One large firm we know recently published an article on how to accelerate digital transformation. This is a theme about which it is difficult to say something new, so we put significant effort into writing the piece. But that company did not have any services to help clients with digital transformations. So, that considerable time and effort yielded little to no benefit for the firm.
Another large firm we know figures out what services it wants to promote for each of its major practice areas at the beginning of each year as part of its annual business strategy process, which determines the themes it plans to write about. Since it’s a life sciences firm that helps clients get their drugs reimbursed, it might identify market access strategies, real-world evidence collection, and global pricing strategies as three. Then, it develops marketing plans that include thought leadership initiatives and identifies the experts in these areas. Over the year, as we engage with those SMEs, we figure out with them the exact topic for each article. As a result, every article gets put to good use, educating existing clients and generating new business in areas the firm wants to grow.
What’s the difference between a theme and a topic? Topics are more specific than themes. Under the theme of market access strategies, a topic might be “How to Design A Clinical Trial That Payers Can Trust.” For another firm, under cybersecurity, a topic might be “The Role of the Board in Managing Cyber Risk.”
Themes that you might legitimately publish about should be ones where:
- Your firm has deep expertise.
- You have an expert or experts with novel points of view.
- Those experts are keen to share their opinions and can make time to do it.
- They have more than one thing to say so you can build a body of knowledge.
- You have relevant fee-earning services.
- The firm wants to maintain or grow these services.
A word about white space (topics or themes not yet addressed by competitors), which is oft cited as the holy grail of topic area search; there really isn’t any white space. In our information-saturated, easy-to-publish-in world, anything worth opining on has been already. If a topic is hot and essential to your business, it may be important for you to publish on it, no matter how many others have done so already. If it’s a topic your firm knows a lot about, you will be able to find a fresh angle.
A limitation on how many topic areas you should address is the number of articles you should publish in each to make an impact; as a rough guide, three good pieces a year (though it might be five if you are trying to make a big impact or have some catching up to do). For a small firm with one major practice area (say human capital development), three well-placed papers on, say, hiring and developing C-suite talent should be enough to elevate the firm above its peers and may be all that it can handle, especially if it’s new to thought leadership publishing. For a practice, say oil & gas, in a major consulting firm, three good papers on enhancing reservoir may be all it needs to maintain its reputation for leadership in that field. Of course, it should produce other articles on oil and gas and in different sectors and functions, but not in so many as to dilute the impact.
Identifying and articulating themes and topics might seem like a lot of trouble before you begin writing. But doing so can help you make the right decisions about where to deploy your writing and publishing efforts throughout the year.