As consulting firms move the majority of their thought leadership content online, many cling to a publishing model that's a relic of the print era: hosting a monologue rather than a dialogue with the online viewers of their content. While all this is happening, the online model has changed substantially for companies that must make money from their online publications.
How many consulting firms are stuck in the old publishing model, one that we refer to as a “closed monologue,” where they do all the talking and don't permit the reader to weigh in?
To shed light on this issue, in February and March 2013, Bloom Group and the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF) surveyed 50 consulting firms about their online publishing models.
We sought to determine whether and how the online publishing model for consulting firms was changing, and what consulting firms were doing that made their online publications a better marketing tool. While other organizations and publications encourage comments and sharing ideas online, many consulting firms continue to engage in one-way conversations with the people who read their online publications. While consulting firms have no shortage of innovative insights, many of those ideas don't appear to make it to their websites.
Despite many consulting firms’ online publications being a source of sales leads, less than a third have automated the process of sending online viewer information to business developers, and only 21% say their salespeople actively use the information marketers give them about online viewers. Publishing compelling articles, studies and other educational content on their websites has become vitally important  to consulting firms.
Consulting firms today are in a heated battle to impress clients with their smarts through their online presence.
In another survey question, 72% said the bar of thought leadership quality will go up (including 9% who said it would go up substantially) over the next five years. Yet while they are wise to the competition and see the web as a way to showcase their expertise, many consulting firms are not fully embracing the web’s full capabilities in their online marketing. Our survey found that most consulting firms’ model for online thought leadership is a one-way street, with little opportunity for viewers to provide feedback or engage with their authors. Our research also told us that most consulting firms rely on consultants for both the inspiration and the writing for the online publications. The low output of articles may be due to the absence of primary research in consulting firms' content development programs. We asked consulting firms to estimate the sources of their online content for 2012 -- that is, what percentage came from consultants' experience, secondary research, primary research they conduct, primary research conducted by another firm, or another source. Another factor may explain the low levels of online publishing in most consulting firms: their reluctance to offload article-writing to professional writers. Furthermore, the survey showed that firms are not actively using interactive graphics and online videos. But consulting firms are using their online publications to generate information for the sales force. The upshot: 50% of survey respondents said that their online publications generated 20 or fewer sales inquiries from visitors in 2012, and another 24% had only 21 to 40 calls precipitated from viewers of their online publications, as the chart below shows. The goal of publications on any consulting firm’s website is, of course, to generate interest in the firm’s expertise, especially with potential clients. Consulting firms whose online publications generated the most inquiries from potential clients in 2012 (13 firms, each reporting more than 40 inquiries). The leaders actually produced less online content per revenue than the laggards but generated nearly five times more inquiries per article.
Marketers play a much stronger role in leaders in determining which content deserves extensive marketing campaigns. About the same percentage of leaders and laggards permitted comments on their online articles in 2012 (33% of leaders and 32% of laggards did so). Leaders are much more likely than laggards to measure how much their online viewers are interested in their content. Leaders are much more likely to use interactive graphics (average of 3.9 last year) and online videos (14).
More consultants in the online publishing leaders are comfortable with ghostwriters than are consultants in the lagging companies. Many consulting companies’ online publications follow the “closed monologue” model, giving visitors no opportunity to comment or engage further with the firm at the webpage that houses an article of interest. Open dialogue means creating articles about intriguing topics that serve as the springboard to a lively online discussion -- open to clients, prospects, network partners and others – that inspires greater understanding as well as future articles that go deeper into the topic.  Open dialogue allows for comments, shares, conversation and other interactions that pull in more visitors and pull them closer. Too often a consulting firm’s thought leadership articles are written, posted online and forgotten. In addition, consider getting consultants to be more comfortable in having professional writers capture their ideas. Christopher Parsons, who heads a small consulting firm called Knowledge Architecture, which serves architects and engineers, has built a LinkedIn group (KA Connect) to share perspectives and insights.
But Parsons invests plenty of time stoking the fire: asking clients, professional contacts and others to comment on KA Connect.
As his LinkedIn group grew, many members showed up at Knowledge Architecture’s annual conference to meet Parsons and other KA Connect members to continue the discussions.
