At a recent thought leadership campaign and project management workshop (http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training.aspx) we spent a while considering the strategic context for identifying, gaining support for, developing and executing thought leadership campaigns. These eight essentials emerged from our discussion:
Marketing is about anticipating client needs and fulfilling them profitably. Thought leadership needs an entrepreneurial approach (intrapreneurship is the act of behaving like an entrepreneur while working within a large organization).
Much marketing in the professions is focused on selling existing services to existing markets. A thought leadership campaign may identify or reveal a new or emerging need for which there is no current solution. So it may drive service or product innovation and development.
Sometimes thought leadership requires you to look at a market differently, or even consider a completely different market or segment. Or maybe disrupt a market or create a new one. Thought leadership is about original ideas with important implications that drive public debate and influence the opinions of others – but it is also about creating a position, brand or opportunity to generate superior financial results.
2. Engage and Educate
The starting point for a thought leadership strategy is to engage with internal stakeholders and educate them on the benefits.
A key challenge in professional service firms is to rise above the internal departmental structures and silos and take a helicopter view of the market and the firm’s position within it. Thought leadership campaigns should be focused on a client market and therefore act as an integrator for the various teams attempting to promote their services to that market.
It is important to remember that you can develop and implement a fantastic creative communications campaign without it being thought leadership. So not every campaign needs to aspire to thought leadership.
As you build a business case for a major thought leadership campaign, you will outline the various benefits and also the costs – in terms of cash and time (both for fee-earners which is a major opportunity cost and for marketing/BD teams).
People can then decide whether the required inputs are justified in achieving the outputs and results.
But the business case and outline plan should also outline what will happen and when – and should manage expectations as to when the results are likely to appear. There is often a long lead time of planning, research and preparation and it is rare that there are overnight results as the sales cycle in professional services is often long.
4. Empathy, essence and edge
Thought leadership is more than putting together a well-crafted, integrated marketing communications campaign. It requires a laser-like focus on the target market. And real empathy with those in that target market. It must identify the essence of a challenge or insight in that market – which is unlikely to relate directly to a technical legal, accountancy or surveying topic.
Deep market knowledge is required. Many thought leadership campaigns include primary research into a new area. They provide evidence. They find breakthrough ideas. Or they articulate expert opinion that is either way ahead of or in contradiction to the mainstream.
Too many campaigns focus on current issues – so they are “thought followship”. You need bravery to identify an insight, approach or angle that has a real edge over the competition and leapfrogs your firm into a leadership space.
5. Engineer and Execute
Once the business case has been made and the project approved you need to engineer a detailed project plan of what needs to happen and when. There needs to be a high level overview of the various stages of the campaign before you get into the detail. There may be several projects or phases. For example:
- Formation of a steering group and project team
- Development of the business case
- Structured market analysis (and internal analysis)
- Selection and briefing of external specialist agencies
- Research into the core issue and analysis of the results
- Development of new skills, services or products
- Preparation of reports (including analysis, copywriting, visuals and videos)
- Creation of web site content and digital assets
- Development of internal and external communication campaigns including
- Internal communications and intranet content
- Content management planning
- Media relations
- Digital marketing (web, databases and newsletters)
- Social media
- Client and referrer communications
- Presentation of papers at major conferences
- Design and delivery of seminar series
- Other events (e.g. roundtables, breakfasts, live video) to drive engagement
- Presentations, credentials, pitches and sales meetings
These all need to be integrated and supported by detailed plans and budgets for both cash and time and allocation of responsibilities. Once the plans are developed, costed and approved, execution and implementation can begin.
6. Equip and extract
You may need to invest in training and coaching to equip your marketing and business development people with the relevant skills for designing and managing a major campaign. You may also need to provide training and coaching to fee-earners whether they are involved in project management, content creation, relationship management, public speaking, networking or selling.
Resources are always an issue. The relevant fee-earners need to be given the time to devote to their role in campaign development and in following up on any opportunities or relationships that are generated with the campaign. There are ideas here on how to extract content from fee-earners http://kimtasso.com/content-development-get-blood-out-of-a-stone/
I’m particularly impressed with the insight selling approach that provides a direct link from firm-wide or sector or practice group thought leadership campaigns through to commercial conversations with clients, referrers and prospects. http://kimtasso.com/book-review-insight-selling-mike-schultz-john-e-doerr/
Thought leadership campaigns require a huge investment of time, money and energy over a prolonged period of time in a professional services firm. It is important that they are strongly supported by the Board and the most senior people within the firm. These people need to lead by example, be champions and great role models and become enthusiastic ambassadors for the campaign.
There also needs to be an ongoing commitment to really engage everyone within the firm in the campaign through structured, integrated and ongoing internal communications.
8. Evaluation and Evolution
All campaigns need to be monitored. There will be KPIs and milestones for each stage of the project. Progress at each stage needs to be reviewed. Plans may need to be tweaked and refined.
Overall results – in terms of new clients, work and assignments – will be measured against the original objectives. Calculating the return on investment (ROI) is always tricky but easier when an overall campaign is considered. http://kimtasso.com/roi-in-professional-service-firm-marketing/
And the firm will learn from each campaign or project through structured reviews and debriefs. This knowledge can be captured and used to improve future campaigns and projects,
Often the most successful campaigns and projects are repeated every year – and it is important that future iterations are improved and evolved.
Project reviews of existing projects – Many delegates indicated the difficulties when they “inherit” a thought leadership campaign or project once it has already started (and has perhaps floundered). I suggested that it was good practice to hold regular project reviews of all active projects. This way the original aims and scope can be considered against the progress and results so that important changes can be agreed. And perhaps ill-conceived or poorly supported campaigns can be culled – creating space for more carefully constructed approaches.
People management above project management – This was one of the key insights from delegates. In professional service firm thought leadership campaigns – people management is often more important than project management.
Reasons to invest in thought leadership http://kimtasso.com/faq/what-is-thought-leadership-and-why-is-it-so-important/
The basics of thought leadership http://kimtasso.com/thought-leadership-campaigns-the-basics/
Tim Prizeman’s book was recommended http://kimtasso.com/thought-leadership-manual-review/