Who represents the best of British business? Dyson, Three, Ovo, John Lewis. Yes. A professional services firm? Unlikely.
Yet a recent study by the UK’s biggest professional services outfit, PwC, and The City UK has shown that the contribution of accountants and lawyers to our economy is up there with the UK’s finest brands. Granted, an accountancy firm telling us why accountancy firms are valuable is somewhat self-reflexive. But you cannot argue with the numbers.
The professional services sector paid more than £15 billion into the Treasury’s coffers last year. That’s enough to fund the UK’s police force. Despite coming in for a good deal of public and political scrutiny, professional firms are prospering.
UK law firms’ income has increased by a whopping 73 per cent in a decade. The accountants reported significant revenue growth during the last year. And professional services is in demand as a career choice, with four of the top ten most sought-after graduate employers residing in the sector.
This success is matched – or fuelled – by a healthy share of voice in the mainstream business media and business forums. Accountancy firms have long understood that brand and reputation are critical when you are selling a service. Although many law firms and management consultants have put secrecy at the heart of their brand efforts (prioritising your profile over a client’s is a no-go), others have recognised the benefits of considered profile-raising. The result: the sector’s influence on business opinion and policy has become widespread.
Our regulation-heavy business environment has helped provide the opportunity, as has the ever-increasing complexity of Brexit. While corporate boards tend to wait for concrete outcomes before they opine, advisers fill the void, usefully weighing up the options for business. They are pitching themselves as the balanced voices of reason, helping businesses and policymakers connect the dots. But for all those that hit the headlines with worthwhile views, there are plenty that flounder.
Arguably, proprietary research is the most deployed weapon in the professional firm’s communications armoury. But many firms make the mistake of favouring length over brevity. Clients don’t have the time or inclination to wade through pages of dense text and indecipherable graphs. Journalists complain of ‘research fatigue’.
For professional firms contemplating how to make more of an impact with their next research endeavour, there is a better way.
Don’t just know your audience; know who or what wields influence over that audience.
Craft something good enough to be endorsed by the people that matter.
Set earned media as the quality benchmark by which the story succeeds or fails, but don’t stop there. Distribute the findings through all channels: earned, paid, owned and shared.
Roll up your sleeves and ensure that everyone knows about it – not just for one day, but in the days and weeks after launch.
And then, when it’s done, ask the very people you were trying to reach whether it struck a chord.
It is a long process, but it will pay dividends. And, by following these simple rules, you will have a much better chance of standing out from the crowd.