What kind of work do you really, really want to do for your clients?
• Move out of repetitive, dull work you’ve done too many times before, through showing your clients you can help them in other, more interesting ways?
• Escape the “commodity trap” – you’re performing the same functions as your competitors, which means you can’t raise your fees without getting undercut by someone who’ll work cheaper?
• Stop “performing a function” for your clients, and move into being a strategic partner with them?
Some business professionals might think that to move into new lines of work, you just need to tell your current and prospective clients what you can do for them. But this approach usually doesn’t bounce very high. Your clients have probably already mentally placed you in a specific box according to the role you’ve been playing, and may not see you as someone who can help them solve bigger, strategic issues.
So how do you break out of that box your clients have placed you in?
You need to show them that you can solve higher-level problems for them, by demonstrating your grasp of those problems. Do this by “narrowcast newsjacking” content.
How “narrowcast newsjacking” can help you advance
First, let’s get a clear idea of what “newsjacking” is. It’s a term from the world of content marketing; it involves taking an item of news, and then creating a blog post, article, speech, video or other content around it. The idea is that, anyone searching for information on that topic will come across your content online, and be dazzled by your insights. This can bring your ideas to the awareness of people who haven’t heard of you before. It can also build respect for you, among the people you already work with.
See post #28 for more on why you need to focus your content on their problems, not what you’re selling. If they come to know, like and trust you based on what they’ve experienced, they’re more likely to do business with you.
What kind of news? It’s anything that will affect the people you want to reach. For example, if there’s a product recall on BMW vehicles, it doesn’t matter much to me, because I don’t drive a Beemer. But a recall on Toyotas, I want to know about it.
It’s like that for the people in your market. Find news that matters to them. For your clients, that might include:
New government regulations – environmental, health & safety, product safety, and others
New association standards – for example, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) publishes many standards and guidelines that are widely accepted by governments, even outside the United States, as best practice
New laws that will affect their industry, profession or occupation – like, new professional standards for accounting that are currently causing sleepless nights for accountants in my part of the world
New products or technologies – for instance, driverless vehicles are expected to make a major impact on the world of transportation
A new study by a credible source – such as a university, government commission, think-tank or industry association
You may notice that all these examples are geeky. They’re narrow. Why am I suggesting that you create content around narrow, geeky topics? That’s what your clients want.
Sure, you can write or talk about the latest iWhatever from Apple, on the grounds that a lot of people will be interested, maybe including your clients. But if you try that, you’ll be competing for attention with bloggers and other media with way more search engine credibility than you’ve been able to build. Your voice will get drowned out in the noise.
But if you can create “narrow” content that your clients won’t find elsewhere, your voice has a better chance to be heard. More importantly, your clients will be more likely to pick up on it and appreciate that you’re aware of issues that affect them.
One important caveat: choose news that relates to the kinds of problems you want to solve for clients. For example, if you want to help your clients comply with workplace health and safety issues, stay alert for news about H&S. Then, when a new development happens – such as a legal case, regulation, or study – you spring into action to create some really useful content about it. I’ve gone into the question of why the content you create must focus on “red alert” problems, in Post #49.
For instance, I worked recently with a couple of air-quality engineers in Minnesota. They told me that the US Environmental Protection Agency had recently tightened the laws about emissions of particulate matter from diesel engines. What it meant was that many of the existing diesel engines would need expensive modifications, or replacement, if they were to go on being used.
The engineers told me that this would be a problem particularly for electrical utilities that relied on diesel generators to meet peak power needs – times of day when electrical demand was high. They wouldn’t be able to use those generators any more, and my engineer clients had some solutions to offer.
So the content I helped them create was an article in a power utility magazine, “Power Engineering,” which followed effective design for newsjacking content.
In the article, we first described the news – in this case, the EPA’s rule change. The article then went on to say why the rule mattered, and who would be affected – anyone using backup diesel to meet peak load. We then talked about how the rule would be implemented – light pressure from the EPA at first, soon to become more comprehensive. The final part of the article talked about the steps that utilities could take – maybe just rely on the grid for meeting peak load, but it might also involve changing out, or upgrading their diesel generators, or switching to something else, such as gas turbine.
