Tanker vs. speedboat: Which PR strategy suits modern consulting best?
February 17, 2021
Which PR model will work best for Professional Services firms in the future?
Complete outsourcing to PR agencies, large in-house press teams, or practice-specific specialists? And how does that fit with the demand of successful rainmarkers, who would clearly prefer a continuous content engine for their own practice?
In my current #BeraterBeraterin column on Consulting.de I analyze the dilemma.
“Is this stock market insanity or the sober mapping of future power relationships?” a journalist recently wrote about Tesla and its stock market value of nearly $669 billion. It’s the equivalent of all major OEMs combined.
What’s interesting about it:
Tesla has neither armies of PR agencies nor PR budgets worth millions.
Not every stratey consultant or Big 4-auditor is Elon Musk – and he/she doesn’t have to be. But or precisely for that reason, he/she needs strategy-driven, modern press relations. This is also a partial answer to the question in my last column:
“The battle of the consulting brands: Pole position vs. the niche?” How do consultancies that are not McKinsey, BCG or Bain – the dominant MBBs – position themselves?
The more client cases I experience at #BrandStrategists, the more often I ask myself:
Which models will work best in the future? Complete outsourcing to PR agencies, large in-house press teams or practice-related specialists?
I do see all sorts of variations with all sorts of budget sizes and ROIs in terms of coverage. Some of them are clearly “jolting” right now.
But what’s the reason?
Certainly because of the triple complexity:
- The matrix of professional services players generally covers all industries and meta-topics such as digitization, transformation or supply chain etc.
- The disruption of the media industry by COVID19 incl. job cuts and cross-media mergers such as currently those of the political and business editorial teams of Stern and Capital.
- Increasing tendencies of powerful industry teams to break away in the desire for more autonomy.
So far, the response scheme to the first two complexities has been quite simple:
- Hiring large PR agencies to cover a wide range of topics.
- The almost reflexive adjustment of PR budgets – at smaller firms, for example, the reduction in the pandemic. For medium-sized and larger firms, it’s more a case of increasing knowledge:
The battle for air supremacy in the relevant leading media has heated up.
The third complexity – and this continues to increase – presents more and more marketing organizations with strategic as well as internal challenges:
How do you counter the rainmakers in your own firm? How do you satisfy the growing appetite of successful practices for their ‘fair share’ of the company’s PR pie?
Up to now, the answer for the majority of consultancies and Big 4 players has been: proportional representation! According to this, everyone receives their percentage share of the budget; in the case of flywheel studies, even a bit more.
What ist the consequence of this complexity?
On the one hand, you find marketing departments dragging study launches and campaign plans across the board of the annual calendar like chess pieces. Trying to please everyone often becomes squaring the circle.
On the other hand, there are the PR agencies centrally steered by internal Marketing. Some of these drive at least four ‘cows through the village’ every month in the form of studies. In the worst case, they cannibalize their own clients. Handelsblatt and FAZ are not allowed to feature four studies from the same Professional Services firm in the business section within four weeks.
The result is sub-optimal!
For one thing, because agility and proportionality are mutually exclusive. A topic is topical now, is “hot” for journalists now – and not necessarily when it is on the campaign calendar.
On the other hand, because agencies have to drop topics like hot potatoes in order to devote themselves to the next topic from the next practice team.
Three things get under the wheels at once:
- Sustainable thought leadership is built on continuum – perception peaks after a study launch followed by “radio silence” do not lead to this.
- PR agencies see themselves forced into the “buddy system” – they limit themselves to three or four journalists per practice or meta topic. They fall back on these close contacts over and over again to shorten the pitch process. However, this does not result in a sustainable anchoring of the client in all relevant media.
- Rainmakers are driven sour. They feel neither adequately nor sustainably represented in the media.
So what is the solution? Here the Musketeer approach helps too!
Strong topics, strong rainmakers, strong practices deserve their own support system. The solution is not cumbersome giant tankers, but PR speedboats.
To make professional services brands as broadly visible as possible, the Highlander dictum “There can be only one” doesn’t work. Just as it takes many active consultants on LinkedIn in addition to the #SocialCEO, the “musketeer approach” also makes sense in PR.
MDs, senior partners, or practice heads individually curate their own stories. They make their specific consulting expertise tangible themselves. In this way, they flank the umbrella brand as a personal brand and reach additional clients and prospects.
The five advantages of PR speedboats in the battle for differentiation in the top media
Consulting is a ‘people’s business’! People make the decisive difference. Journalists don’t build a relationship with an umbrella brand, but with the people behind. Brand ambassadors who flank strong facts with personal branding and storytelling are always superior to a generic press release.
In PR, agility is critical to success. PR professionals call it “riding a wave” or “issues management.” They mean the same thing: An issue has now its time: if a journalist writes a story now, he needs the approved quote by the deadline. And not as a nested sentence after five internal approval loops, nor three days later.
Professional Services brands that trust their “PR speedboats” among partners are more visible.
3. Perspective & attitude
Perspective is the exact opposite of independent-objective. Media want anything but – especially in the pandemic. They are seeking pointed opinions – such as exactly what companies should and should not do in the times of crisis. Tier 1 journalists are always looking for consultants with attitude – because only those are really quotable.
Strategy consultancies, auditing firms or executive search are primarily bought in trust and good faith. For them, branding and trust-building are business-critical. As important as trust is for clients, the same is true for the media. A trusting relationship with journalists, cell phone numbers on speed dial, the willingness to be available even at short notice for background discussions or quotes, is the guarantee for ‘coverage forever’.
When I started in my advisory role more than two decades ago, press releases were the gold standard. They generated up to a hundred articles. Today, they only generate basic noise in Tier 2 and Tier 3 media. With FAZ, Börsen-Zeitung, Handelsblatt or Wirtschaftswoche, however, they work rather less. But that’s where consulting brands belong if they want to enhance their reputation.
Here, too, the PR speedboat wins – that is, the senior partner, the practice head. He/she can communicate in a more pointed and explanatory way than any PR agency in the world. And authentic on top. And that binds journalists in the medium to long term. Not the soft-spoken quote.
Is this the swan song for PR agencies or an invitation to anarchy vis-à-vis central marketing?
Clearly no to both. Of course, PR agencies continue to be justified. It is their task to continuously associate the brand essence plus the specific values of the umbrella brand such as quality, integrity, professionalism and expertise.
And, of course, a central marketing and communications team is needed to set the overall strategy and “empower” the rainmakers or corporate influencers through media and LinkedIn training.
But both parties should allow the speedboats to sail freely alongside the corporate supertanker. This is how modern influencer marketing is feasible.
If you are worried about ‘communication cacophony’ caused by supposedly uncoordinated speedboats, please contact me. I will be happy to reveal the four tricks of the trade.
Let us have a chat about how to sharpen your profile. Strategic PR & Media Relations for Professional Services has been my USP for more than two decades including an inhouse Marketer career at Accenture, Booz & Comany as well as AlixPartners!
view Consulting.de article (in German)