I recently had an interesting and wide ranging discussion with Peter Scott (www.peterscottconsult.co.uk) who advises numerous professional firms on strategy and management issues. Having previously run Eversheds for eight years as managing partner, he's certainly got great insights to share.
Part of our discussion covered how professional firms use PR agencies. He mentioned many really don't understand how to best use a PR agency, what skills good agencies bring to the party, and what are the best ways to work with them. Why didn't I write something on the subject he suggested?
A good question, and his comments struck a chord with my experience of discussing PR with many partnerships over the years too. So, in a series of four blogs I am tackling these subjects:
- How do you know if your accountancy firm needs a PR agency? (see the blog below)
- Should you work with the agency on a project or retained basis? (coming soon - subscribe to be alerted)
- How to get the best out of your PR agency (coming soon - subscribe to be alerted)
- What can a good PR agency bring to the party? (coming soon - subscribe to be alerted)
Part 1 - Four ways to tell if your accountancy firm needs a PR agency
Let's put aside the obvious tactical examples of having an important high profile announcement or a crisis where the firm's reputation is threatened,
For many accountancy firms the big issue, and one that often goes completely unrecognised, is that their communications strategy is failing.
The outcome costs them work, reduces leads and ultimately thwarts their growth plans.
Sometimes there is a great strategy, but it is just not being communicated interestingly or consistently externally - and probably not internally either!
This is where you need great PR support - not just at a tactical level, but at the top to ensure your firm stands out against all the other firms in the competitive legal market.
Here are four tell-tales signs that your communication strategy is failing your accountancy practice (and ultimately costing you and your partners a lot of money).
1 - You are implicitly or explicitly competing on price
Examples of this include "Big Four quality without the big firm price'" or "London quality without the London price".
Why is this so bad?
Firstly, if you aren't one of the top London firms, people know you are cheaper anyway. Where they need reassuring is that you are up to the job.
Surely these statements tell them this factually?
Yes, but implicitly they say the opposite. There's no compelling reason why they should choose you other than price (and in their mind you are cheaper because there's a big risk you won't deliver to the same level).
Secondly, are you competing against these firms anyway? Probably not!
While you would like to, you're probably instead competing against other similar-sized rivals. What is the compelling reason clients should choose you, compared to other similar rivals (stocked with similarly expert lawyers charging similar rates and similar practice areas)?
Instead, your strategy needs to be about communicating what is distinctive and compelling about your firm that new clients will choose you and stick with you, regardless of the price.
2 - Your firm's description prominently has words to the effect "We're in the top 35 accountancy firms, have X offices and we trace our heritage back over 110 years...".
These sorts of housekeeping mentions (age of the business, number of partners, location of offices, mergers from way back, etc.) are invariably put in when there is nothing else to say.
Having such things appearing prominently on your website and proposals invariably shows that you lack a compelling message... and perhaps also a compelling strategy is lacking too.
You've got to grab the interest of clients, prospects and recruits immediately in ways that are compelling to prospects - the firm's age and number of locations aren't going to do that.
A strong vision and compelling value proposition are the starting points to fill this gap, backed up with a strong strategy for communicating them.
3 - When you go into a pitch, you have to spend the first half of the meeting explaining who you are.
Its the worst possible start. Your competitors are already ahead.
At a minimum, people being familiar with their name which gives a strong comfort and probably this means that the selectors and other opinion formers think they're experts too.
Of course, its not impossible to win some work in these situations...but, like any motor racing driver knows, if you start in pole position you are going to win more races than those who start as back markers.
If no one knows what you are called and what you do that's distinctive, its a big problem. Time to do something about it with a communication strategy that delivers impact.
4 - Your partners each describe the firm in completely different ways.
Why do they each describe your firm differently? Because no one knows how to describe it properly!
This one is easy to test.
Get your partners and associates together. Give them each a yellow post it note and ask them to, without conferring, write down how they describe the firm when they meet clients, prospects and friends.
It will be a revelation!
If they are similar - you are definitely ahead of most accountancy firms (and indeed most other businesses too).
If all the responses are different, or if many fall foul of the other indicators above, then you have a big communications strategy problem!
What should you do if you communications are misfiring?
One way is to tackle it yourself. There's no doubt a "Communication strategy for dummies" or similar book with lots of tips.
Of course, great results typically take more than following a checklist, and with something so important you may want to get expert help with people who are familiar with solving such problems... in other words, a good PR agency!
Got one of these problems? Like to discuss it? Give us or your PR agency a call! We're on 020 7242 2286.