Will Ferrell plays IRS official Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction. Image via imdb.com

Will Ferrell plays IRS official Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction. Image via imdb.com

For professional services firms, a brand is a combination of reputation and visibility.

Most of the firms I’ve worked with have sound reputations, resulting from years of experience and a loyal client base. It’s the visibility piece that’s holding firms back from growing their brands.

A service company is different from a product company in that it’s tough to create mass exposure overnight. How can architects, engineers and accountants “go viral” like a new tech startup or an iPhone app? In most cases, they can’t.

The best approach for professional services firms is to draw an audience in with free educational expertise. Over time, the market will begin to trust your firm.

Below are three examples of how professional services firms are leveraging digital media outlets to prove their expertise, attract attention and proactively create visibility. 

The manageable blog

GHT Limited's blog focuses on providing useful, rather than promotional, information and features posts by the CEO.

GHT Limited’s blog focuses on providing useful, rather than promotional, information and features posts by the CEO.

GHT is a Washington-based mechanical, electrical and plumbing firm that has invested significant time in its company blog (full disclosure: it is a client of mine). Posts come from 15 different contributors who are experts in a variety of areas, from metered faucets to temporary transformers.

Some writers are from the marketing team, but the majority are hands-on engineers looking to share what they know. Leading the charge is the firm’s CEO, Paul O’Brien.

Examples of post titles include, “Greening the District’s Construction Code,” “The Path to Energy Efficiency for Existing Buildings,” and “How Efficient is Your Data Center?”

Construction codes and energy efficiency may not sound interesting to you, but to the market they serve they’re hot topics.

GHT’s strategy works because it’s manageable. The firm knew it couldn’t over-commit to content marketing with so much other work on its plate so it made no sense to dive into webinars or e-books.

Monthly blog posting is a realistic goal – one that has helped establish GHT as one of the top MEP firms in the D.C. area.

The results can be seen in web analytics. As the company continues to post, the number of search engine keywords that generate traffic increases. The firm ranks in the top three on Google for crucial phrases such as ‘BIM services DC’ and ‘MEP engineering.’

Switching it up with podcasts

The Architecture Happy Hour Podcast sets a casual tone and provides helpful information for those in the industry.

The Architecture Happy Hour Podcast sets a casual tone and provides helpful information for those in the industry.

HPD is a small architecture firm based in Dallas, Texas. Although it does have a blog, the main channel for this firm’s thought leadership is a podcast called “The Architecture Happy Hour.”

The podcast covers simple but helpful topics such as choosing the right architect, planning for new projects, modernizing your house and how to prepare for hailstorms.

One of the reasons these podcasts work well for HPD is their casual, relaxed tone. When the hosts introduce episodes with, “It’s a two-drink minimum so grab your glass and let’s get started!” listeners feel comfortable and engaged from the start.

Content creation at HPD is led by Laura Davis, the director of marketing and Larry Paschall, the vice president. At smaller companies like this one, top executives are typically taking charge of thought leadership responsibilities.

The firm also hosts a live Happy Hour that brings together a network of architecture, design, real estate and construction professionals.

Between the podcasts and live events, HPD has found a creative formula for generating buzz and elevating its visibility.

From content marketing to content networking

Freed Maxick is a large CPA firm headquartered in Buffalo, New York. The firm leverages its marketing resources to share knowledge via newsletters, blog posts, educational guides, webinars and more.

The amount of great content this firm generates is impressive in itself. But what really sets it apart is its ability to go out and deliver this content across the web.

Instead of sitting back and waiting for people to find them, members of the marketing team take visibility into their own hands. They scour LinkedIn and Twitter for conversations related to Freed Maxick’s areas of expertise. They then join the conversation, armed with relevant content.

For example, a Freed Maxick team member will search for major company mergers using keywords in Twitter search. When relevant conversations appear, Freed Maxick chimes in, offering a white paper that addresses the tax needs of the company involved. They do similar “content networking” in LinkedIn groups, taking care not to seem too salesy.

Finding targeted communities and conversations online and offering their expertise along the way has helped Freed Maxick become a trusted, visible thought leader across the country.

As you can see from these examples, becoming more visible in your market is not easy. Unlike product-oriented brands, professional services firms must establish visibility over time.

But with a foundation of expertise and a few creative outlets, firms can find the spotlight they’re looking for.