Redefining Thought Leadership
Andy Bosman, Principal, National Marketing and Sales, McGladrey;
Sara Webber Laczo, Senior Director, Corporate Communications, McGladrey
Edited By Barbi Green, Medill IMC Class Of 2015
Published on 10/21/2015
In 2012, McGladrey was faced with a choice: continue to be known as the fifth largest assurance, tax and consulting firm, or stand out by staking claim on a market space it could truly own. The firm chose the latter and set forth a new vision to be the first-choice advisor to middle market leaders.
The middle market is a dynamic segment of U.S. businesses, accounting for one-third of our nation’s gross domestic product and nearly 40 percent of its jobs. Yet the middle market is often overlooked.
A longtime leader in working with entrepreneurial, owner-managed businesses, McGladrey’s sweet spot was already in the middle market, and its brand positioning “the power of being understood” was deeply rooted in the needs of middle market businesses. Additionally, years of client experience measurement showed many existing clients already viewed McGladrey as a first-choice advisor. The firm was starting from a position of strength.
Our challenge was to attain a true market leadership position by focusing on the issues impacting the middle market as opposed to the services provided to clients. This was accomplished through a robust thought leadership platform that consistently captures and shares proprietary data, knowledge and insights about the state of middle market companies and the mindset of their leaders.
Defining Thought Leadership
Thought leadership in professional services organizations generally consists of long whitepapers and webinars providing in-depth technical explanations and analysis. To appeal to the middle market and align with the new ways leaders consume content, we knew we had to take a different approach.
We defined thought leadership for McGladrey as: A thought we have about a topic or issue relevant to the middle market where we can offer a unique perspective or have proprietary data that enables us to take a strong position that raises our profile in the marketplace of ideas and compels stakeholders to have conversations with us to learn more.
We believe the following key points embedded in the definition will help us attain a leadership position:
- Staying focused on how a topic or issue uniquely affects the middle market and supporting our position with robust research and facts
- Maintaining a multi-stakeholder view — moving beyond just current and prospective clients to influencers, policymakers, media and the marketplace as a whole
- Keeping pieces short and interesting to drive future conversations, because stakeholders learn the most through conversations with the professionals who work for McGladrey
After defining what thought leadership meant for McGladrey, we developed a powerful program to deliver a combination of economic analysis, proprietary research and subject matter expert insights through multiple internal and external communication channels.
There are three foundational elements to the program:
- Macroeconomic insights: McGladrey and our chief economist aim to bring the middle market into the mix of critical economic discussions by providing real-time updates and analysis about the economy to our current and prospective clients, while at the same time sharing insights about how the middle market is affecting the economy with the media, policymakers and the larger business community.
- Research: We partnered with an outside research firm to form a research panel of 700 middle market executives who we survey on a quarterly basis. Through a combination of business condition questions that remain the same from survey to survey and topical questions that vary to address emerging issues and trends, we gain insights to support our business strategy, help our current and prospective clients improve, and advocate for the unique needs of middle market businesses.
- McGladrey expert perspective: We formed an internal thought leadership steering committee composed of subject matter experts from our lines of business and primary industries to advise on our research and thought leadership activities. They meet quarterly to discuss implications of survey results and determine the thought leadership pieces that should be developed.
This robust platform enables us to have a regular stream of new and interesting ideas, insights and trends to take to market.
Program Deliverables and Early Results
In January 2015, we launched our flagship economics thought leadership product The Real Economy, which provides monthly economic updates coupled with actionable insights for middle market business leaders. In its first two months, The Real Economy has garnered more than 3,300 opt-in subscribers, resulted in multiple media interviews, and has been presented internally and externally at forums across the country.
The Real Economy email is achieving a unique open rate that is 200 percent better than our average subscription email performance and a unique click-through rate that is 300 percent better than the McGladrey average. Both are also substantially higher than industry benchmarks. These efforts are supported by robust outreach via social and traditional media, ongoing economic commentary on our website, and a Tumblr account that serves as a regular contribution stream to Yahoo! Finance (where McGladrey content is among the top third of most-read finance contributors reaching a potential audience of 70,000,000 unique visitors per month). While still early in the implementation process, preliminary results indicate that our new approach will be a positive investment.
Our economics content is just the beginning of how we plan to use our thought leadership platform to reshape and truly integrate our marketing and communications activities. By providing a unique point of view tailored to our target audience, we will create conversations that position McGladrey as the first-choice advisor to middle market leaders and ultimately drive more business for our firm. [END]