Busy week with travel and such. We had an event for Corporate Communications Officers in San Francisco on our new survey, Rising CCO, which we conduct every year with Spencer Stuart. We had a terrific panel and engaged audience and added more to our growing knowledge on the challenges facing CCOs. More on this as we put our notes together on the stimulating discussion.
On the plane back, I had a chance to read an article about “Thought Leadership.” The headline was “Free Thinking” and the sub-head was Why Expensive Consultancy Firms Are Giving Away More Research. Good question and one I think about often since a good portion of my job is directly related to thought leadership. Why do consultancies do research, issue white papers and distribute them for free (aka Rising CCO)? There must be a good reason for thought leadership if firms such as McKinsey, Bain, Boston Consulting and Accenture are spending all this time on thought leadership reports. Although thought leadership is not new, my inbox seems jammed with thought leadership reports and promotions. I am not alone. According to Sourceforconsulting.com, management consulting firms have upped their games — the number of reports from the top 25 firms have quintupled since 2004.
Here are the reasons cited in the article for why thought leadership is growing faster and faster. Mind you, no one is able to deliver a financial return on thought leadership (ROTL–does not roll off the tongue like ROI) but that does not seem to matter from what the article says.
- Thought Leadership is a form of marketing since it is an excuse to call on clients or show your wares with podcasts and webinars. I agree with this because insightful research does get your company name in front of the right people either through word of mouth, online search or third party mentions in the online and offline media.
- Thought Leadership attracts the best talent. I agree here. For consulting firms, thought leadership promises intellectual stimulation that investment banking might not do as well. The fresh crop of MBAs might be swayed to investigate a consulting firm or even join based on these kinds of reports and insights. Apparently, positions at McKinsey‘s Global Institute, BCG‘s Strategy Institute and IBM‘s Institute for Business Value are all highly fought over among the graduate school set. In the industry I work in — public relations, top agencies compete on ideas and insights in addition to accounts. Not only does it attract talent but it builds employee pride. I hope I am not all wet here but I think it makes a difference internally and helps retain employees.
I would add one other reason to why thought leadership matters to firms which The Economist did not add. Thought leadership adds depth to a company’s reason for being. We often write about and talk about the factors beyond the bottom line that build reputation, factors such as purpose and responsibility. It seems to me that thought leadership deepens the personality of a firm, telegraphs where the firm thinks the worldis headed and is a form of giving back to clients by informing the industry about new trends and transformational ideas that count.
As I mentioned above, the sub headline of the article was ”Why Expensive Consultancy Firms Are Giving Away More Research.” Part of the answer to this query is because Firms Are Giving Back Leading Thoughts that benefit us all and perhaps shine a light on the purpose of it all.