What they teach you in marketing school is that marketing is a sum of the coordinated efforts of many tools. And essentially, that's true. Rarely, in marketing a practice, does only one thing work to carry the full weight of marketing.
But what if you've got a small practice, and time or money to do only one thing?
What if you could use only one of the many marketing tools. Which tool would be your best choice?
Easy. Writing articles. And it doesn't matter whether you're a one-person office, or a partner in a major international firm. No one tool can do more for you on its own. Not advertising, not public relations, not seminars.
Well...maybe direct mail, but that's a program that requires more than just something an individual can do effectively on one's own. And as a tool, it runs a close second to articles for a sole practitioner. Another day.
It is indeed true that no one tool or technique alone will solve your marketing or practice development problems. A fully effective marketing program is well rounded, using all or most of the marketing tools to multiply the effect of each of them. But the advantage of writing articles over all the others, if you can afford to do only one thing, is astonishing.
In fact, not advantage. Advantages.
Here's the problem. In professional services, just having your name known is pretty useless, in a competitive situation, unless it's known for something. A good personal injury lawyer - not just a good lawyer. A good audit or tax accountant - not just a good accountant. In professional services, it's the reputation for expertise that counts, not just the reputation. This is why one of the most effective objectives for any marketing program for a professional service is to project expertise.
There are many ways to do it, but the best and most reliable is the article. In a by-line article, you don't have to say you're an expert - the fact that you wrote the article, expounding on a particular subject, says it for you. It's your expertise on display.
An article can be written by a partner in a major firm, or it can be done by a sole practitioner. The effect on the reader - the prospective client - is the same. The reader is concerned with the value of the content of the article - the expertise - and not the size of the author's firm.
An article is the one technique in public relations in which you have control - you can say what you want to say, and say it your way. In most cases, if an article is acceptable on its own terms, an editor won't change the thrust of it. In other aspects of publicity, you propose, but others dispose. Your press release is edited to the editor's satisfaction, not yours. An interview or an article about you or your firm is written to the editor's - not your - satisfaction. But an article you write says what you want it to say.
For most publications that might accept a by-line article from you, particularly the local or trade journals that might be most useful to you and your practice, you don't have to be David Halberstam to write an article that's likely to be accepted. You merely have to know what you're talking about, say something useful to the publication's readers, and be reasonably articulate. An editor may help with syntax and style, but isn't generally likely to touch content.
And finally, the article does double duty. Not only does it have its value when it's published, but as a reprint, it becomes a powerful marketing tool. It says what you would want to say in a brochure, but as a reprint it has the added sense of the publication's endorsement and objectivity. It can be used, then, as a brochure might be, but with added benefits. In direct mail, for example, it can serve as a point of departure for the mailing piece's discussion.
It would be ridiculous to assume that anyone can write an article. Writing is still a craft, overlaid by art. But in the realm of trade journalism, or local journalism, it's a craft not too difficult to master. And of course, help can always be hired. But even if you do hire help, there are a few basic steps that should be taken at the outset.
There are six basic elements to using articles effectively...
- Identify the purpose of the article
- Identify the subject matter
- Identify the publications you will target
- Place the article
- Write it
- Use the reprint
Identifying The Purpose
There are two factors to consider - what you want the marketing effort to accomplish, and what you want the article to accomplish. Two different things. If the article is part of an overall marketing program, it will be used to support other marketing efforts. If it must serve as the sole effort, it must stand alone in accomplishing its aim. In either case, the common factor is to enhance your reputation by allowing you to be visible before an audience of the publication's readers, and to do so in a context of expertise. The point is that if you don't know why you're writing it, how can you know how to write it?
The Subject Matter
Choosing the subject matter can't be done arbitrarily; there are too many factors to consider.
- What do you know?
- What expertise do you want to project?
- Projecting what expertise will best help you in practice development?
- Within the range of expertise that will be the basis of the article, what shall be the specific subject matter?
If you're writing an article for the fun of it - which is not an inconsequential reason for doing it - it doesn't matter what you write about. If you're writing for marketing reasons, you have to answer the foregoing questions very carefully.
Let's assume that you perceive a prospective market for your services as a securities lawyer. You have to ask yourself, "What's the most serious problem that a prospective audience faces that's within the realm of my expertise?" The answer may be insider trading. But your clientele consists of mostly smaller public companies - not big corporations. Are there any specific concerns about insider trading for the smaller company? Yes? Then there's your article. You are addressing a specific problem of a specific target audience with the expertise you most want to project - an expertise in the problems of the small public company. And by the way, try not to cover more than one major subject in each article. If you try to cover more than one, you're heading into obfuscation.
