Lessons from Sir Alex: building a cult brand takes balls

As the sun sets on the news that Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to hang up his fabled hair dryer, it is  time to consider the lessons the PR industry might learn from  his departure. Undoubtedly,  Sir Alex was a remarkable leader, true he forged a unique brand personality but his move to take control of his exit underlines another aspect of his genius. Despite the growing conspiracy theories circulating about the real reason for his resignation, the  man was in ultimate  control of his departure.  The manner and timing of his exit is an exemplar. Leave at the top, offer few words: sit back and watch the feeding frenzy of positive opinion.

It’s prompted me to consider this question: do PR agencies tend to hang on too long to once successful accounts?  It takes true bravery is  to resign an account whilst an agency is at the top of the game, and I’d contend, the act is the mark of a fit, vibrant and purposeful PR business. You know how it feels: going in to see a long standing client, bored before even entered the meeting because you’ve lost your motivation. So often the inspirational, game changing activity is done in the early days of a relationship. Your flash of genius might last longer – Sir Alex’s lasted 26 years – but the time will come when you aren’t doing your best work anymore. Creativity stagnates. But you cling on to the lucrative fee, ritually processing the work.

Having the balls to resign the client, allowing another agency to refresh the brand, shows that you are fully in the driving seat of your work. It’s an act that will of course be accompanied by feelings of terror. Radical resignations  test the profit margin. There is the fear another consultancy might just do a better job.

But I say,  kill the Ego. Time spent finding fresh work is much better investment of your company’s resources. PR folk love the thrill of the new – that’s why we inhabit a world powered by the 24 minute news cycle – and we delight in nothing more than having our mettle tested by a new challenge. A business that is constantly faced with new goals, opportunities and obstacles to tackle is a healthy one.

Sir Alex may be gone, but his name will maintain cult status long after he disappears from the public eye. PR agencies should look to his example.