Many professional firms take a “reactive” approach to content development.
- They’ll prepare an article when a trade magazine editor asks them to, perhaps without thinking whether the publication reaches the firm’s target market.
- The speaking opportunities they respond to aren’t necessarily aligned with the expertise that the firm wants to be known for.
- The firm’s professionals asked to write for the firm’s blog are not always the people that the firm wants to develop as its future leaders.
This means that it’s important that professional firms, and their marketing team members, have a tight focus for how to determine themes and topics for the content their firm produces. I think that there are three main hurdles all content must meet.
As an example, consider an engineering firm that wants to build a practice in urban renewal, a topic that was central to the Meeting of the Minds conference held in Detroit MI, USA in September 2014, which I attended.
The image above shows Cadillac Place, part of a complex that General Motors built in central Detroit in the 1920s. This building was the headquarters for one of the greatest concentrations of industrial knowledge of its time, and the complex now houses an innovative design school whose graduates are much in demand.
Content must support a service offering that is in demand
Many times, I’ve been asked to help professional firms generate content based on the request from an editor of a publication, on a specific topic. My first question in such cases: “Is there a demand for this kind of expertise, in the market?”
Our urban-renewal firm might be asked to write content on parking lot design. However, the firm might find that while there is some demand for this kind of service, cities are more interested in finding ways to avoid vehicle traffic, meaning less demand for parking lots.
So it might be better for the firm to see if the topic of the article could be shifted into an area for which there is demand, such as finding ways for commuters using public transit, to transfer easily between modes of transportation.
Are enough people in the firm able to benefit from this content?
In some firms, the members who are most interested in developing content want to do it in areas that they find to be of personal interest. However, in many cases, there are not a lot of other people in the firm who also want to do that kind of work.
If the firm has many members who are qualified to do traffic studies, for example, it would be good to focus the firm’s content on how municipal governments can commission and use traffic studies effectively. This way, many members of the firm can benefit from handing reprints of articles on that topic, for example, to potential clients.
Does the content topic serve the bigger goals of the firm?
In his books on professional firm management, David Maister suggested that there are three types of firms according to their service offering:
- “Gray hair” firms that offer unique, thoughtful solutions based on experience;
- Firms that focus on providing reliable service for which reliability, not price, is the primary consideration;
- Firms that offer low-cost, high-volume service (such as most income tax preparers)
A firm’s content must meet the positioning that the firm offers -- whether it’s an in-depth analysis of a city’s economic opportunities, or experience designing an economic opportunity district, or low-cost energy audits that will help local businesses reduce their costs.
By thinking of these three “filters” for content, a firm can focus its content on topics that meet its bigger corporate goals.