Is Anyone Really Listening? Why Measuring Engagement is Vital for Thought Leadership in Professional Services

I’ve spent most of my career working with and for leading B2B and professional services companies. Over the years we probably put out enough thought leadership that – if strung together – would stretch from New York to Mars and back again. And we wouldn’t even need Elon Musk to help us get there.  

That may sound impressive. It’s not.  

As I look back at all that content I’m reminded of the iconic line from the movie Alien: In space nobody can hear you scream. As thought leaders, and this may be truer in professional services than in any other sector, we put a lot of time and energy into creating white papers, client alerts, bylined articles and more. But as we send all that content out into space do we ever stop to think if anybody is really hearing it? Did we engage in any meaningful way with stakeholders?   

If you answered“I don’t know, but I hope so” – you’re not alone. Most people working in communications would probably say that. We’d casually say that what we do is intangible and, while it contributes – we think – to the reputation of our organization, we can’t really measure it. In fact, sometimes we’ve even called effective measurement of communications “The Holy Grail.” 

Unattainable. The stuff of legend. Or maybe just a classic Monty Python movie. 

Those days are over. We’re living in a meta-mediaverse, where your ability to engage with key stakeholders has never been closer at hand. Yet, for some, meaningful engagement may still seem painfully out of reach. As public relations professionals, we default to thinking that creating multichannel content is the realm of marketing or (gasp) advertising, and not our domain.    

What if I told you that decades ago marketing reported to the public relations function? And in turn PR often reported directly to the CEO. It’s true. Somewhere along the time, probably with the dawn of TV, that started to change. Marketing got the creative remit and the budget. The PR function drifted into the lane of “publicity” and events – and pretty far away from the CEO’s office. That’s a shame. 

Don’t get me wrong, marketing plays a vital role in professional services. Its mission is to sell a company’s goods and services. Hard to argue with that. But effective communications, driven by the behavioral science that was the essence of the birth of the public relations profession (the so-called “father of PR”, Ed Bernays, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud after all) is about selling ideas. It’s about building trust. Winning hearts and minds. Enhancing reputation. And guess what? It can be measured, especially if you take an integrated media approach to engaging with your stakeholders across paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) channels. 

If that’s not the approach you’re taking when you share your firm’s thought leadership content, you can bet your competition is.  

I started off by referring to that line from Alien: In space nobody can hear you scream. But if you’re still sharing thought leadership the way you always did – and your competition sneaks up from behind you, then maybe you should focus on a different movie: Predator. Because soon it may be too late to do things differently. 

By Ken Kerrigan

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