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Content Under Pressure

Professional Services Thought Leadership 2.0 Explained

By Susan Kostal

Recently, a potential client was trying to set up a meeting with her team to discuss content strategy. This professional services firm (not a law firm) was unaccustomed to publishing. The question that came back from her team was: “What is thought leadership, and why should we care about it?”

It gave me pause at first, as if someone had asked, “Why shoes?” But I soon realized it is a very relevant question and one for which the answer has changed over time.

As content marketing has become pervasive (somewhere between Poor Richard’s Almanack and the past 20 years), “thought leadership” has gone from new and insightful, to maligned and satirized, to what I now think of as the “new normal” for any company or firm selling anything of substance. And this is why: Initially, it was novel for a brand (including a professional services firm) to be a publisher. Now, what I call “mute brands” are considered oddities. There is an expectation that if you offer a highly specialized service, you also should have something intelligent to say about the environment in which those services are consumed.

Mute Brand or Trusted Brand? Content Matters

If law firms want to be more than commodity providers, they need to provide clients and potential clients the content and foresight that comes with their experience and expertise. This doesn’t have to mean columns on the future of law, though some firms choose that topic and do quite well. It means providing content that shows potential buyers that you are immersed not only in your field but in the larger concerns of their business and the issues that affect them.

You want content that shows that you believe an informed, educated client is the best partner for a legal service provider. You want to produce content that your clients can share with their internal clients or business units.

For law firms, “thought leadership” translates to “this is one way you can think about approaching this issue.” It’s talking about strategy, problem-solving and risk management, not just the latest court decision.

Here, in part, is what I told my potential client, an executive search firm that works with foundations, nonprofits, NGOs, impact investors and social enterprises.

“In this era of fake news, bots and misinformation, trusted voices are more valuable than ever. In industries with long sales cycles, it’s important to stay front of mind with potential clients with valuable content that brands you as a partner and guide, not just a service provider.

“Additionally, you work with really smart people who are trying to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. They want to work with other smart people. Other than speaking engagements, content is the way you demonstrate that. You are rubbing shoulders with some very impressive problem-solvers. It makes sense that you should be part of the conversation.”

In Other Words, You Can’t Afford to Sit This One Out

As you consider where to place your energies in 2019, think of the brand you want to project, and how you want to connect with clients and potential clients. What do you want to be known for? Sometimes, like life, business is hard. Make both easier for clients and prospects by becoming a dependable source of relevant, trusted information. In the current environment, firms that aren’t part of that conversation, that choose to be mute, stand out as the outliers. But not in a good way.

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Susan Kostal Susan Kostal

Trends at Work columnist Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and content strategy consultant. She is a former contributing editor for Attorney at Work and previously wrote a monthly column, Content Under Pressure. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at

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