Why the crisis in big business is good news for challenger brands

Posted on May 21, 2013 at 10:31 am by Native Consultancy

When you get an opportunity to listen to what “one of the greats” share their career experience you never know quite to expect.

Often, as Guardian journalist found recently when he met drumming legend Ginger Baker (ex of Cream and others), it can be a searing disappointment. Other times they come generously and share their insight, reinforcing just why they have been so successful, as was the case when I heard Sir Clive Woodward talk a year or so ago.

Yesterday evening fell in to the second category when I spent an hour listening one of the greats in public relations, Harold Burson, the man who has been dubbed “the century’s most influential PR figure” and what he had to say about the current state of PR in an event laid on by the PRCA.

For me there were two striking themes in his hour long conversation.

The first was his view that big business is suffering from all-time low levels of public trust because it has spent too much time focusing on communications.

His belief is that behaviour trumps communication and that despite the increase in board-level influence for PR practitioners, the last 15-20 years have been marked out by CEOs of big businesses failing to do the right thing. His view is “big corporations should set an example” but CEOs are still not confronting the problems of behaviour as they are “boxed in” by a system that won’t let them step back from delivering ever-increasing profits.

The second observation that stood out was that while big business may be struggling with public perceptions, this wasn’t the case for smaller businesses. They have in effect, a significant trust advantage over their larger competitors.

Entrepreneurs of upstart companies and challenger brands – notably Richard Branson – have always understood this trust advantage and prized public relations for its ability to persuade and win over customers as well as to pick and win fights with the competition and those who aren’t playing fair.

So if there is one message to take away from the man who has spent a career advising some of the world’s leading businesses on reputation, it is that whether you are a challenger brand, start-up or established business, the stage is perfectly set for making the case for doing business with you: now is the time to cash in on the trust advantage over big business by investing public relations to win new customers.

By Richard Edwards