What big brands can learn from my plumber.

Advocacy. I'm all over it.

This morning I went to my second BNI meeting. It’s like no other networking event I have ever been to. The group meets every week, without fail, at 6.45am. If you can’t make it you must nominate a deputy and if you don’t turn up more than three times, you’re booted out. Every member has a 60 second slot to tell the other members what their business is and the kind of leads and referrals they are looking for. There’s a ‘thank you for the business’ box so the income businesses are earning, via the group, can be tracked. There’s a leadership team, regular training sessions and ‘power groups’, where they lump people in similar professions together (but there can only ever be one representative from each profession). After everyone has done their 60 seconds, each person then presents their referrals for that week to fellow members. The groups’ mantra is ‘if you give business, you gain business’ and members are targeted on the amount of referrals they bring in for their fellow members.

Now, I’ve never been a Mason (can women be Masons now? We need to get Caitlin Moran on to this if not) but I think BNI is probably the new-age, business equivalent of this. I’m not sure if it’s right for my freelance PR business yet but it’s certainly beneficial from a personal perspective. I’ve now got an accountant, a plumber, someone that can answer my phone (check out answermyphone.biz) an office supplies man, an I.T man and a promotional items contact.

What occurred to me though is that all of these small businesses are doing PR in its purest form… or perhaps even its newest form? At the heart of the group and what makes it work is advocacy (providing a testimonial is another key element of the proceedings). Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, recently said that ‘Public Relations’ new mission must be to move people faster to this highest form of loyalty – advocacy’ and over the past couple of years I’ve worked with large organisations where ‘advocacy’ has been the central theme of marketing and customer care strategies.

But look here! These small businesses in Wales have it sussed! I know, it’s a bit different, but it’s sort of the same? I think big brands can learn a lot from these dudes. They are generating more business and loyal customers by sticking to basics and getting the fundamentals right, which is essentially providing a good service (they know they won’t get recommended if they do a bad job), going above and beyond and being nice. They know that advocacy is the key driver of a successful business – and they know they have to earn this by doing business right and doing it well.

Advocacy may be trendy in the marketing and PR world right now, but there’s only so much the creative and comms guys can do. If a business sucks and is providing a bad service, then no amount of clever tactics are going to entice customers to recommend it.

So, while I’m undecided if I want to get up at 5.30am every week (how on earth do normal people even talk at this time), today reminded me that if brands want advocates, then they’ve got to first get the fundamentals right, no matter how big they are or how impressive their marketing budget is. And, if we want to make our jobs easier, it’s the responsibility of us PR people to make sure they’re doing it. In the meantime, Alan the accountant from Abergavenny and Peter the Printer from Pontypridd could show them all exactly how it’s done.