Before you begin to develop thought leadership content, it’s important to get the topic right.
One large firm we know recently published an article on how to benefit from the internet of things. This is a difficult topic on which to say something new and so a significant amount of effort went into writing the piece. But that company did not have any services to help clients benefit from the internet of things. So that significant time and effort yielded little to no benefit for the firm.
Another large firm we know figures out for each of its major practice areas at the beginning of each year, as part of its annual business strategy process, the services it wants to promote. Since it’s a life sciences firm and one of the things it helps clients do is get their drugs reimbursed, it might identify Market Access Strategies, Real-World Evidence collection, and Global Pricing Strategies as three. Then it develops marketing plans that include thought leadership initiatives and identifies the experts in these areas. Over the course of the year, as we engage with those SMEs, we figure out with them the exact topic we will write each article about.
As a result, every article that is written gets put to good use, educating existing clients and generating new business in areas the firm wants to grow.
What’s the difference between a topic area and a topic? Topics are subsets of topic areas. Under the topic area Market Access Strategies, a topic might be How to Design A Clinical Trial That Payers Can Trust. For another firm, under the topic area of Cybersecurity, a topic might be The Role of the Board in Managing Cyber Risk.
Topic areas that you might legitimately publish on should be ones where:
- Your firm has deep expertise
- You have an expert or experts with novel points of view
- Those experts are keen to share their opinions and can make time to do it
- They have more than one thing to say, so you can build a body of knowledge
- You have relevant fee-earning services
- The firm intends to maintain or grow these services
A word about White Space (topics or topic areas not yet addressed by competitors), which is oft cited as the holy grail of topic area search. There really isn’t any white space. In our information-saturated, easy-to-publish-in world, anything worth opining on has been opined upon. If a topic is hot and essential to your business, it may be important for you to publish on it no matter how many others have done so already. You can figure out how to differentiate yourself when you get to the topics (within each topic area). If it’s an area your firm knows a lot about, you will be able to find a fresh topic.
A limitation on how many topic areas you should address is the number of articles you should publish in each to make an impact; as a rough guide, three good pieces a year (though of course it might be five if you are trying to make a big impact or have some catching up to do). For a small firm with one major practice area (say Human Capital Development), three well-placed papers on, say, hiring and developing C-suite talent, should be enough to elevate the firm above its peers, and may be all that it can handle, especially if it’s new to the thought leadership game. For a practice, say Oil & Gas, in a major consulting firm, three good papers on say, enhancing reservoir productivity, should be all it needs to maintain its reputation for leadership in that field. Of course, it should produce other papers on oil and gas, and in other sectors and functions. But not in so many topic areas that it cannot publish enough in each to make an impact.
It might seem like a lot of trouble to identify and articulate topic areas before you begin writing anything. But if you do, it can help you make the right decisions about where to deploy your writing and publishing efforts all year long.