Unfiltered Branson

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Sir Richard Branson isn’t just a guy with a beard and a penchant for sweaters, balloons and boat racing. He’s also the man behind one of the most successful brands in the world: Virgin.

So starts the bio page that describes Richard Branson on Virgin’s corporate website.

It’s a good, concise description of a man who epitomizes his organization’s brand, so closely identified is he with that brand across so many different business areas, and who is a powerful communicator (or, as some would say, a consummate showman).

You can read what Branson has to say on a wide range of topics – from radio to the music business, from trains to air travel and even space travel – reported in the array of constructed and filtered content you see on various websites. Indeed, almost anywhere you care to look.

He has a blog but it looks and behaves like a marketing tool from his book publisher (here’s a clue). He’s also responded to an air passenger’s complaint although some think it was a PR stunt (and Branson is no stranger to PR stunts).

So it’s worth paying attention when you see Branson directly engaging in a conversation (of sorts) with a writer for an influential online medium that appears to be spontaneous and unfiltered with nary a PR person in sight.

This is the text chat interview with CrunchGear a few days ago between Peter Ha and Branson in a Virgin America jet at 35,000 feet.

Everyone has their own angles and points of interest in commenting on this conversation, and I’m no different. So the Branson remark that caught my attention most was this on airlines and environmental responsibilities:

The airlines will continue to do what they can to offset their carbon footprints, make progress in developing alternative fuels, and work with partners that are environmentally responsible. Each of them is committed to contributing all of their profits into clean energy investments. On that front, I already mentioned that Virgin Group has a stake in Virgin Green Fund, which raised funds and is now making investments in clean technology. Again, one of them is a low cost solar panel company called Solyndra, which will be one of the largest solar companies in the US in the next three years. The other area of growth is likely to be the energy storage side – electricity can be sent from California to New York with minimal loss but right now it can’t be efficiently stored for more than a few hours. With innovation on that side, the way we think about energy storage will change significantly.

Nothing really new there yet hearing it in this context makes it seem so.

There were two other choice snips from Branson’s chat with CrunchGear.

On whether Virgin Atlantic will offer in-flight wifi or mobile phone service as their prime competitor British Airways has done:

BA are only doing in-flight wifi for data, not voice, on their yet-to-be launched service from London City Airport. Virgin Atlantic will announce wifi in due course, but we’re not likely to do cell phone service as I don’t think our long-haul flight passengers would appreciate it. Would you?

No in-flight mobile phone calls! Hooray!

And this little bit of insight:

CG: What gadgets are you carrying with you, Sir Richard?

Sir Richard: I’ve got a Virgin Mobile UK phone and a BlackBerry.

The CrunchGear text interview took place as an extra, let’s say, to the main event on Branson’s jet – a test run for CBS’ Early Show, an edition of which will be broadcast from a Virgin America flight next month.

Nice PR stunt. :)

And by the way, you can follow Richard Branson on Twitter.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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