Once your online publication has great content and provides the chance for feedback, you must let potential visitors know it is there – through Tweets, social media shares and other means. David Edelman, a McKinsey partner and co-leader of the firm’s Digital Marketing Strategy group, is a prolific author on digital marketing. The open dialogue model for online publications is only the starting point for sharing a firm’s ideas and attracting more interest in its services. For example, once an article has been promoted on social media and starts to attract hits, the firm can convene an online video conference to explore the ideas further.
Companies spend a lot of time optimizing their content so that it turns up frequently in Google searches. But these measures -- not the number of fleeting glimpses -- are the real “signs of endearment.” Consulting firms should go beyond collecting superficial measures of a site’s popularity and start collecting measures that gauge deeper interest.
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At gothamCulture, we focus on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders to develop and execute breakthrough strategies that elevate their performance. We have refined our culture assessment and evolution process with hundreds of clients over the course of the last decade. Our robust network of associates, located around the world, is highly skilled and experienced in a variety of specialties, ensuring our ability to support a wide range of client needs. We don’t cut and run when the hard work is just beginning; we define our success by what happens after the recommendations are delivered.
Many of our clients, especially in large, geographically dispersed organizations, desire our advisors to train their internal change agents in order to effectively cascade and sustain their cultural change efforts.
ABOUT gCThe team of consultants at gothamCulture focus on identifying the underlying causes of organizational obstacles and assisting leaders in developing and executing breakthrough strategies to elevate performance. Obviously each group has a different operating dynamic in terms of the range of services provided, available resources, experience, etc. Tier 4 Consulting Firms: The smallest of the group, a Tier 4 firm has to build credibility around its core set of capabilities. Tier 3 Consulting Firms: The biggest leap a consultancy can make in the sense of scale and marketing is moving from a small Tier 4 firm to one that approaches the 200 employees mark. Tier 2 Consulting Firms: Once a firm explodes into the Tier 2 level they’re able to leverage their current and past client lists to continue to market into them via direct mail. Tier 1 Consulting Firms: These firms have scale, readily available resources, and a reach that expands multiple verticals on a national and even global level. This article provides useful resources related to consulting firms' three highest priority marketing activities -- thought leadership, planning and online content.
I recently came across a research report from 2010 on marketing consulting firms in the new decade by Source for Consulting. Jason Mlicki recently released an article on How to Evolve from Content Marketer to Thought Leader as well as a podcast with Jeff Durocher on Making Thought Leadership Work in Consulting Firms which do a good job delving into this subject. I’m a firm believer that progressive planning is the only beneficial use of time within a consulting firms marketing team. What I am saying is that annual plan should be built with holes in it to fill in over time. How you present your thought leadership online today needs to be taken very seriously if you’re a consulting firm. First, you need to be thoughtful about the diversity of content you present around a topic.
Enroll in our Online Learning Program to learn everything you need to know to attract clients online. What separates winners from losers in the race among consulting firms to establish thought leadership? The report delivers plenty of information you can use to justify, tailor, and improve your thought leadership efforts -- material we will explore in several blogs to come during the next few weeks. As part of the survey, we broke out a group of leaders -- consulting firms getting the most ROI in terms of leads to the company for new business.
Let's set the stage on what the survey said about the state of thought leadership efforts, then delve into the habits of winners. Their customers: A whopping 96% of respondents call thought leadership content? a significant factor in choosing a consulting firm.

The typical consulting firm budget for thought leadership marketing has remained pretty steady since AMCF and Bloom Group began tracking it in 2011 -- hovering at about 1% of total revenue. Among the consulting firms in the survey, we separated out a group of leaders -- those whose thought leadership efforts generated the greatest number of leads per size of the firm (per $1 million in revenue). By contrast, some firms try to address a large number of marketplace issues but end up publishing mediocre or poor content on those many topics. Anyone who has worked inside a consulting firm knows it is easier to do a quick online survey than to do systematic interviews with consultants to gain in-the-trenches wisdom learned from engagements.
That's important, since 46% of our survey respondents say consultant wisdom is the best source for thought leadership content, making it the top choice overall (compared to quantitative research, customer interviews, etc.) That's "best" in terms of generating client interest.
Leaders will fork over 59% of their 2015 thought leadership budgets for online marketing, whereas followers will allocate only 47% to online marketing. Leaders also invest time and money into social outreach to draw new people to their thought leadership content. That's what a 2013 survey by the Bloom Group and the Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF) of 50 consulting firms shows.
