Learning from Richard Branson: Why investing in PR saves millions in advertising

Few leaders in business know the theory and practice of PR better than Sir Richard Branson, who was given a rock star welcome by Adelaide’s Business Chicks yesterday morning. Biela McMillan, principal public relations consultant for bPR, sacrificed her usual flat white and croissant and reports on what she learned from an hour in the company of the master.

Life as a billionaire, as a chairman of Virgin and patron of 400 other companies, as a father, husband and entrepreneur is a little surreal for Sir Richard Branson. But he appreciates every minute of it.

And for 50 minutes of his life yesterday, he spent it as keynote speaker at Australia’s biggest Business Chicks Breakfast at the Adelaide Convention Centre. 1,700 guests came to be in his presence with the hope of getting something amazing. Some were there for some business secrets to propel their small business forward, some were there to be inspired and others, like me, were there just to see the man in the flesh and catch some of that sparkle.

In what was Sir Richard Branson's “second or third” visit to Adelaide, mature men in suits, young female entrepreneurs and game host, Channel Ten News Adelaide’s Rebecca Morse, enjoyed a lighthearted (and flirtatious) conversation speaking to the key messages we’ve come to expect from Sir Richard Branson:

•Construct your business around “being for people”

•Follow your dreams

•“Screw it, let’s do it!”

•Business should be a force for good and tackle social problems

•Dream big

•Delegate

It was indeed a privilege to be in the presence of this man, inspirational to so many, and who has achieved what most couldn’t even dream up; this man who has made a difference to the lives of so many through his charitable work and broken the barricades of what is possible regarding approaching business.

Amidst a hero’s welcome, Sir Richard’s presence was understated, casual and relaxed. Indeed he embodied a man who knows money doesn’t change people. As he said, it only positions a person to use it to do more things. I’m unclear if we got to see a very tame and subdued side of Sir Richard that’s not normally on show during his risqué and bold PR antics, or if he was genuinely uninspired by his questions.

Amongst the usual key messages, Sir Richard shared insights about his life, work and his approach to business.

As a high school drop-out, Sir Richard started his life as an entrepreneur at the age of 15 when he established Virgin with some friends in a basement. In this business, he learned the skill he is famous for: delegation.

Having experienced first-hand that formal education doesn’t necessarily lead to a good career, he said: “Ten percent of professionals out there need their schooling.

“If you can add and subtract and have some common sense, you can do most things in life.”

Some other of his most valuable lessons have been what his parents taught him: “If you criticise someone, take a look in the mirror,” and “look for the best in people.”

For the communications industry, Sir Richard offered the greatest endorsement of our craft.

“The head of PR is perhaps one of the most important people in a company and a good chairman will have them by their side. They are critical for managing the brand and save millions in advertising; people talking about your company is much more important than anything.”

These days, Sir Branson spends about eighty percent of his time developing not-for-profit ventures that innovate approaches to tackling chronic social issues like conflict resolution, global warming and medicine.

Considering the lack of ground-breaking information Sir Branson offered, I deduce again that there is no special formula to extreme success as an entrepreneur. It’s just the key messages over and over again.

And some very good PR.