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Points West – Alastair Beddow

Framing your thinking: agile communications for autumn

At times of crisis, the value of professional firms in helping their clients navigate through uncertainty should come to the fore. After all, what is the benefit of providing a wide range of services to a wider range of organisations if you cannot distil down learnings from that experience into practical insight and intelligence for your clients?

The mantra that professional firms are a ‘go-to’ source of information for clients has been tested over the last six months of the pandemic. While I have seen some brilliantly innovative examples of client engagement and thought leadership, I have also heard about firms where professionals have had their heads buried in internal firefighting and have missed obvious opportunities to reconnect with clients.

The pandemic has also exposed a legacy of content strategy bad habits. The treacle of internal politics slowing decision-making and delaying publication of time-critical insights. The race for firms to all jump on the same bandwagon of regurgitating government guidance through technical notes. The fear of not wanting to say anything controversial resulting in not saying anything of substance at all.

With business sentiment and the economic climate changing apace, what use is publishing in September something based on views about the pandemic captured before the summer?

I was on a recent roundtable with a group of our clients where one acknowledged that its COVID-19 insight microsite had run its course and was being replaced with content about the longer-term issues facing clients. That was a wake-up call for others around our virtual table.

As well as the COVID-19 microsite, another common feature of professional firm’s output during this time has been COVID-19 frameworks. Consultants McKinsey identified features of the “Next Normal”. Accounting firm BDO created a logical three-step model called “Rethink” comprised of react, resilience and realise phases. Law firm Baker McKenzie is encouraging its clients to think “Beyond COVID-19” to a more stable future.

These frameworks can be helpful tools for crystallising internal thinking into clear and memorable messages. They also help to give structure to the agenda for conversations with clients and provide hooks for future content planning.

If created and deployed early, a savvy framework can help to shape the debate, not just to frame it. This is particularly true when it is used alongside a diagnostic and benchmarking offer for clients. How far along are they on the “Beyond COVID-19” roadmap compared with their peers? What risks and opportunities will the “Next Normal” present for senior executives?

Doing this well requires greater agility on content strategy, something that doesn’t come naturally to most professional firms. At Meridian West we have seen an uptick in our clients asking us to help them with quick turnaround projects: pulse surveys of senior executives, talking head opinion pieces, instant benchmarking and diagnostic tools.

However, content strategies set in concrete too far advance are likely to risk missing the mark also. Communications plans need to be responsive as well as agile. At this stage, nobody can anticipate how disruptive the pandemic will be this winter.

That is why, alongside agile forms of thought leadership, we have also seen a turn towards the credible long-term view. Campaigns that utilise historical data to plot the course to COVID-19 earn the right to make reasoned predictions about the future. How many times have you heard that the pandemic is simply accelerating existing business trends? If that is the case, professional firms with a proven track record as thought leaders may be best placed of all to share wisdom today based on their recent experiences.

Alastair Beddow is the managing director at Meridian West. He can be reached by email: abeddow@meridianwest.co.uk

Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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