Small firm, big result

How one SME secured Financial Times coverage and what happened next.

The Financial Times and other top-tier business media usually feature stories about large, international companies. Smaller firms who covet their influential audiences don’t get a look in. Unless they do interesting work for larger firms, that is. This case study explains an approach that worked for one small company, with a return on investment of 50:1

Meet the Client:

The company is a well-established specialist professional services firm based in London. It supplies temporary senior executives at short notice to large organisations, typically for 6-18 months. These so-called ‘interim executives’ might be function-specific (finance, HR, marketing, IT). Or they might be general managers or CEOs. Companies usually hire them for two reasons:

  • to fill a leadership gap when an executive leaves suddenly – e.g., illness or resignation.
  • to deliver specialist expertise that the organisation lacks during non-business-as-usual events.

Examples of these events include mergers and acquisitions, or transformation programmes. In all cases they are strategically-important, complex and often high-risk situations.

The scenario:

This company had recently hired its first marketing director. Although it had great client relationships, it was not well-known among its target market: FTSE250 firms and other large private and public sector organisations. It also had an ageing website and visual identity, and no effective way to tell its many success stories.

The marketing director hired me to help. Among the activities agreed were case-study development and ‘earned’ editorial. Like many professional services firms, client relationships were personal and closely-guarded. We needed to build trust to open up access to these connections and unlock the client stories. We also had to find a way to get the firm’s work published in the right newspapers and business journals. This firm was never going to make the news pages.

What we did:

After listening carefully, we saw that understanding of marketing, public relations and journalism varied widely in the firm. I proposed a workshop for client relationship holders to explain what we planned and why. We discussed how our plan would work and what the benefits would be – to individuals but also to the wider firm. I then designed the workshop. Part of this involved two, ex-national newspaper journalists who shared their experiences and took questions. Participants reported how much they enjoyed the session, and we secured the support we needed.

Next, we agreed which stories were the most interesting and gained permission to interview senior-level customers. These stories made liberal use of the customer’s voice, lending extra credibility. They were designed and printed for use as new business leave-behinds. They also appeared on the company’s new website. We then used them as the basis for bespoke story pitches to feature editors. Our targets were business and specialist trade press in HR, finance and management.

What happened:

These customer stories were published widely, building visibility, awareness and interest among the client’s target sectors. We never expected editors would run them as written. But we were confident they’d trigger interest and interview requests. One such request was the basis of an extensive feature in The Financial Times (FT). As a result of this single FT story, a new customer with a similar challenge to the one described hired my client. The resulting fee income was fifty times the cost of developing the story. This was one of several leads generated, although the client did not have the ability to track and quantify every example. The management team was delighted with the results and committed to investing further in marketing communications. Here’s my client’s testimonial:

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Takeaways:

  1. Professional services firms hinge on trusting relationships. We used this to build internal trust, securing permission for marketing to operate.

2. Bringing in expert outsiders helps to convince stakeholders. Telling stories of what you do is not enough. It’s like talking only about yourself at a party; it’s usually off-putting.

3. Instead, introduce the customer’s voice to lend real authority and credibility. This leverages the power of third-party endorsement and plays to a known behavioural science principle: social proof.

4. Companies with basic marketing resources need to think and plan carefully before acting. Attributing and tracking sales enquiries are part of this. Good preparation delivers clearer visibility of effectiveness in marketing communications.

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