31 May 2012
When someone has been at the coalface of thought leadership for 15 years, worked with two of the global thought leadership giants, PwC and E&Y and they say they no longer want to send their thought leadership out but rather get CFOs to download it, you sit up and take notice.
Merryn Stewart has been spearheading E&Y’s thought leadership efforts for four years following an 11 year stint at PwC. Fifteen years later she is clearly invigorated by thought leadership and what it has done for the two brands. Merryn has clearly been there and done that and she is now reinventing the thought leadership game based on her deep experience of what works and what doesn’t.
Among others she is on a drive to cut back dramatically on the amount of content they publish and they are personalising it as much as possible. She shared this and further insights with me and I hope I do them justice.
E&Y’s thought leadership has a single-minded focus on the C-Suite It starts with their CFO Asia survey which examines, among others, what’s changed in their roles as a result of the markets and then does a deep and personal dive on issues such as what it’s like to be a CFO these days and deep down what they want to achieve.
But this is merely a start. Merryn points out that their investment in reaching the C-Suite is centred on developing and sharing deep business perspectives focused on the C-Suite’s business issues and then pitched at the highest end.
“The content and insights need to be such that they want to access the material rather than have it pushed down their throats,” says Merryn.
Less is more
Merryn’s deep thought leadership experience and research with clients has sent a clear message that not only are clients feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information they receive but there has also been duplication across practice areas.
As a result, Merryn feels strongly that not only should you not be sending irrelevant content to your clients but that less content with more tailored, personalised insights is the way to go.
Generates interaction and fosters relationships
But she has one specific business objective with this new, tailored approach – it needs to facilitate one on one interaction with prospects and relationships with existing clients. But not any client – for E&Y it’s the C-Suite.
While Merryn is still striving for thought leadership nirvana – getting their C-Suite to download E&Y’s content rather than sending it to them – in the interim if something is sent it is via a personalised e mail from someone who knows the client and with specific messages for that individual.
It’s a change management program not a marketing program
For Merryn, thought leadership is about change management: “McKinsey probably do thought leadership best. It is part of their DNA.
“It’s not yet firmly entrenched in our DNA and is probably a five year journey. For me it is a change management program, one which gets all the parties to think differently about thought leadership,” she says.
And clearly she is on the right track. As yet I have not come across another business that launches an internal campaign on their thought leadership campaign five weeks before the external launch.
But as Merryn points out this is critical. This is the time she and her team direct people in terms of what they can do with it, how to use it and how they are going to launch it. E&Y’s Business Development Leaders also host interactive sessions with partners and coach them on the key messages.
Critically the thought leadership steering committee, which comprises senior representatives from all parts of the business, ensures that the thought leadership properties can be used across all practice areas. Merryn points out that the cross practice approach and gaining buy-in from the practice areas is very important to the success of their thought leadership campaigns.
‘Return on Investment’ that magical phrase is constant work in progress for Merryn in terms of measuring the efficacy of their thought leadership campaigns. Measurement tools are constantly being integrated into their various feedback systems. One such example is their global client relationship management system where thought leadership is now being reflected in the pipeline section.
E&Y also have reports defining the level of involvement from clients, the level of seniority, the type of people at the events, client feedback and the like all of which is aggregated into a report.
Says Merryn: “The input required from partners into the back end of these reports is quick and painless. We didn’t want to create onerous reporting structures otherwise they would never have been filled in.”
Thought leadership is evolving. Whether it is being led by the client or driven by leaders in thought leadership such as E&Y, Deloitte, McKinsey, Booz&Co, PwC and the like is not yet clear.
One thing is clear though, it is increasingly sophisticated, more and more tailored to specific client relationships and their issues and it is becoming part of the DNA of more and more companies.
In the ever competitive markets in which we work even those thought leadership doubters would have to question what these companies have seen that others haven’t.
I’m a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications. Please check out my book: Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership, follow me on twitter @thoughtstrategy or join me on LinkedIn.
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