Credibility by Association

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn

Credibility by association is the simple premise that we are known by the company we keep. If we are seen rubbing shoulders with highly respected leaders, there is a perception that we too are important. This also works on a brand level.

On our Accelerator programme we show you how to apply this concept to your influence strategy. We help you identify the right associations and create the right strategy to approach and position. But this post explains what it is…

One of my favorite examples of someone really understanding credibility by association is from a well-known Scottish speaker by the name of Jack Black (No not the chubby comedic Hollywood actor ;-).

When launching his business and with absolute faith in the quality of his material Jack invested £10,000 to hire Sir John Harvey Jones MBE to come and deliver a speech in front of a Glaswegian audience. Due to his successful TV show with the BBC called ‘Troubleshooter’ Sir John was a popular, no nonsense business figure and a huge draw attracting a great audience of business leaders to the event.

For Jack this was a very clever move, not only had he recouped his investment through ticket sales, he also immediately built credibility by association simply by being the other person on stage. Of course he needed to deliver great content himself, it’s not enough to just be seen with the right people, you need substance too. Jack went on to build a successful business consulting with corporates across the world as well as working with national sports teams on their mindset.

It was many years later when I discovered Jack Black. I was given a cassette (Remember those?) of his Mindstore program due to my interest in personal development, and immediately became both interested in the content and connecting with Jack.

Without hesitation I reached out and requested a meeting. To my surprise I was invited to fly to Glasgow to meet him at the airport.

Now I flew from Bristol where there was only an early morning flight there and an early evening flight back. Our meeting was to take place at the hotel right next to the terminal so I was going to have a lot of time to kill.

I remember the meeting very clearly because it taught me two very important lessons which I have never forgotten. The first lesson relates to being prepared when you meet busy influential people for the first time.

You see I arrived knowing I wanted to work with Jack, but with no real plan, proposal or idea of what that might look like. Within the first 5 minutes of the meeting once the pleasantries were out of the way he asked me what I was looking to achieve from the meeting. While giving him my answer my brain was screaming ‘you IDIOT Warren!’ I had done the hard work and got the meeting… But had turned up woefully underprepared to actually turn it into something.

My reply was ‘I have come with an open mind to see if there is something we could do’ Idiot. Now Jack was gracious, but I could see the micro expression of disappointment and knew I had blown it. Bless him he gave me an hour and coached me on the best way to approach him in future (Which I did) and I learned an important lesson. Before you go into any meeting in future, know what your desired outcome is.

This is especially true of important people, they are time poor and in demand. Make sure you don’t create a first impression of wasting their time!

The next thing that happened really cemented the principle of credibility by association. As Jack left the hotel I was approached by another gentleman. He said to me, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice you were just talking with Jack Black. Can I buy you a coffee?”.

We of course had a coffee, after all I had hours to kill. Followed by lunch. It turns out we were on the same flight where we sat together, all this time building a deeper connection. It won’t surprise you to hear we later did business, but none of that would have happened had I not been sat with someone he greatly admired.

Credibility by association works on so many levels and in my book I explore many different examples of its application.

This is a principle which is not just restricted to people, it works with brands too.

In 2006 I started an online business community which also brought people together in the real world for networking… We understood at the time that if we could attract a couple of bigger brands to sponsor us we would increase our credibility and of course improve cash flow.

I approached several brands and the first to seriously bite was the telecom giant O2. Their interest was to have more conversations with small business owners and they recognized our potential to facilitate this through our events and online forums.

6 months later we were still struggling to get the deal over the line which was frustrating, mainly because I didn’t know why it was taking so long. Then something happened which changed things in an instant. Alongside this deal we had been working on a media partnership with the Telegraph, specifically with their business club.

Within 2 weeks the O2 deal was signed and we later learned that they were simply nervous because we were unknown. They knew they were going to be the first brand to work with us, and we simply had not built up enough credibility for the decision makers within O2 to be comfortable. With the support of a national newspaper those fears went away.

You see most people don’t realize or consider that behind every sponsorship deal you will ever see, is a human being within a company who has made a decision which they are now held accountable for.

Well as soon as the first big brand came on board, we witnessed a domino effect with other brands coming to the table with much shorter negotiation times.

There is a BUT!!!

Actually in this case there are two buts.

But number one… Credibility by association is only good for starting a relationship. You still have to develop your own credibility in order to sustain it in the long run. What does this mean?

Well it means you still need to have the right values, the right knowledge, the right ambition & achieve the right results by taking action.

Are you the type of person who adapts and persists, even when faced with adversity you overcome or do you quit and blame everything but yourself? Long term credibility and influence come from you, your actions not someone else’s. So be worthy!

But number two, credibility by association also has a flipside, guilty by association.

It works both ways, the Jim Rohn quote ‘You are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with’ also means be careful of your relationships, a really good example of this is Hilary Clinton who with her husband has spent 40 years in the public limelight.

Over this time, they have built over a dozen relationships with friends, co-workers & business associates who have turned out to be criminals, thieves, investment conmen, even an underage sex offender and lastly agents of foreign influence. More than a dozen of which have been to prison.

Hilary was one of the most unpopular presidential candidates of all time with a nickname of ‘Crooked Hilary’ from the right and apathy from much of the left, despite being more suited to the job.

Of course you will have heard of many sports stars losing lucrative sponsorship/endorsement deals because of their bad behavior. From Mike Tyson (Pepsi) to Tiger Woods (Gillette, Accenture, AT&T, Gatorade & Tag Haeuer), Wayne Rooney (Coca-Cola) and US swimmer Ryan Lochte who lost his four commercial sponsors (Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Gentle Hair Removal) after being caught in a lie following an incident at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

So the lesson, think carefully about the company you keep but ultimately be worthy of your own credibility!

A Moment of Reflection

  • Who are the established names within your organization, industry, networks & the media that would serve you well to build a relationship with?
  • Who do you already know well enough to approach for mentoring?
  • What relevant and established brands have great credibility in your niche, thatyou might be able to partner/collaborate with?
  • What customers do you already have that a well worded testimonial or case study would increase your credibility?