Many consultancies of all sizes regularly appear in the UK's business and national media.
But also many never appear, and often we find that they have misconceptions about what journalists want to write about and how consultancies can go about using the media to build powerful reputations.
Having worked with numerous management, IT strategy, HR and other consultancy firms over the years, I thought it would be useful to set out what works well for consultancies looking to undertake PR campaigns to build their reputations.
The first thing to bear in mind is that the credible media in the UK is very demanding, not least reflecting London’s position as a global trading centre, Europe's financial centre and the home to the European HQ’s of numerous banks and global technology businesses.
In short, in important consultancy fields such as financial services, retail and technology, journalists are seemingly spoilt for choice, so if you want coverage you need to give them what they want, not what you "want them to want".
With this in mind, let's look at what generally doesn't work with the media.
PR for consultancy firms - what doesn’t work:
1 - Press releases about your consultancy's developments:
The UK media get bombarded with announcements from businesses all the time regarding their activities. These could be sponsoring charities, hosting conferences, rebranding, new websites and other important developments for the consultancy.
These are certainly important developments to tell clients and others about via other channels, but typically all but the most local of newspapers will see them as promotional marketing activity, not news, that your business should pay for.
Sadly this often applies to senior hires and promotions too. With the exception of a couple of websites for consultants, the UK media does not write about consultants except very major developments at the very big ones (eg a new head at McKinsey, Accenture, etc).
To get coverage for your appointments you will typically need something extra (BAME appointee, someone who already has a strong public reputation, or skillfully time it for a really quiet day, etc).
2 - Being reactive and waiting for journalists to come to you
Journalists have lots of established contacts and, in addition, get targeted with lots of announcements and research all the time from a range of consultancies and other businesses.
On top of this, most journalists don't really know what consultants do. It is clear if you want a legal comment you use a lawyer, and if it involves tax you speak to an accountant. Journalists never think "this sort of problem needs a quote from a management consultant".
Sadly, "good things come to those who wait" does not apply to the world of PR. If you want to be in the media, unless you are very fortunate, you will have to put yourself about.
PR: What works really well for consultancy businesses:
Here are some of the tactics that work well for consultancy businesses looking to use the media to build their reputation.
Of course "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat" as oft-quoted ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu pithily noted. So having a thought-through Comms Strategy is key (answering straightforward but vital questions such as: what are we communicating, to who, why, and how are we differentiating ourselves from competitors).
1- Press releases about projects with clients
Journalists want to write stories about “end users”… so the insurance press wants stories about what insurers and brokers are doing, the HR press wants stories about what HR teams are doing.
I know how hard it is to get clients, especially large and financial clients, to cooperate. That is why journalists see these as really important, and why they are really great for your marketing.
2 - Demonstrating expertise and distinctive insights
The UK media is keen to talk about trends and events affecting businesses and the problems / opportunities they are facing.
Interesting insights and comments get used. The media is also keen on articles giving interesting views from industry experts (a good opportunity for consultants to show their appreciation of trends and the "big picture").
3 - Analysis and research
Such “thought leadership” is a very powerful way of generating coverage and building credibility with journalists (and prospects), and strongly positions you as the expert on an issue/trend.
If you do this regularly (and regular activity is the key to successful PR and, indeed, sales and marketing too) then you will start to become known and find journalists coming to you for interviews... a hugely valuable position.
In fact, such thought leadership is one of the three proven ways to change a management consultancy's reputation according to academic research.
4 - Consistency and planning
It is tempting to see dealing with the press as being like a tap: you turn it on when you want it, turn it off when you don't.
In fact, consultancies that take this approach, as well as those that continually jump from one issue to another, struggle to get coverage as they don’t build press relationships nor a reputation as being the experts on particular issues.
Instead, think about campaigns based on major issues that you can tackle over and over again in different ways, and use a number of channels simultaneously (eg press, events, email, LinkedIn, etc).
5 - Partnership
Creativity (saying and presenting ideas in a distinctive and memorable way) and news sense (knowing what makes a good story) are key skills that a good PR practitioner will bring to the party to deliver PR campaigns with extra impact.
Sometimes firms mistakenly think these are sufficient by themselves. In fact these work best when the consultancy appreciates that the relationship with the PR advisor is a partnership. For the PR professional to work their magic, they need consultants who will invest time providing the substance for the campaign by sharing their insights, knowledge and analysis.
If you are looking to build your consultancy's reputation and win clients, do make sure you speak to us at Kelso Consulting given our 20+ years' continuous experience of working with consultancy firms. Do call on 020 7242 2286 or click here to contact us. Do also read about our award-winning thought leadership campaign for Capacitas.
Also, we have regular webinars and events tackling important reputation-building issues for consultancies. Full details of our events are here.