Tuesday 02 April 2019, London

The most recent PM Forum event was well attended at the Watson Farley & Williams London offices.

Taking a thought leadership approach to content creation has not always been commonplace across professional services, however through continuous success and further understanding in how it applies to this sector, it has become the new marketing approach everyone is talking about.

Claire Mason CEO and founder of award winning thought leadership consultancy, Man Bites Dog, delivered a fantastic session on how content centred on thought leadership can be leveraged by professional services.

Defining thought leadership:

“Thought leadership is a strategic idea that offers value exchange. A new idea with the purpose of gaining and conveying competitive advantage by sharing value.”

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Whereas business advisory firms used to be the only ones bringing thought leadership to the market, it is now being used more widely across professional services firms as the success becomes evident, standards and expectations of marketing content are being raised across all industries.

Claire emphasised that those who respond rapidly to change are the ones that make the difference between success and failure. We should be defined by the thinking that we share.

A straight forward approach to creating targeted thought leadership is to tell your client something that they did not know, that will help them in the future. Promote a problem that you can solve, and then provide a unique solution.

Man Bites Dog created a remarkable campaign for Korn Ferry, through a thought leadership piece titled The Global Talent Crunch. The research piece was awarded ‘World’s Best Campaign’ at the ICCO Global Awards. Korn Ferry wanted to shift their previous company perception to one of being an organisational change consultancy, and achieved that and more through this perfectly executed research and thought leadership campaign.

Man Bites Dog have also been working on an inspiring initiative that they have branded: The Gender SAY Gap. Empowering the underrepresented voices of the women in our industry, and encouraging female marketers to be put in the spotlight. You can read more here about the actions and themes.

Discussed during the session, Claire explained how to ‘win’ with IDEAS:

I stands for Idea:

A genuinely new idea should tell your clients something they didn’t know that will help them win in the future. To be a thought leader, you must have the courage to lead thought: to be first and make people think! With future orientation top of the business agenda, can you afford not to share your best thinking? Bold ideas travel further because they generate their own momentum.

D stands for Diversity:

Firms don’t think, people do. We need a diversity of thinkers to challenge groupthink and develop game changing ideas to solve the biggest problems facing business and society. Professional services marketers have a tremendous opportunity to accelerate change by making diverse experts more visible. Consider the thinkers and speakers for your organisation. Do they reflect your client base? Do they reflect your workforce and the future workforce you want to recruit?

E stands for Evidence:

Data is critical to helping you see the future with credibility and accuracy. Strategic ideas based on robust evidence enable you to tell a powerful story, tailored for maximum client relevance. To make your idea catch fire you must find the right research methodology to quantify your idea’s scale, direction and impact. Thought leadership is not an isolated article – it’s the start of a movement.

A stands for Activation:

Too often A is for Afterthought. If we build it, they will come, right? There can be a tendency to think that once you have developed a study your work here is done but that’s just the beginning. Once you have developed and evidenced your idea, you must make it travel by marshalling appropriate content assets and channels to build reputation, deepen relationships and ultimately generate revenue.

S stands for Sales

Thought leadership at its best is ideas-led selling. You can make your thought leadership actionable by alerting clients to a change they haven’t noticed in their environment, a change that is coming, or an opportunity they are not aware of.

“Corporate thinking is a team activity: empowering the whole firm with strategic ideas enables you to become a thought leader at scale.”

Clients and the media are now demanding unique and proprietary data that cannot be replicated. Always consider new research tools, and use that data to find trends.

“Data is critical to helping you see the future with credibility and accuracy.”

Name your idea and make it travel! Creating a report and then publishing it is not the end of the process! Stay away from the age old approach of content creation and sharing, it is time to start offering something new. Claire joked that of course the whitepaper is not dead, however encourage yourself to think of less traditional and more exciting ways to get your ideas to market.

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Based on the varied questions at the end it was clear firms are intrigued to find out more, Claire provided really insightful answers and suggestions.

How do you engage your whole firm to get on board with thought leadership?
Get a senior business champion involved from the start, this really helps to push forward the concept. Depending on the type of reach required and the audience, it may be useful to design a tailored communications plan and involve aspects like a desktop take over, or even an internal podcast as a different way to engage people.

What is the timescale for creating a piece of thought leadership content?
These types of projects can usually take around four months to complete, but depending on the scope and research required could take slightly longer.

How can you get the most out of a thought leadership led campaign?
Master a campaign process. Have a structured plan that allows times for each crucial stage rather than publish, experience a spike and consider the value from that campaign finished

Imogen Thomas
Marketing Executive, Acuigen