The websites of many consultancies today are bursting with articles, research reports and presentations. Traditional newspaper and magazine publishers ranging from The New York Times and Forbes, to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review have altered their online formula. How many have changed their online publishing model to allow viewers to comments on articles, share them through social media, and permit outsiders to post their own pieces? The types of consultancies included strategy consulting firms (48%), operations consulting firms (18%), and those with expertise in technology, human resources and other areas. Half of consulting firms say their online publications generated 20 or fewer inquiries in 2012; only 14% generated more than 100 inquiries. Consulting firms whose online publications generated the highest number of client inquiries in 2012 (a group we refer to as "leaders") actually produced less content per $1 million dollar in firm revenue than did the firms with the lowest number of inquiries. Nearly all of them have a presence online, but many fewer appear have found the secret sauce to keeping viewers engaged and reaching out to inquire about consulting services. Only 30% said they published more than 50 articles on their web sites last year; 50% published 20 or fewer articles.
A major research study can be the source of numerous articles -- especially if it crosses industries, regions of the world, business functions, and so on.
On average, the firms we surveyed said their consultants write an estimated 67% of their online content; 33% was ghostwritten for them. Interactive graphics can help a consulting firm's site visitors understand how the firm’s point of view affects them; online videos can humanize their thought leaders. A majority also give the sales staff names of people who register to download content or subscribed to online newsletters; a little less than half give sales information about viewing habits. So what can consulting firms do to increase the number of leads that their online publications generate?
First, we defined “inquiries” as emails, phone calls or other communications from potential clients who viewed a firm’s online publications and requested a discussion with someone in the firm about the expertise expressed in an article. However, 50% of leaders say they planned to allow comments this year; only 11% of laggards said they would do so.
For example, all the leaders said they compile some measures of this while 33% of the laggards do not. Some 53% of consultants in online publishing leaders were estimated to be very comfortable or “love” working with ghostwriters vs.
This is a lost opportunity for consulting firms: to engage with potential clients at the very moment they are intrigued by an online article.
Few firms seem to develop new spins on topics that have already been published, perpetuating the problem of broad but superficial content.
Our survey found that the higher the number of leads generated through online publications, the greater the likelihood that the content was ghostwritten. Their content also includes content from viewers, who often have useful perspectives of their own. In the three years since Parsons launched KA Connect, it has grown to more than 1,700 members, including clients and others.
Parsons encourages visitors with especially insightful comments to develop their thoughts into articles, which he shares through his LinkedIn group.
And while KA Connect makes a conscious effort not to “sell” Knowledge Architecture’s professional services, it has sparked many sales discussions anyway.  The takeaway from Parson’s experience is that creating a dialog takes time and hands-on nurturing, but the payoffs are there. Yet our 2012 social media survey showed that consulting firms keep a tight rein on who is allowed to promote their content via social media. Edelman is a tireless tweeter, sending out nearly 90 tweets in March 2013 and 60 in February alone, to share his insights and link readers to his published articles. We provide critical and thought-provoking leadership consulting services to leaders who desire to use organizational culture as a key driver of performance.
We have formed long-standing relationships with many of the foremost thought leaders in this field and we have established a reputation for driving change with some of the world’s most recognizable brands. We pride ourselves in making culture tangible for our clients so they can quantify and understand exactly how their culture is impacting their ability to perform and how it may need to evolve in order to get them the result they are looking for. We utilize only the most effective tools in our work and we rely on assessments that have been empirically validated and have withstood the test of time.
We have a track record of yielding such results; that’s why our clients engage us over the long-term.
Our ability to build custom project teams to support large-scale initiatives gives us a unique edge in the market.
We pride ourselves in supporting our clients’ change efforts to any extent necessary, ensuring they’re set up for success. We provide critical, thought-provoking insights to leaders who desire to use organizational culture, leadership and strategy as key drivers of performance. This means that the marketing approach for a Tier 1 firm is not going to work for a Tier 4 firm. They also need to be specialize around a niche as they they don’t have the scale to be all things to all people. The emphases on case studies have now left the equation meaning it’s less about conveying capability and more about story telling and demonstrating expertise. It’s a perfect avenue to connect with a group they’ve worked with in the past but has become a group who doesn’t know about new service capabilities or needs reinforced education on existing capabilities. One element of the report I found fascinating was the disconnect between where management thought their marketing teams were spending their marketing effort vs. The one element not covered in those two posts was the value of upstream marketing and aligning it with thought leadership. As much work as it is for you to develop high quality thought leadership, you need to invest an equal amount of resources in how you present and publish it to your website so you get the best return from your investment.
