Elyse Blazey Gentile and Phil DenningElyse Blazey Gentile and Phil Denning co-authored this article

How do top law firms, accounting firms, management consulting firms and executive search firms differentiate themselves from the masses? Do they provide high quality work or become subject matter experts? Is solving client problems the key criteria or is it establishing strong relationships? The answer to all of the above is yes. Leaders find what they do that’s special and unique that breaks them out of the crowd to stand alone as a leader.

However, being good at the work you do is table stakes. You also need your prospective clients to trust you and know who you are. Leading professional services firms develop world-class executive visibility programs that help their company build awareness, establish credibility and stand out from the crowd. Importantly, executive visibility programs draw out individual personalities within a leadership team, ensuring the company isn’t perceived as a single robotic corporate voice. Each professional should hold a thought provoking perspective on an issue and should look to add to the conversation.

O'Dwyer's Aug. '19 Financial PR/IR & Prof. Svcs. PR Magazine
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Aug. '19 Financial PR/IR & Prof. Svcs. PR Magazine.

Professional services firms aren’t selling widgets, they’re selling intellectual firepower, and their ability to convey their knowledge into positive outcomes for clients is key to generating growth and long-term revenues. Professional services firms can rise and fall based on the reputation of their executives and the overall reputation of the firm.

But where does one begin? Here are some of the strategies and tactics that help executives and their firms identify their unique value-add, establish credibility and create a leadership position in their field.

Find whitespace

While it’s great to aim for media domination, you can’t be all things to all people. Therefore, we often recommend to our clients that they start with an in-depth audit of their competitors. Identify what your competitors are doing right, what processes may be overdone or outdated and locate the lucrative whitespace ripe for the taking—and claim it!

Develop a clear point of view

If you don’t have anything worth saying, will anyone listen? Reporters are overworked and short on time. Therefore, when an executive is granted time with a reporter, he or she must be poignant and concise. Offer an informed opinion on a nuanced topic or provide a contrarian viewpoint in order to ensure that the reporters return for your expert commentary. If you offer only a corporate line or repeat the same thesis that everyone else is saying, reporters will lose interest and the company will lose a third-party endorsed touchpoint with their client.

Develop relationships with key media

Getting prominently quoted by the media takes more than a few press releases and a single conversation. Leadership must enter the fray by working towards establishing themselves as go-to sources for reporters. This means putting in the time to meet with reporters on background, sharing opinions on news of the day—even when it isn’t directly tied to your business—and being responsive and timely with all members of the media, not just the top tier media. Developing relationships with all types of reporters—general news, trade publications, business press and industry blogs—is the foundation to a robust and well-rounded media campaign.

Amplify leadership voices

It’s not enough to be quoted in the Wall Street Journal anymore; you have to shout your message from the rooftops. Once a professional services firm is generating media coverage, the coverage itself must be packaged and amplified in order to reach the company’s various audiences, including clients, employees or investors. Conducting a study or formulating a unique perspective on a growing issue isn’t enough if nobody can find the results or identify the leader in the space. In order to achieve its aims, each quote in a publication, bylined article or study conducted must be promoted by a customized amplification strategy. Professional social networks like LinkedIn are great platforms for sharing and amplifying your message, creating a personality and establishing credibility in your broader field.

The last ingredient is hard work. Finding a unique space to own in a crowded marketplace, articulating a concise or unique point of view on an issue, cultivating media relationships and leveraging multiple channels to distribute your message simply requires hard work.

The secret to establishing a leading professional service brand is that there’s no silver bullet for getting to the top. There’s no one answer. The solution requires applying an amalgamation of various strategic initiatives that help build a strong executive visibility program, and investing the resources necessary for your firm to stand out from the crowd. Careful planning, thoughtful execution and hard work will achieve the most successful and measurable business outcomes.


Phil Denning is Partner and Elyse Gentile is Vice President at ICR.