The interesting part of Mr. Branson's story is that he built this powerful brand with little in the way of traditional advertising, relying instead on his personality
and smart public relations that made sure his derring-do (round-the-world balloon trips, etc.) and outlandishness closely linked him to the brand.
This is not virgin territory, of course, when it comes to building a business-he learned from no less than Sir Freddie Laker. Other examples also exist in the U.S. But his longevity with this marketing strategy is more rare; many manage to make a brand via publicity and then flame out.
So we will watch closely Mr. Branson's expansion of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Cola, the latter with even more interest. He's given the green light to the U.S. expansion of the new cola, an apparent price brand hung tightly on the Virgin image among young people.
But we dare warn Mr. Branson that, in going up against Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, more than his presence in the U.S. will be required. These American icons receive $200 million and $100 million, respectively, in media advertising in their home country, not to mention huge amounts poured into unmeasured media. Mr. Branson understands those below-the-line venues well, and we bow to his intuitive brashness and suspect it will continue to serve him well. On one of his scouting trips to the former colonies, however, he should bone up on traditional advertising.
The entrepreneur said he'll have "partners to help make Virgin Cola a major brand name." But when it comes to continuous movement of massive numbers of a $1-or-less soft drink, the push of partners in the retail trade must be accompanied by the strong pull that comes from persistent brand advertising.
A strong bottom line isn't the only indicator of a company's health. Leo Burnett Co. very publicly came to that conclusion with its dramatic palace coup. In re-taking the CEO reins he had willingly handed over to Bill Lynch in 1993, Chairman Rick Fizdale said the agency's "fixation on . . . profits" under Mr. Lynch had wounded employee morale and distracted attention from the core business of satisfying clients. That lack
of focus may explain the departure of Chicago-based United Airlines from the agency, as well as the loss of key assignments for Miller Brewing Co. and others.
The kindest public words Mr. Fizdale had for Mr. Lynch were that he and Jim Jenness, who resigned as vice chairman and chief operating officer, left Burnett in a "far stronger financial position." But Mr. Fizdale took pains to underscore that Burnett, as a privately held company, is beholden first and foremost to clients-and itself.
There's a lesson here for other companies, public and private. While attention to the bottom line is crucial, CEOs can't lose sight of other long-term measures of corporate vitality-importantly, client satisfaction and employee morale.