We developed the Content Marketing Wheel to help our consulting firm clients think about how to develop the right mix of short-form content to attract clients and deeper, interactive content to engage them. You should think through what you believe the conversion process looks like for clients in the earliest stages of their journey relative to those who are closer to hiring a firm for a proect.
The Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF), The Bloom Group, and Rattleback explored that question in an April 2015 survey of consulting firm executives and their clients on thought leadership content and marketing. We want to start by sharing some of the content and content marketing lessons from the best of the best firms. Instead of picking 16 topics to cover in a shallow way, the firm picks a small number of issues that it wants to own, and goes deep on them. While the temptation to rush to market with sound bites on a particular topic is great, leaders resist it.
Survey respondents also revealed they value interactive graphics and personalized content, and efforts like that involve time and money for content managers.
So intense is the battle that some consulting firms’ home pages have shifted from front doors that promote consulting services to front pages of veritable online management journals. Once limiting reader feedback to the Letters to the Editor section, the Journal, Forbes, HBR and the Times encourage online viewers to weigh in with comments, which for the Times can number 600 or more for certain articles and opinion pieces. How far have consulting firms gone in letting viewers of their website content engage in online dialogues around the content? Close to half (46%) were firms with $10 million or less in annual revenue; 10% generated more than $1 billion a year.
The online content of  leaders was far more often based on primary research than was laggards' content. In 2006, Source for Consulting (which tracks thought leadership content in the consulting industry) found 40 of the largest consulting firms published 3,500 online articles.  Just four years later, the number of articles rose to 13,000. But our research found that a small minority of content was based on primary research last year. And 57% of consultants in these firms are less than enthusiastic about working with ghostwriters; our survey respondents estimated that only an average 9% of their consultants "love" using ghostwriters. However, 15% give no information to their sales staffs because they don’t collect it online, and only 30% have automated how they provide the information. Second, as you might expect, the leaders were more likely to be larger consulting firms than were the laggards.
In 57% of the leaders, marketing makes this decision by intuition; in 43% of the leaders, marketing uses website data on viewer engagement to determine where to allocate marketing budget.

In addition more than 70% of leaders track the number of article downloads, content views, and “shares” (number of times their articles are Tweeted, emailed, etc.). To seize such opportunities, consulting firms need to shift their publishing mindset to an “open dialogue” model, one that goes beyond publishing articles to emphasizing the sharing of ideas.
Of the 13 consulting firms that each generated more than 40 inquiries in 2012, 53% of their online content was ghostwritten.
Parsons says only about 1% of these are passionate contributors; maybe 10% comment occasionally. This allows potential clients to explore a business relationship in a more comfortable setting, with less pressure than they would feel in a face-to-face meeting.
Their problems are more challenging than ever, and they still need great insights to help solve them. AMCF is a New York-based international trade association of firms that provide management consulting services.
Our staff of consultants, as well as our associate network of highly skilled and diverse professionals, spans North America, providing targeted support at just the right time to meet your organization’s needs. Once internal resources are able to drive the change, we can be called upon to step in only when needed to ensure that results are achieved quickly and efficiently. They need to demonstrate experience and expertise hence their large focus on case studies and industry specific marketing. A deep knowledge through their personnel is now readily available which can be shared through online content. This requires these consulting firms to go through meticulous planning cycles to ensure all marketing activities are integrated, synchronized, and executed in a way that does not fall flat. We had been working on them and it's good to have the next 3 identified and prioritized in terms of the investment of our resources. If you ask me, the most critical elements in this list where mid-tier consulting firms struggle most are thought leadership, planning, and online content.
Develop themes based on what’s topically relevant and then identity the thought leadership that will be created, online content to be produced, supporting collateral needed, PR angles, and tradeshows to distribute the story.
What set of call-to-actions need to be made and associated with each type of content to move the buyer through the funnel?
So if you're prioritizing quantity over quality, you're doing the opposite of what customers desire. Within that group, about 3% will invest more than $50 million in thought leadership marketing in 2015. After all, if a potential customer searches on an area of focus for your firm, say "data analytics," the firm wants to rank highly in search results.
Remember the first graphic on this story showing that 94% of clients say poor quality content turns them off? Leaders are more likely to balance both consultant field experience and quantitative data as they create thought leadership content.
In our experience, customers want to hear a strong argument and unique insight on the topic, not a quick, cute take. Many potential customers will see such Twitter posts for what they are -- introduction to the obvious.