How To Get Published
While a full-scale program of publishing is best done by professional marketers, placing the single article can be relatively -- relatively -- simple.
When you know the subject of your article, and your target market, your next step is to identify the publications served by that market.
It may not be as obvious to you as it is to a professional marketer, but a publication isn't exactly what you think it is -- a vehicle to impart information (unless it's the kind of journal -- like THE MARCUS LETTER -- that doesn't sell advertising). It's an advertising vehicle to reach a particular market segment. It circulates to that market segment by virtue of the editorial material it publishes, which is the editor's perception of what that market segment is concerned with.
And so the best way to identify a publication's target audience is by looking at the ads first, and then the editorial material. The publication has sold those ads by persuading advertisers that it is reaching that market. If you want to reach smaller to moderate size businesses, find the publications aimed at that segment - there are several directories available, such as Bacon's Directories (Bacon's, Chicago), that list all magazines by category. The chances are, though, that you already know the publications that reach the audiences you want to reach.
When you've identified the publications you want to approach, read several issues carefully, to get the feel of the kind of material they use. Then call the editor, and discuss with him or her the article you'd like to write. The editor may ask you to put a proposal in writing, but many smaller business publications will discuss your idea by phone.
Whether you do it by phone or in writing, think in terms of what the reader wants and needs to know, and not what you want to say. Cast the proposal in terms of the problem it solves, and not your solution. Try to relate the magnitude of the problem as large and consequential - as important to the reader, not to you.
Sometimes a publication's editor will ask to see the article itself before accepting your proposal. This is particularly true if you've never written for the publication before, if you're otherwise unknown to the editor, or if the editor is not convinced of the importance of your subject. It's not a bad thing to do, if you're new to the process. If the article is good, either that editor will take it, or some other publication will. If it's bad , well, you've learned something.
Writing The Article
As an art form, writing has no rules - if the writer is an artist. But for inexperienced on non-professional writers, there are some pretty useful guidelines. At least, they're rules that have been proven to work.
- Read several issues of the publication to get a feel for what the editors like and will accept. They, not you, are the boss. They're not going to bend the rules of their publication for you.
- Ask yourself what it is that you want readers to know, think or feel after they've read your article.
- Do an outline. Even if it's a list of things you want to include in the article, and you do it on the back of an old envelope. And even if, as you write, you wind up not following it literally. At least you'll have listed everything you want to get in the article.
- Open with a statement of the problem, not the solution, and not the background. Remember that the most important rule in writing is to catch 'em with the opening sentence. If you don't they're not likely to read the second sentences. If you do, the chances are they'll go through to the end.
- Know the difference between an academic or legal paper, and an article. An article has to flow. It has to be interesting. Avoid the academic style - "In this paper I'm going to show...". Get to the point. Show it.
- Don't write formally - talk to people. A good trick is to imagine a single reader, and talk to him or her. Tell what you would tell about the subject if he or she were a client and you were answering a direct question. Then the writing is more likely to flow, and to be readable, than if you tried to craft it with words and sentences.
- Let's get something straight. Writing isn't the manipulation of words - it's presenting ideas. Words and sentences and grammar are simply the vehicles. Get the ideas down. You can deal with the words later. In other words, write the first draft fast, not sentence by sentence.
- It's after you've done that first draft that you begin to think about editing. Read it once to see that you've said what you want to say. Read it again to see if your ideas are clear and understandable. Then start editing. Read each sentence for grammar, simplicity, clarity. Does it say what you want to say? Have you used the right words to convey your meaning? Is your language clear and simple - or have you loaded with big and obscure words?
- Then read for syntax. Is the grammar right? Do tenses and cases and so forth match?
- And one final reading to try to see it as a reader would. This is best done after you've let it lie unseen for 24 hours, so you can get a fresh look at it. If you're satisfied, send it off, typed double space, one side of the page only, with proper title and identification.
When the article is published, as surely it will be if you follow these rules, discuss reprints with the publication. First, you may not reprint without their permission, which few publications will deny you. Second, a reprint should be designed as would be a brochure. Discuss format with the publication. It may include, at a reasonable price, a special layout with the publication's masthead and room to add your own message to place the article in a selling perspective for you. Reprints are a second life for an article, and can sometimes be a better sales tool than was the original article.
If you're in practice in any profession, chances are you've got something to say. Say it in an article. It can only serve you - particularly if it serves your reader.
By Bruce Marcus
Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (WITH August Aquila), and the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, now on www.marcusletter.com. His e-mail address is email@example.com. Copyright Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.