Professional services firms can and should use public relations strategies to maximize their business potential.
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I have a lot of personal business contacts and, as a PR professional, I am always pleased when someone I care about reaches out to me for PR advice.
One such conversation was with an amazing financial advisor that I know who is truly loved and respected by his clients. His reputation and work are impeccable, yet he struggles with marketing, like many entrepreneurs and small business owners, especially those in a professional service industry.
My friends and contacts who are lawyers, architects, accountants, engineers (or pretty much any consultant who offers knowledge-based services to clients) continue to struggle with marketing as many of them are not great marketers by nature. Of course, they can be, do not get me wrong – I have seen many examples of great marketing within the A/E/C industry, for example, my friends at Stack Rock Group, but as a generality, there is not an emphasis on self-promotion among many professional service providers.
Yes, large organizations often promote products or offerings but getting engineers, for example, to play the PR game is nearly impossible. Much of it is personality, and again, speaking generally, many smart, capable people skew toward being introverted, analytical, and efficient – important characteristics that help them professionally but are not often associated with flashy marketing. Of course, they should be, but that’s how some people view marketing.
I have worked in and around the A/E/C and tech industries for two decades and I personally love working with engineers. By default, they require me, as a marketer, to be both efficient and subtle in my approach, which normally suits me just fine. I have found that as a group, they will be the first to laugh with me as we joke about how much they shun the spotlight, especially for anything as fluffy as publicity. I imagine it is the same for many lawyers, financial advisors, and accountants.
But anyone who does this work knows that to be recognized as an expert in your field and a leader in your community, you have to be visible. You have to put yourself, your firm, your services, and your successes out there, which can be really challenging for some people.
Sadly, most large professional services firms handle this by hiring a marketing coordinator. You’ve seen her (yes, her!) that one girl in the office doing all the marketing for the entire team (which often really just means putting together proposals, organizing conferences, or possibly organizing RFP responses). Marketing in professional services is often an entry-level position or an add-on to an administrative position, undervaluing marketing from hiring, to promotion, to professional development. Later, leadership will lament that marketing does not really work or there is no ROI.
I have seen the other side. My employment with a global professional services firm is a perfect example where marketing, client services, and publicity were seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the organization. And I guess it is still working, as they are consistently rated as one of the top firms in the country by their industry association. They clearly know how to use marketing to grow a professional services firm.
However, most firms do not take this approach and it is certainly more difficult for the consultant, solopreneur, or independent professional to employ the same approaches. The smartest professionals I know often suffer from being too humble – they fear being viewed as a social-climbing wannabe or they have a real dislike for promotion, but the vast majority just do not understand how to do it. I have seen time and time again firms or individual professionals miss engagement opportunities, underfund marketing, and generally reduce efforts on promotion. Even my local business newspaper commented on it: “Idaho architects tend to keep a low profile.” Idaho A/E/C firms are struggling to even gain visibility for projects here in Idaho, but few seem prepared to make the marketing leap – and I see that as an issue globally, not just locally.
But why is it so hard to step into the limelight?
Is it personality? Are most architects, accountants, and engineers skewed toward being introverted, analytical, and efficient? Are those important characteristics that help them professionally keeping them from embracing marketing?
I have lots of ideas about how professional services firms should market, but my real work is in helping those firms – or more specifically, the leaders at those firms – to incorporate marketing communications in such a way that it does not overwhelm the budget or bottom line. It is harder for individuals, but with a simple process that creates a culture of communication in your professional life, it is easy. And for my friends, I will make it super easy!
Read. Write. Work.
Yep, that’s it. Every day, just schedule time to read, to write, and then to incorporate marketing into your daily work routine. Professionals who incorporate a read, write, work communications approach will see a difference in not only how they feel about marketing, but how it works.
Yes, you need to read. Ugh! I know, who has time to get past anything but a headline? You do if you want to be able to speak and present intelligibly about the work you do and the environment in which you compete. You simply have to read to be competitive. Read blogs, read newspapers, read industry magazines, read business books, read competitors’ articles – just read every day. Set a calendar appointment for yourself and keep it. You can do it first thing in the morning, or mid-day when you need a break, or relax in the evening, but read, you must. Read mostly about your industry, but also read about the economy, professional development, technology, and leadership. Read interesting things so that you can write interesting things. I am not going to tell you how much or how long, but to be successful in promotion, you have to read.
Yes, you have to write. Ugh! I know, who has time for anything but work and family? You do if you want to be able to speak and present intelligibly about the work you do and the environment in which you compete. You have to write. You can write for your own blog, website, or social media. You can write articles or you can write client white papers and case studies. You can write letters, emails, personalized thank you cards, speeches, and presentations. Set a calendar appointment and keep it. You can do it first thing in the morning, or mid-day when you need a break, or relax in the evening, but write, you must. Write mostly about your industry, but also write about the economy, professional development, technology, and leadership. Write about the interesting things you read about and how they apply to your work, projects, or industry. I am not going to tell you how much or how long, but you have to write. And you have to write in a way that is shareable with your public. You have to create content. This is hard. You probably need a marketing person. But I want to be clear if you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, or the leader of a firm, this has to happen if you want the power of publicity to work for you. Put in the effort to create a culture of communication at your office (even if it’s in your house) to promote your staff, your projects, and your expertise, as a way to engage current and future clients.
This seems easy. Maybe like I tricked you? Well, yes and no. I do not have to tell you that you have to put in the hours to do the work. You run a professional services firm – you know that. But what you have to do is change how you work. Right now, if you are not marketing, all of your work is internal and focused on current clients’ needs. You know the ins and outs of the service or the project, but no one outside your office or the client knows anything about it. Not prospective clients, not your competitors, not your industry media professionals. Actually, probably half the people in your office don’t know anything about it either. You have to work in a way that creates a culture of communication. You have to work publicly and visibly. You have to share your expertise as it happens.
It is not easy to do this, especially if you can already feel your insides screaming in reaction to my suggestions.
But when you create a robust website with updated, compelling content; when you do live posts on Facebook to update the world about your projects; when you write a blog post about the intersection of technology or science or art and your field of expertise, you are working in such a way that communicates the value of the work. When you use stories and photos to show your work, not just once for an award, but consistently, you are beginning to reap the benefits of a culture of communication.
I have done this for a long time. I have consulted for over 100 companies and I know it is hard. I would love to share ideas with you about how, when, and where you can improve your PR. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts.
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