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Is it time for professional services firms to appoint editors?

With professional services firms creating so much content, who decides what clients should and shouldn’t see. Is it time for firms to appoint editors, asks Matt Baldwin?

Professional services firms are prolific creators of content. It has been the bedrock of marketing and business development activity for decades.

My very first job in a law firm PR – in 1996 for the now long-gone Wilde Sapte – involved managing its publications library.

Literally, a dark room filled with spiral-bound technical updates on all aspects of banking, finance and insurance law. They were to be shared with clients to help the firm demonstrate the expertise of the firm and its people. Most never saw the light of day.

Fast forward 25 years and these libraries, now content hubs, remain firmly established part of professional services marketing. Some firms have gone to the extreme – Pinsent Mason’s Out Law programme published 2,000 articles every year and is manned by a team of full-time journalists.

Most now include a mix of the written word, thought leadership content, PR, videos and audio podcasts.

That firms continue with this is quite understandable.

It gives their people the insights and tools they need to start new conversations with clients. It helps strengthen client relationships.

It is a powerful way to demonstrate your firm’s expertise and culture – and to put the spotlight on its people. It creates a sense of pride amongst those creating and sharing these insights.

Professional services firms, it could be argued, are increasingly looking like publishing businesses.

But unlike a publishing business there is rarely anyone in a role acting as editor. I believe there should.

That may be because an inherent tension between marketing or BD and the subject matter experts remains. How can anyone in marketing really understand what has taken me 10 or 20 years to learn?

It has seen many firms adopt the spray-and-pray approach to their content. If we chuck enough of this out there, surely some will stick.

It doesn’t.

Last year, I spoke to Andy Yorston, the GC at Vodafone. He told me that he gets over 100 emails offering insights and thought leadership from law firms every week. Most go unopened. He simply doesn’t have the time to read it all.

He also told me that the shorter, punchier insights are more likely to grab his attention – even more so when from a name he recognises.

He wants the two-minute read – with more detail available should he want it.

This is supported by research from the consultants Meridian West, with whom we work closely. They asked 500 CEOs what they want from firms in terms of thought leadership and insights. Over 70% wanted insights of less than 500 words – again with more detailed insights should they wish.

I would argue that it is time if firms have not already done so, to adopt a much more strategic approach to their content programmes and take inspiration from the publishing world.

Appoint an editor.

That role should sit firmly in your marketing and BD team. They bring expertise on what themes are likely to best land with clients and the most impactful channels.

Importantly, they will have a wider perspective of how insights will sit alongside other marketing campaigns and programmes. They also have a grasp of how those insights support the firm’s culture and purpose.

Whilst marketing and BD teams may not understand the technical detail, they will – or at least should – understand how a client will react to a piece of content. They should ultimately decide whether it is used or not.

It is, after all, the editors of The Times, The Sun, The Economist, Yorkshire Post, Hello or Vogue that decides what runs in their newspapers and magazines and not their individual reporters.

Matt Baldwin is the joint managing director of Coast, a public relations consultancy. He is also the editor of PM Magazine and The Professionals

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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