Jimmy Buffett: A PR Pro

buffett-concertI have been on the lookout for a good public relations story in the news and was pleasantly startled when I saw an old “friend” of mine pop up in my newsfeed. He was in the news for exhibiting wonderful qualities of his that must make his public relations folks incredibly happy.

I should qualify what I am about to write with the following: For as long as I can remember, I have been a Parrothead, a devoted fan of Jimmy Buffett’s music and lifestyle. It may just be my dream job to work for Margaritaville Holdings, LLC. So, now with my personal bias out in the open, I have found Jimmy Buffett to be a public relations guru. Let us begin with an excerpt from an article published on September 7, 2013, by WLOX 13 in Mississippi on its website, “Jimmy Buffett surprises employees, gamblers at Margaritaville Biloxi”:

Buffett also stopped to visit with employees and say thanks for all the hard work they do to keep the 24/7 operation running smoothly.

“I had to do a double-take to believe it, but sure enough I was standing in front of Jimmy Buffett,” said employee Emma Roberts. “He was so nice and appreciative of what we do.”

Roberts, a native of Puerto Rico, said she was also pleasantly surprised to learn the songwriter “speaks perfect Spanish.” (Johnson, 2013)

This goodwill display of Buffett’s is not, by any means, an isolated incident. In 2010, www.wkrg.com reported he played a free, surprise show at sister Lucy Buffett’s restaurant, LuLu’s (Peterson, 2010). Ten days later, Buffett played a free show on the coast of Gulf Shores, Alabama, to raise awareness of and draw tourists to businesses despite the now infamous oil spill that had been occurring (CBS/AP, 2010). Buffett, however, does not seem to need an excuse to surprise fans. Typically, Buffett will play surprise shows and make surprise visits to his businesses to greet employees several times a year. A store manager at the Margaritaville Restaurant at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas shared with me that Buffett usually pays them a visit every other year or so. Considering all of the Margaritavilles Buffett operates, his other business interests and his extensive touring schedule, that is quite remarkable.

Buffett, and by extension Margaritaville Holdings, is a textbook example of what public relations theorist Robert Heath identified in Onward Into More Fog: Thoughts on Public Relations Research Directions as an organization working to “deserve support (giving of stakes) rather than opposition (withholding of stakes) because the organization is seen as a worthy contributor to a fully functioning society,” (Heath, 2006). Buffett’s surprise shows and random visits to his businesses do not seem to come at merely strategic times. He shows an interest in his fans and employees, making them feel valued. CBS4 reported on miami.cbslocal.com in 2011, Buffett played a surprise show for fans in Key West near his original Margaritaville restaurant; why did he do it – just because (CBS4, 2011).

Again, Buffett’s philosophy seems to be very Heathian. Heath names corporate responsibility as being an important facet in his fully functioning society theory. If it is done properly, corporate responsibility should legitimize an organization by proactively “exceeding the normative expectations of stakeholders,” (Heath, 2006). Buffett puts this into practice almost constantly. “For a fully functioning society, [corporate responsibility] must entail choices and actions that go well beyond the organization’s narrow self-interest. CR requires proactive planning and management to make the organization good…” (Heath, 2006).

Do organizations need to have a celebrity at the helm to practice effective corporate responsibility? Absolutely not. While Buffett’s resources and gestures are an extreme example, that does not mean corporations cannot emulate his practices and operationalize Heath’s theories on a day-to-day basis. Actions of goodwill can be as simple as the CEO of a corporation taking a department out to lunch just to show he or she appreciates the work that department is doing for the company. Another example is a restaurant chain deciding to donate food to a local food bank sometime other than around the holiday season. As Heath says, corporate responsibility must reach beyond strategic philanthropy. Jimmy Buffett seems to have that theory integrated in his practice quite well.

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