Communications / December 13, 2018
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By late fall, most A/E/C firms are starting to think about goal setting, planning, and budgeting for the new year, and professional services marketers need to advocate for marketing and public relations to be part of that dialogue. Marketers should understand their firm’s business goals and objectives, and collaborate with company leadership to identify emerging trends and projected growth areas where the firm will focus its business development resources. By aligning the communications strategy with broader business goals, marketing and PR initiatives can be made more effective. Here are some tips to kick-off strategic planning for the new year.
Use those tools
Smart marketers conduct their due diligence and market research, execute on PR and marketing initiatives, and then gauge success and outreach. There are many ways to evaluate a firm’s market perception and brand recognition, so use those tools to educate firm leadership on proposed strategy. It’s easier to make a case for a marketing campaign or public relations initiative if the starting point is clear. Consider: Who are we trying to reach? What are we trying to accomplish? What are the key messages? What are the internal challenges? How is the firm and its brand viewed by the media and potential clients?
Conduct an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) to identify key areas on which to focus. Consider a client survey to ask clients for feedback, a worthwhile effort that provides the opportunity to continually improve services and client relationships. A marketing audit can also offer valuable insight into where a firm stands in the marketplace. Seek an objective evaluation of the firm’s brochures, website, and email newsletters, and adjust as necessary to ensure these vital tools are helping to attract and retain clients.
Do key messages define the identity, purpose, and unique abilities of the firm? Will they promote the firm in a way that leads to growth? Think like a client to determine what the firm excels at and what makes it unique. Develop three to five key messages that communicate the differentiators of the firm, and use that messaging across all PR and marketing vehicles.
Develop an integrated PR and marketing plan
Create a comprehensive PR and marketing plan that dovetails with the firm’s business strategy. Define what PR and marketing objectives to work toward and why specific tactics are included in the strategy. An integrated plan should promote key messages across a mix of earned, paid, owned, and social media as well as traditional and digital marketing. Set goals for press releases, byline articles, speaking opportunities, and industry awards, and create an annual content calendar to keep the marketing team on track with regularly scheduled projects. Don’t forget to include the company’s various social media channels on that editorial content calendar as well.
Regularly distributed press releases and byline articles help to maintain a firm’s presence in the media. Review and update, if necessary, the media list with editorial contacts, and obtain target publications’ 2019 editorial calendars now to avoid missing an important deadline in the new year. A reasonable goal is to aim for one press release per month and one byline article per quarter. Plan to participate in relevant conferences and award programs to promote the firm as a thought leader and industry expert. Identify speaking opportunities and industry award programs that are the best fit for the firm’s consultants and expertise, and employ a Go/No Go process to determine which programs hold the most value. Monitor all potential opportunities, keeping in mind that the firm may not participate every year.
Don’t overlook major projects as focal points of the plan. To generate a steady flow of news and awareness, develop a strategy around project milestones like new wins, groundbreakings, topping-off ceremonies, and ribbon cuttings. Coordinate a team-based approach and devise a mutually beneficial strategy for project team PR, sharing project information and divvying up initiatives and awards to provide recognition for the key players. Use press releases, byline articles, media relations, social media, and events to publicize the project throughout its lifecycle, and include client testimonials and quotes whenever possible.
Get creative with content creation and thought leadership
Thought leadership is established by creating content and using it to promote expertise. Content creation involves generating material that showcases a company’s skills to prove their value in working with clients. Intelligent, thought-provoking, and forward-thinking content elevates the visibility of a firm, builds a brand, and promotes expertise. The intention is to earn recognition as a trusted authority in the field by delivering knowledge that teaches and helps others make decisions, not sells specific services. That’s thought leadership.
Win over internal champions
Educate the firm’s leadership and technical staff that marketing and PR efforts are integral to establishing and maintaining brand awareness among current and potential clients. Achieving the company’s communications goals will be a lot easier when everyone supports and promotes the need for a strong PR and marketing plan – and understands that their contributions help the collective effort. Now is the time to encourage their participation and even set goals for staff to contribute to content creation in the form of blogs, articles, and videos.
Measuring the impact and return on investment (ROI) of PR and marketing activities is possible: it just requires advance planning. There are metric analysis tools available that monitor coverage, social media hits, website traffic, content downloads, and news mentions. The trick is finding the data that speaks to the specific audience, setting up baselines, and measuring on a regular basis. Continuously adding fresh, relevant content to a website helps to drive traffic and improve search engine optimization (SEO) rankings. Communicating ROI and measuring results will go a long way toward substantiating the strategic plan in the future.
Strategic planning is essential across all lines of a business. Started early, a thoughtful strategic planning process can yield a robust and effective PR and marketing plan that supports a firm’s business goals in 2019 and beyond.