?
When writing out key messages, posting on social media, and drafting copy for our websites, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of using industry jargon or unfamiliar-to-the-masses terms to convey the points we hope to get across to our customers.
However, sometimes as an entrepreneur, you’re just too close to the subject matter to clearly and succinctly communicate to those you most want to reach.
Warren knows this and has been going out of his way for decades to write in plain English.
In fact, he has shared in multiple interviews that when he writes, he imagines that he’s writing to his sisters. Who, while intelligent, are not accounting or finance experts.
Take Warren’s practice and make it your own.
The next time you want to pitch or promote your brand, pretend as if you’re speaking or writing to a family member or friend who has no clue about your industry or area of expertise.
This simple trick of clearly communicating what makes your brand unique will help you quickly catch the right people’s attention and lead to more sales.
Be a resource
If a reporter does the right kind of a job, I’m a source, and the reason I am is because I admire their work. The others get no place with me.
No matter how busy he is, Warren always makes himself available to the media to be a source for their articles or interviews.
He knows it is a privilege, for both his brand and the media outlet. He also knows to be gracious to anyone willing to help spread the word about his brand.
Follow in Warren’s footsteps and be a source.
While most media outlets might do a story on a particular company or industry every two to three years, that doesn’t mean you should only reach out that infrequently.
Be a daily source.
Manage your relationships with the media like Warren does—on a daily basis.
If you are managing your relationships purely based on getting your company covered, you’ll at most get attention once every thousand or so days
But, if you act as a source routinely willing to share insights and industry gossip, you can be on a reporter’s radar nearly every day.
Can you guess which approach gets you the better story when the time comes to cover your industry?
Chatting and forming relationships with the media makes them more informed and better at their jobs. In return, they raise your profile by favoring you in their outlets.
First, become a trusted and respected source. Eventually, you’ll become a friend. In time, they may just start calling you a visionary.
It worked for Warren.
Are you using the brilliance of Buffett to promote your brand?