If you’ve visited Schwartz MSL’s other blogs, you’ve probably seen our “Wait a Minute” video blog series. My recent post about working with lawyers and the inherent difference in the way we’ve both been trained got me thinking about a frequent challenge I faced when working in-house at law firms. Without fail, most Mondays I would arrive at the office with a fresh list of thought leadership topics culled from various sources; the Sunday paper, the radio during my morning commute, random Internet surfing.
Professional services firms are brimming with raw materials for thought leadership. For the most part, at a general practice (law, accounting, consulting) firm you can find a way into nearly any story on the front page or the top of a Google news search. With that in mind, I’d shop around my ideas to everyone; corporate, labor and employment, life sciences and litigation usually based on what had happened and then how to prevent it from happening again. Most often, I would find willing participants, but as I made my rounds, inevitably someone would say “Why would I want to capitalize on someone else’s misfortune?”
Here’s why: because it’s not capitalizing on someone’s misfortune. It’s doing the rest of the business community a big favor.
Let me repeat: it is not capitalizing on someone’s misfortune. Let's reframe it.
Here’s what I think is one of the best things about professional services thought leadership. What lawyers, accountants, and consultants know is how to protect companies from exposure or how to maximize their competitive edge. It’s hard to explain that without pointing to a tangible example of what worked or didn’t work in a previous situation. It’s no different than an academic case study brought to real life. Without it, advising on the issues of the day seems a little esoteric.
Good thought leadership needs a few things. Topics need to be:
Current, if not ahead of, the curve
Full of teachable moments so readers can understand how to apply the principle to their world
A bit provocative to keep people thinking
But it also needs to be diplomatic. It needs to be done with a respect for the entities involved in the issue of the day, and not in a way that criticizes their efforts. It can be done – it’s the art of identifying those teachable moments and then using them for the good of the business community that makes the thought leaders true experts in the industry.
Posted by Meghan Gross on August 16, 2012 at 5:13 PM
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As a former marathon runner, I can’t help but follow-on to our first On Your Mark blog post with another analogy.
I also couldn’t help but watch with rapt interest at the last mile of the 2012 Olympics Women’s Marathon as a pack of four runners headed toward the finish line. While all four were close, three runners from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Russia were clearly were battling it out for the gold, silver and bronze medals. As the fourth runner, Mary Jepkosgei Keitany of Kenya (incidentally a pre-race favorite), fell increasingly behind in those final moments, she soldiered on with a relatively calm expression on her face which I can only imagine hid her disappointment.
While some people might find fourth place the most frustrating and disappointing of positions, particularly after logging more than 20 miles on foot, I actually find it a place of inspiration. Why? Because of all the runners in the field, it’s the position most poised for success from this point onward. There’s no medal to defend, no reputation to diminish, no critics to silence. There’s a solid foundation of achievement with only an upward trajectory, and that’s inspiring.
This got me thinking that thought leadership is not much different. Just like running a marathon, thought leadership can’t happen overnight. Thought leaders are cultivated and developed. For anyone who does it, you’re well aware that it takes a long time, a lot of effort, and some disappointments along the way.
However, like runner #4 heading toward the finish line, every thought leader eventually reaches that place: you’re not quite there yet, but your position is strong enough to compete with the elites and with a little more effort, you just might win.
For every struggling thought leader who wants to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, watch Mary Jepkosgei Keitany and remember her tenacity. Keep agreeing to those background briefings, write your blog posts, accept every speaking opportunity and jump on the rapid response programs. When your competitor gets the profile article, study it, dissect it, and do some thorough self-assessment on what you might need to make it there. Do you need a more provocative point of view? Do you need to showcase some innovation before it’s completely ready? Do you need to engage more deeply with your social media communities? What else would drive your success?
With time and effort, you too could be on the podium in 2016.
Posted by Meghan Gross on August 8, 2012 at 11:19 AM
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There is no doubt that Purpose is the fifth "P" within the marketing mix today. A brand's purpose should define not what product or service they sell but the higher order of why they exist in society. More and more brands are realizing the importance of acting as purposeful, values-driven organizations, living that purpose through all they do and communicating it through all they say, following in the footsteps of smart, purpose-led brands like Proctor & Gamble and ANN INC.
However, because many marketers are focused on finding the next "big idea" or testing multiple cause, Corporate Social Responsibility or other issue related strategies to live out and communicate their "purpose," they often miss another critical "P" – People. Companies are run by people, it is people that invest in brands, and people that buy products and services. No matter what industry - B2B or B2C - everyone is ultimately trying to reach people in more meaningful ways. It is the combination of purpose plus people that will help brands stand out in the cause arena moving forward.
It is critically important to seek ways to engage your target audience - whether employees, consumers or other stakeholders - in your purpose-led and cause-related marketing efforts, all the way from strategy to solution.
Three places to engage your target audience in your process:
Preparation: Do your due diligence to really understand what makes your target tick when it comes to care and support for issues impacting their communities and society at large. Base your issues work in real audience insights to align with their interests, fears, passions and - most importantly - where they would expect your brand's resources to have significant impact.
Planning: As you develop your strategies - whether it is a promotion, a partnership or a new program - seek your target's advice on how to tackle the issue, how to communicate it and how to solve it. Test the ideas before finalizing the strategy to ensure your message will resonate and allow your team to absorb any learnings on how to make the message stronger and long-lasting.
Participation: Once you are ready to execute and bring your brilliant issue-related strategies to the marketplace, make sure you have a clear, simple, do-able call to action that invites participation from your various audiences. From fundraising, volunteering and advocating all the way to liking and fan-raising, people want to participate. They expect to be engaged. They believe brands should play a role in changing the world and want to help.
All of these critical "People" junctures in your planning process could come with small to very hefty costs. The reality is that there are ways to do research, vetting and engagement relatively inexpensively and quickly today. Thanks to agency research departments, preferred vendors and proprietary research as well as innovative ways to crowdsource and seek information online, there is no excuse not to include People, in addition to Purpose, within the marketing mix. It will pay off - leaving you with a more profound impact on both your business and on society.
Posted by Anne Erhard on August 1, 2012 at 3:18 PM
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It seems appropriate to title our first blog post as part of Schwartz MSL Boston in honor of our original blog, which – as you may have guessed – was called “The Finish Line.”
The name was derived from the famous Boston Marathon finish line, which could be seen from the windows of MSL Boston’s old offices on Boylston Street. When we moved to a beautiful new building on Arch Street, the name moved with us.
Now, as our journey as an office and an agency has brought us to Waltham (with MSL’s acquisition of Schwartz Communications last year) we feel our work is far from finished. So it’s time to retire “The Finish Line” and celebrate the launch of our new blog, in which we’ll be focusing on our Corporate and Cause practice groups within Schwartz MSL. We’ll use this forum to discuss topics of interest to us – and hopefully to you – as they relate to reputation management, thought leadership, social impact, responsibility (CSR), cause marketing and more.