I Think I’ll Join a Cult: The fanatical followers of Berkshire Hathaway

James Peter 1Over a blistery cold weekend, some 35,000 Berkshire Hathaway shareholders (AKA Berkshire fanatics) waited in the pouring rain for the start of the savored annual meeting. Their prizes were the opportunity to get their hands on the goods for sale by savvy Berkshire Hathaway merchants, and a chance at learning from the two peanut-brittle chomping octogenarians who run the company: Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett.

And why shouldn’t they be fanatics? Berkshire Hathaway has the highest priced stock share on the New York Stock Exchange, closing up on kick-off day of the annual meeting at $162,904. The company stock produced a total return of 76 percent from 2000–2010 versus an 11.3 percent negative return for the S&P.

The Berkshire Hathaway Companies have a key opportunity to interact and sell directly to their audiences, who also happen to be shareholders; and what a better place to spread your brands products and services through word of mouth? In addition, because the meeting has become so legendary, every major national media outlet (CNN, Bloomberg, CNBC, FOX, AP, Reuters) are in attendance for five days covering not only Warren Buffett and the meeting, but the various companies, products, services, employees and executives.

Known as “Woodstock for capitalists,” the annual meeting welcomed such folks as PR hacks like me, along with farmers, cab drivers, reporters and money managers, and even the likes of George Lucas and Bill Gates.

I knew to expect excited investors from around the world, packed restaurants and booked hotels, but I did not expect a full out stampede to the convention center seating. Nor was I prepared for the majority of Berkshire products on hand to sell like ice cream on a summer day. It was rumored that Justin Boots sells a pair at the rate of something like every 30 seconds. The products have the instant stamp of approval and sex appeal that comes from the Berkshire cache.

The best surprise of the weekend for me, however, was the meeting. It kicked off with a company video peppered with megastars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Bon Jovi, then moved to a live state-of-the-business report by Mr. Buffett, and then came my surprise (drumroll): five hours of Q&A with Munger and Buffett. Five hours!

James Peter Warren

At 89 and 82, respectively, they are with it too. Buffett, AKA the “Oracle of Omaha,” recently started a twitter feed. The annual meeting Q&A covered everything from details on company holdings, to the world economy and inevitably landed on life after Buffett.  To my and many others great relief, his economic outlook is positive.

One question that struck me came from a nay-sayer concerning data from page 184 of the annual report. Without skipping a beat or searching for his copy, Buffett knew exactly what the questioner meant and was right on target with his answer.  Before long, I too was glued to my seat and hanging on every word.

As someone in the public relations industry, I was cognizant that attendance at the Berkshire Hathaway provides marketers with a key opportunity to amplify their specific brand. An entity unto itself, being part of the Berkshire Hathaway portfolio separates you from your competitors and an opportunity to break through the mass clutter. I left the weekend feeling like a bright sage had gifted me with the peace and confidence that come from knowing your facts, coupled with clear optimism for the future.

About James Peters

Ketchum clients have trusted this award-winning communications leader for strategic and creative counsel since 2004 when he joined Ketchum in Atlanta. Today, as Director, Ketchum South, Peters uses his 20 years of public relations experience to craft and implement effective communication programming across a variety of industry sectors including energy, technology, retail, and healthcare. Jamey, a graduate of Wake Forest University, has a passion for family and sports. He plays tennis and coaches youth lacrosse and spends many hours cheering for his children’s teams. Follow him @jmpyankees.