By Mark Houlding, CEO at Rostrum Communications

Everyone is talking about content marketing. But is it really any different to what has gone before in professional services marketing? Is content marketing set to replace thought leadership — or is it just a new phrase to describe tried and tested techniques?

One thing that’s definitely changed is the technology and channels via which professional services firms engage with their clients. Videos, webinars, apps, blogs and many more innovative tools are being used for marketing professional services firms’ content. There has been a step change in many Partners’ attitudes to these technologies — largely driven by the widespread adoption of iPads/iPhones, etc.

Hopefully, the clients and prospects of professional services firms are engaging via these channels too. It seems likely that at least some senior decision-makers might now prefer to get a tax news update via webinar, or learn about the latest developments in IP law via a video hosted on YouTube.

But if this is “content marketing” — is it really any different from thought leadership? Is the medium now more important than the message?

We would argue that — exciting as new technology is — much of the content being created right now by firms is not being consumed, especially by the ever-harder-to-reach C-suite. A boring article expressed as a video will just create a boring video. At Rostrum, we see so little genuine thought leadership out there, and so much content that just adds noise to an existing debate.

So before committing budget to content marketing, firms need to ask — what are we saying that is different? Will our clients care? Do we have genuine insights, underpinned by credible data- or just opinion? What is our voice on this issue — and is it right for us? Is the firm expecting an immediate commercial return on the campaign — and how can we define success?

Really great content is often developed in a “newsroom” environment, with a relentless focus on the story, what Saatchi & Saatchi once defined in adland as “a single-minded idea” brought to life in “a compelling way”. Before you start to consider your content marketing strategy, ask yourself some key questions. Is your firm ready to develop content in the newsroom? Are you prepared to start (and continue) conversations? Are you able to really engage — even with critical audiences? Can you narrate, foretell and explain — regardless of the channel?

All of the above applies to your thought leadership programme as much as your content marketing strategy, and in this battle of the buzzwords, it is hard to discern much value in replacing the old with the new. But whether categorised as content marketing or thought leadership, the time you spend finding your firm’s voice before committing budget, the time you spend focusing on getting the idea right rather than just getting something out there and the time you spend saying something different rather than adding to the noise — will always be time well-spent.

To find out how Rostrum Communications can help your business, then contact Mark Houlding on 0207 440 8670 or

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