Large Professional Services Company: Harvard Business Review article

Posted: 11/27/08

A partner in a large professional services company—and head of one of the company’s fastest-growing practice areas—was keen to publish an article in the Harvard Business Review, which is known as much for its leading-edge coverage of business and management issues as for its rigorous editorial standards and high article rejection rate. The consultant knew that getting a piece in the esteemed HBR would generate significant awareness of his expertise and insights among a large group of highly influential executives—and, consequently, would help boost interest in his consulting practice.

Recognizing he needed editorial assistance to pull the article together, the consultant hired a number of different ghostwriters to help him “put pen to paper.” However, over the course of many months, none of the drafts these capable writers produced met the consultant’s expectations.

The consultant expressed his frustration to a marketing professional within his company. She believed that The Bloom Group had what it took to help the consultant realize his goal of publishing in HBR, and introduced us to him. Largely on the recommendation of his marketing person, the consultant hired us to help him develop the piece.

After reviewing the drafts produced by the previous writers, we identified the reasons that the writers struggled. The problem wasn’t that the consultant lacked good ideas or that the topic wasn’t of interest to the publication. The real issue was twofold:

  • The consultant had precious little “spare time” away from client work in which he could work on the article, so weeks often dragged by with no progress made. And, because the writers he had hired lacked experience with and knowledge of the prospective article’s topic and were completely reliant on the consultant for material, they couldn’t keep the project moving during the times the consultant was too busy to attend to the article.
  • Even though he didn’t realize it, he was using the ghostwriter to develop the content. While the ghostwriter was indeed talented at translating ideas into readable prose, he did not have the research, logic and argument-building skills that are vital to developing compelling content.

Over a few months, we helped the consultant completely restructure the article so it flowed more logically and presented the consultant’s insights in a more compelling manner. Key to this restructuring was a detailed outline that enabled the consultant to vividly see where his concept was fully fleshed out and where the content needed to be developed further. With the outline in hand, we conducted in-depth case study research and comprehensive secondary research necessary to bolster his argument and fill in the content gaps. Only after the outline was completed and approved by the consultant did we write the prose draft of the piece that we sent to HBR. Working with the HBR editorial team, we refined the draft into a polished finished article that appeared in a subsequent issue of the journal.

The consultant reports that the article has been a major generator of business for his consulting firm—in fact, responsible for opening doors that have led to $5 million in new consulting business in just 18 months.