Best-selling books, Harvard Business Review articles, substantive white papers and other publications have helped our clients win millions of dollars in new business. However, many professional services firms find these kinds of results elusive, and instead find themselves spending substantial amounts of money on too many ideas, most of which fail to deliver growth.
One way to get more out of marketing investments is by taking a portfolio management approach: collecting, assessing, developing and writing about a balanced array of ideas to ensure that the firm has the right mix between short-term bets (ideas ready to market now) and long-term bets (ideas needing more extensive development investment). Doing so supports demand generation in the current quarter as well as over a year or multiple-year period.
Implementing this approach to a firm’s publications involves four basic steps: topic identification, topic assessment, idea development and portfolio balancing. In this paper we explain each of these steps in detail.
What if a venture capital firm funded entrepreneurs on a first-come, first-served basis with no questions asked? People with ideas from wacky to wonderful would get into business—more of them wacky, no doubt, given the high failure rate for new businesses. Of course, the VC wouldn’t last very long. Without screening new-business ideas and the people behind them, it eventually would fritter away its capital after so many bad investments. Of course, this scenario is highly implausible.Yet many professional services marketers make the equivalent mistake in their publication strategy. They invest substantial time and money marketing too many substandard ideas through white papers, op-ed and management journal submissions and sometimes whole books. Like the bad businesses funded by the VCs, these poor publications fizzle out fast.
Compared to a bankrupt business, a poor publication might seem like a trivial problem. But for professional services firms, it is a cardinal sin. Because such companies are in the very business of providing expertise, their publications must display authoritative knowledge. A refrain we hear often—that “publishing anything is OK because it gets our name out there”—does not apply to professional services firms. Clients and prospects hold the writings of professional services firms to a far higher standard than, say, they do a technology vendor’s white papers meant to showcase its industry knowledge. Because of this, substandard publications actually can erode the professional services firm’s brand image, not enhance it.
Conversely, best-selling books, Harvard Business Review articles, substantive white papers and other publications can break open new markets for professional services firms and shore up their share of old ones, as the following examples attest:
> One consulting firm we worked with in 2005 on developing and marketing points of view on two topics (one on financial services and the other on health care) has generated 35 substantial business leads from the white papers it published and a direct marketing campaign around the papers.
> For another client, a research publication we ghost wrote helped the firm sell a multimillion-dollar, multi-year outsourcing contract.
> A third client’s Harvard Business Review article has spawned several million dollars in new consulting projects.
> A fourth company told us that one white paper we helped write and market was “a catalyst for generating millions of dollars in additional consulting revenue” from existing clients.
How can professional services firms ensure that their white papers, articles, management journals, research reports, books and email newsletters generate substantial interest in the firm and, thus, maximize the investments made in these publications? We believe the marketing organization holds the key.
As the “gatekeepers” of a professional services company’s publications, marketers should have clear accountability for the success of published materials. But in our experience, while marketing professionals typically are proficient in getting publications written, designed and disseminated, many are not as engaged as they should be in the content development part of the publishing process—i.e., the activities encompassing idea generation through point of view completion. In fact, in many companies, marketing is not seen as a player in content development—or if it is, it’s more of as a secondary participant in the process. In a joint survey The Bloom Group and Alterra Group recently conducted of nearly 180 professional services executives, less than half (48 percent) of respondents indicated that their marketing group plays a primary role in helping professionals in the firm to develop and capture their ideas.Worse yet, 44 percent of executives in our survey indicated that their marketing function’s performance in helping to develop content that generates strong market awareness and business leads was no better than average (with 20 percent noting it was ineffective).
By believing that only the firm’s experts are responsible for its content, and viewing marketing’s role as packaging and distributing this content, too many marketing professionals set themselves up for lackluster publishing results.
A Portfolio Approach to Publishing Intellectual Capital
What’s the solution? Clearly, it’s not for marketers to march into the office of their practice or firm leader and demand they be a critical player in content development. On the contrary, we have found that there is a more helpful—and certainly less abrasive—way for marketers to insert themselves into the content-development process. This involves moving from an “order taker” role—in which marketers essentially publish any content that comes to them from subject matter experts—to a more consultative role that emphasizes guiding experts on their choice of topics for publication and providing valuable assistance in shoring up ideas that are not yet ready to be marketed.
One way for marketers to make such a shift is by effectively taking a portfolio management approach to the intellectual capital reflected in the firm’s publications: collecting, assessing, developing and writing about a balanced array of ideas to ensure that the firm has the right mix between short-term bets (ideas ready to market now) and long-term bets (ideas needing more extensive development investment) to support demand generation in the current quarter as well as over a year or multiple year period. Such a balanced portfolio reflects the needs and realities of the professional services world today, where there is little tolerance for marketing that doesn’t produce in the short term, but also an intense need for marketing programs that anticipate market needs. A marketer who invests only in the big-bet ideas that take substantial time to develop probably won’t be around long enough to get them to market.At the same time, stringing together only quick hits will do little to elevate the firm’s reputation for thought leadership—which is critical to building strong demand for its services. Hence, the portfolio mix is essential for growth.
Implementing a portfolio management approach to a firm’s publications involves four basic steps: topic identification, topic assessment, idea development and portfolio balancing.We explain each of these steps in detail.