Thought leadership content

But it takes so much of their time!” is a frequent complaint that many professional services marketers have about content marketing, followed by, “We can’t get our firm’s busy professionals to generate content.”

Well, yes, it consumes some of their time. But it doesn’t have to take a lot, at least not in comparison to the benefits they receive.

Here are four steps marketers can use to win in the content-generation challenge:

1. Identify professionals who will deliver

In finding professionals to generate content, many marketers start at the top – with the names of people who are the firm’s current “eminence grises” or senior thought-leaders, the Big Names that bring in the clients. The Managing Partner says, “I want you to work with Nadine A. and Jefferson B.; they’re our rainmakers.”

The problem with this approach is that Nadine A. and Jefferson B. already have all the work they care to do; maybe they are coasting on their earlier work climbing their professional pyramids, and don’t feel the need to work with Marketing. Appeals to their team spirit may fall on hard ground.

So, look further down your firm’s organizational pyramid. You want people who are hungry  still trying to make a name for themselves. I find that mid-career people are the best choice – they need what marketers offer. Sometimes, these are people who have just recently graduated from a technical function within the firm, into something more involved in managing projects and business development. They’re thinking less in terms of “the function I perform,” and more around “The problems I help clients solve.” They want to build a name for themselves.

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So, look for people who already working on their profile, through giving speeches, writing a blog that actually stays current, giving conference papers, going to networking events. Sometimes you can tell from their LinkedIn profiles, who’s demonstrating hunger to grow.

Let’s say you find someone who’s an up-and-comer, already run off her feet with client work and managing her team, but who is still hungry enough and wants to be famous. Let’s call her Angela C.

2. Make it easy for professionals to generate content

Getting Angela’s cooperation is not about ‘carrot and stick,” it’s “carrot and carrot.” No stick involved, no stick needed. One ‘carrot’ is the increased personal profile Angela will get. Here, you can utilize the current workplace value which says that business professionals’ main loyalty is to their profession and their work, not to their employer. Professionals like Angela need to build their own professional profile if they’re to move ahead in their careers. So use that need, pointing out, yes, “It’s for your own good.”

The other ‘carrot’ is, that as a marketing person, you can make sure it doesn’t take a lot of their time. You can do this through finding ways to lighten their load, and in my experience, one of the best ways is through commissioning a ghostwriter, either on staff or freelance, to work with Angela to turn her ideas into words on a screen. My experience is that a good ghostwriter can, in a half-hour interview, get enough from an Angela to develop an article of at least 1000 words.

But you can’t find a freelancer experienced in your technology? Even better. You don’t want a ghost who’s going to use a lot of Angela’s jargon, assuming that potential clients will understand all the acronyms Angela uses. You want someone who will ask Angela, “What do you mean by that?” Angela may well roll her eyes at the questions, but if the article used those terms without being defined or explained, the reader would get lost and frustrated, and click away.

You may be able to leverage other writing or content Angela has developed  a project description, for example, can be a great basis for a case study article, slide show or video.

3. Help members of the firm to reach their goals

By focusing your work on keeners like Angela, you will develop a track record of success. Other members of the firm will want some of what you’re doing for Angela, eventually including heavy hitters like Nadine and Jefferson.

It helps if you use media that they find of value. Some business professionals want to look good to their peers, so helping them get published in their professional magazines and journals, as well as in professional association websites and authoritative third-party blogs, will make their eyes light up. Then, you can reposition that content for use in client-facing media such as industrial publications and industry-specific websites.

Make it easy for Angela by finding publications, whether in print or online, that go to the markets she wants to reach. Present the article idea to the editor before the article gets written and obtain the editor’s buy-in to the idea. That way, you can go to Angela and say, “Hospital Operations Today” (or whatever market Angela is pursuing) has asked for this article, and they’ve given us a deadline a month from today. But don’t worry, we’ve got a freelance ghostwriter lined up to help you get this done.”

Some business professionals, maybe with a hidden left-brain theatrical flair, might like the idea of starring in videos or audio recordings. It’s easy to make this happen, as I discussed in a previous article on podcasting. If that’s what they want, that’s what they provide.

Some “Angelas” like the idea of public speaking, so you can find ways to set up some speaking engagements. Record the presentation in video and audio, and have that presentation transcribed and turned into text content.

Just find what your “Angela” is looking for, and then help her make it happen  in a way that meets the marketing objectives of the firm too.

4. Cultivate an ongoing crop of content

Leveraging content across several media and platforms helps to continue the flow. For example, during an interview for a print article you could have a recording of the conversation made, to produce an audio file that can be sent to third-party websites, who are often eager for content that’s in any form other than text.

I find that content can be kept ongoing if is presented as a series rather than a one-off. Many topics naturally divide themselves into threes, and often you can get better impact from three shorter articles rather than one longer one. A potential client may miss one or more of the articles, and provided you’ve embedded links to the earlier articles, they can access the content if they’re interested.

The key success factor in getting someone like Angela to generate content is to point out the value to her personally, and then make it as easy for her as possible, by offloading as much of the work as you can. That’s the “carrot and carrot” approach to marketing.