Consulting firms understand the power of personal relationships in closing sales, yet much social outreach is still being done from the brand accounts rather than the thought leaders' individual accounts.
And 24% were between $100 million and $1 billion, while 20% were from $11 million to $100 million. And two-thirds of the content was written by consultants themselves; about one-third of consultants are averse to using ghostwriters. But just behind that was the quality of a consulting firm’s presentations and its online presence, two key showcases of thought leadership.
Only 14% develop microsites based on the article’s content, and only 11% conduct online video chats with visitors, two strategies that help drive viewer engagement and spawn leads. Laggards are more likely to base their content on their consultants’ experience: 71% of laggards’ content is based on it vs. That’s much different than what happens in the laggards: in 50% of these firms, consultants determine which content deserves extensive marketing.
The table below shows the key differences between the closed monologue and open dialogue models of online publishing. Only 36% of respondents said their marketing department forces consultants to choose topics that fit within a larger theme; in 26% of consulting firms, marketers suggest topics but consultants nonetheless decide.
For the consulting firms whose online publications spawned 20 or fewer leads, only 22% of their content was ghostwritten.
Online publications can be interactive sales tools that help potential clients “kick the tires” of your experts before they commit to a formal sales discussion. We live our values and we create meaningful and memorable processes that position our clients to achieve results.
The power of online content engines is also very useful to these firms as it allows them to share their thought leadership and expertise to a large targeted audience at minimal cost. Frequently organized events are more financially accessible and are an effective method of generating leads on a national scale.
This is because Tier 2 firms are beginning to enter new markets and verticals due to their growing number of resources available to them.
And though still important but not as important as a Tier 2 firm, thought leadership stays high on the list as these firms are often the leader in investing in market research that drives innovation within the industries they serve.
And then aligning that difference with where they actually should be putting their efforts. Marketing plans need to be built, evaluated, adjusted, and re-evaluated consistently throughout a year. Maybe one topic for your firm this year is Internet of Things: Firm expertise could include sub-topics such as deployments, application development, security standards, and more. Without question, some people in the firm may pressure content managers to get something quick out there on the hot topic du jour. While the study showed that live conferences and in-person seminars still rate highly for effectiveness, online articles prove more effective than print ones, our respondents said. Looking ahead, firms who "get" this -- that social works best person-to-person -- faster than their rivals will reap greater rewards. It lets viewers know how many times each article has been read and how many people have shared it through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other online channels. In addition, the marketing function in the leaders determined which content deserved extensive marketing campaigns; this was the case in only half the laggards, where consultants made that decision. In 25% of the laggards, marketing makes the decision on intuition and another 25% make it based on online viewer data. Switching to an open dialogue model makes it easier for them to get to know you before the selling begins. And direct mail can start to be leveraged to market both existing and new services which helps re-engage a conversation to what is becoming a growing historical client base that is likely becoming dormant. This requires a growing set of case studies to convey these new capabilities to assist with market penetration.
A great place to start crafting your expertise is with open communication between your marketing department and your team of consultants.
After all, as one manager commented at a recent AMCF event in San Francisco, few people wake up in the morning and say "I think I'll buzz over to that consulting firm's website to see what's going on." That's also why the bylined articles in third-party online publications matter greatly.
But content managers at leading firms use their deep content plan (See Habit #1) to keep efforts focused. Technology companies have figured this out, creating evangelists who become the company's social "faces" on topics like cloud or security. As well, the leaders were much more open to allowing online viewers to post comments this year on their firm's website. Work with your consultants to uncover your clients' true issues and how those align with your firm’s differentiators. Feel free to overhaul the strategy if needed, adjust tradeshow schedules, introduce new messaging, etc. And they relied more heavily on ghostwriters to publish content, rather than wait for consultants to carve out time to pen articles. Original thought-provoking research can now executed to drive innovation as its more financially attainable. It’s where you can spend the time to adequately interview your consultants to understand the recent issues clients have faced. You can also complete your market research to align what your team of consultants is saying relative to what the market is saying.
This is because these of firms are often now nationally recognized and respected brands with large prospect lists and have the financial resources to market in more direct manners rather than relying heavily on unaided online search.
And then develop your strategy to best position your firm over the next 12 months both from an upstream marketing standpoint (reaching people more in the product development phases) as well as from a downstream marketing standpoint (consulting firm validation phase).

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