This content met some of the best practices I know of for narrowcast newsjacking content.
It was about a narrow topic – I mean, seriously, US-EPA’s regulations on particulate emissions from diesel engines? But it was a topic that was of huge significance to the many midsize and smaller electrical utilities in the USA. Which, you may note, was exactly the market that my Minnesota-based engineers wanted to serve.
It was about news that mattered to that market. Without being able to meet peak load, utilities are faced with offering their customers brownouts (times of lower-wattage electricity) and rolling blackouts (times in which some of their customers are deliberately cut off from electrical power).
It was a topic about which my engineer clients were qualified to discuss – they’re air quality engineers, they’ve got this. More importantly, they would be seen to have the expertise to provide useful, reliable information on this topic.
The engineers’ clients might not have another opportunity to learn about this EPA regulation, until personnel from the agency started showing up on their premises to take measurements from their emission stacks. So, the information that my clients provided was valuable to them, in that it had potential to save them from a major problem.
The information was published in their clients’ media – a narrow, geeky publication specifically for the power generation sector, where they’re likely to find the information, and more importantly, trust it (more on this topic below).
Newsjacking content says, “I can help you”
Newsjacking content is, like all effective subjects, intended to provide genuinely useful information, free of any sales-type messages. You just need to show that you are informed on the issues, and your potential client will connect the dots – that if they want more from you, they’ll have to pay for it.
But the theme has to be structured in a way that is effective at connecting those dots. Here’s how you design newsjacking content that is good at its job of helping you get in front of potential clients.
1. Describe the news event
Assume that your reader is unfamiliar with your world, so start at the beginning and explain about the new regulation, law, technology or other development. Define your terms and your acronyms; the people you’re trying to reach aren’t you, and they don’t necessarily understand your geekspeak. The idea of this section of your content is to make sure that the reader understands what the news is.
2. Explain why the news matters to them
You next need to make sure that the reader understands the impact of this news on their world. For example, the story for “Power Engineering” magazine talked about the rule change and its effects on peak power. Diesels are an expensive way to generate electricity, and used only when necessary to meet demand. An article for a publication in another sector, such as “Progressive Railroading” would have talked about why diesel matters in railroads – most locomotives now in use in North America run diesel engines.
3. Describe how you think events will unfold, for them
Next, you use your professional knowledge to go out on a limb for your clients – you give your considered opinion on how the news will unfold. Put an emphasis on how it will affect the people you want to serve. In the case of the article in “Power,” my engineers talked about how the US-EPA would have just light enforcement and warnings at the start. But as the power sector became familiar with the legislation, the EPA would use its very real, three-letter-agency grade teeth to enforce the rule. This section matters particularly if you want to move “up the food chain” from being a deliverer of a service, to a trusted advisor.
4. Recommend how to avoid harm or gain a benefit from the change
Finally, you add value by making your professional recommendation on next steps. Just about any news can be considered good or bad depending on one’s point of view or personal situation. So, think of the steps you think that the readers should take (see Post #24 for more on how to create content around this – what I call “greed” or “fear”). The “recommendations” section is your chance to showcase your analytical skills, and your ability to come up with solutions that will work in their world.
How narrowcast articles can help you get the work you want
Does this work? I’m living proof that it does.
Soon after I started my business in 1999, I started working with a large engineering firm, through a contact in their Vancouver office. It was simple work – mostly writing news releases whenever the company made another acquisition or opened another office. I knew I could do more for them, but didn’t know their needs or how I could meet them.
Then, I wrote what would be called “thought leadership” content today – an article in a management consulting journal on the marketing of professional services. I sent one of the copies to my contact in Vancouver. Soon after that, he approached me with an offer of much more interesting work, which involved publishing articles in media their clients read. I’m still doing that kind of work for that firm, all these years later.
Just creating that journal article helped reposition me in my client’s head – so he saw me as being able to do more than I’d been doing.
Creating narrowcast newsjacking content can be the “elevator” that whisks you from the basement with bad lighting and no windows, right to the top floor of your client’s organization. Do that by showing that you understand the biggest issues they’re facing, and getting your ideas into media they know, like and trust. They’ll come to know, like and confide in you too.