Team-wide thought leadership helped this “Big Four” firm reposition itself as agile, innovative, and disruptive—here’s how
When you hear “Big Four,” the image of an established, global, prestigious, and successful business likely comes to mind.
While this reputation is warranted—the Big Four dominates the professional services market, having brought in a combined $157 billion US dollars in revenue in 2020 alone—to dismiss them as pure accounting firms would be a mistake. All four have ventured into territories far beyond their core industry of audit and tax; companies increasingly hire the Big Four for management consulting, and in recent years, have even turned to them for marketing and legal advisory in addition to corporate reporting.
Where most companies’ established reputations would work to their advantage, the Big Four faces an interesting quandary… Particularly in a time of incredible innovation, companies may dismiss the Big Four as “too traditional” and unable to keep pace with the times.
The issue here is not one of skill sets, but of image. The Big Four has long-prioritized employing experts across a full range of business functions—from veteran tech entrepreneurs who are equipped to help companies of all stages achieve greater scale to cybersecurity and privacy leaders who are dedicated to keeping businesses compliant in an ever-shifting landscape.
But where most companies’ established reputations would work to their advantage, the Big Four faces an interesting dilemma: their size, tenure, and global presence as auditing and assurance firms means prospective clients may overlook them when it comes to weathering digital disruption or roadmapping a cutting-edge product offering. Particularly in a time of incredible innovation, the Big Four may be dismissed as “too traditional” and unable to keep pace with the times.
Instinctively, this assumption makes sense—it’s hard to imagine firms founded in the mid-1800s would be leaders in innovation. But in practice, it ignores the wide range of talent, unrivaled hiring power, and leagues of experienced business leaders the Big Four have employed to support companies far beyond the audit and tax function.
This is the challenge a Big Four firm came to Quietly with, knowing they wanted to go to market with a new practice and target new customers. Together, we were able to elevate the profiles of their Technology leaders through a team-wide thought leadership program. Not only did this engagement update the firm’s reputation, it also allowed its Technology leaders to better articulate their capabilities and shift perceptions both internally and externally.
Changing the approach to thought leadership for multinationals
It’s no secret that thought leadership plays a key role in amplifying brand presence and building credibility. And in a competitive market, it’s especially important for professional services experts to establish that stature outside of the boardroom (this is perhaps truer now than ever in the age of COVID-19).
Our mission was simple: position the Technology leaders as the veteran entrepreneurs that they are and help the public to realize that these leaders are not just consultants, but also practitioners.
Too often, thought leadership can be approached with a narrow lens—elevating a single leader, rather than the expertise of teams and departments as a whole. As we’ve talked about before, this “Cult of the CEO” mentality can do more damage than good. With this in mind, we planned a robust thought leadership program for the firm’s Technology team.
Our mission was simple: position its leaders as the veteran entrepreneurs that they are and help the public to realize that these leaders are not just consultants, but also practitioners. In short, we needed to show that they’d been in the same trenches and faced the same challenges that entrepreneurs face today.
Using data to gain an advantage
We quickly realized that when it came to publishing thought leadership on third-party channels, the firm’s main competitors were primarily posting one-off articles. This presented a huge area of opportunity for this firm to set itself apart from the pack by taking an audience-centric, campaign-driven approach.
We also helped the client see that their competitor set was much larger than they originally assumed. Not only did the firm need to compete with the rest of the Big Four, but their thought leadership needed to be as good as the best publishers, VCs, and corporate accelerators as well. In order to establish the firm as the go-to source to guide tech companies, we needed to take on new perspectives.
That’s where data came in. Comprehensive data-driven research, enabled us to identify where the firm’s content had previously been successful—as well as the topics that were under-discussed. Additionally, SEO research helped us position the firm’s messaging and optimize their content based on what their prospective clients were actually searching for, ensuring that their thought leaders were using terms that were familiar and accessible to their audience.
Through this research, we identified overarching campaign themes that would help unite disparate voices within the Technology team. Our goal from here was two-fold:
- To provide umbrella positioning and messaging that would allow the Technology leaders to present a united front (getting everyone to work from the same playbook, so to speak).
- To elevate the voices of a number of individual leaders within those themes, strategically identifying specific subtopics where the firm’s Technology practitioners could best own the conversation.
Creating consensus and visibility
As you can imagine, gaining team-wide consensus on positioning was a challenge—with Technology leaders operating at different altitudes and coming from a diverse set of backgrounds, aligning everyone under cohesive campaign messaging and pillar statements required extensive collaboration. But this also proved to be immensely valuable: by getting everyone in the same room (virtual or otherwise), we were able to identify where the firm’s messaging was underdeveloped and steer our efforts towards gaining internal alignment.
This process highlighted the breadth of skills already on the team. Of course, an advisor with decades of experience in tech-focused private equity is going to have a different outlook than a serial operator and entrepreneur with a track record of scaling companies to IPO. In unpacking the Technology leaders’ priorities and areas of focus, we were able to spur internal alignment on campaign messaging and on the specific topics each leader could own in the larger tech ecosystem.
From there, our team built out a number of data-driven content angles, mapping them against the firm’s wider marketing and industry initiatives. This provided a long-term view of the specific topics and angles their practitioners would speak to in articles, allowing them to connect the dots between industry events, firm-wide campaigns, and the content they were bylining. Plus, they could draw on our messaging at speaking engagements, in web copy, and in conversations with prospective clients.
Results that speak for themselves
By developing a holistic program rather than a series of one-off articles or social media posts, we were able to cement the Technology’s team authority in market, demonstrating how their leaders were seasoned practitioners prepared to help companies of any and all maturities achieve scale, prepare for an exit, or overcome unforeseen challenges.
We also positioned leaders in relevant conversations with one another, approaching their thought leadership as sequential perspectives on overarching topics—and thus amplifying the firm’s messaging in key areas. Not only that, but the Technology leaders had multiple personal and professional contacts reach out to them directly, letting them know that their articles resonated—and wanting to continue the conversation.
Once the Technology team saw how thought leadership could help them jumpstart the conversations they wanted to be having with prospects, existing clients, and other leaders in the industry, they started investing even more time into the program, coming forward with their own spin on article ideas that we were able to validate and strengthen with data.
The relationships we formed within the consulting firm speak for themselves: when it came time to formally articulate a firm-wide mandate—messaging that would reflect the entire business’s approach to innovation, well beyond the Technology team—they turned to Quietly to run an in-depth discovery workshop and gain internal consensus on their positioning. Having seen the extent to which our frameworks and methods are applicable and effective, other teams have since turned to us for data-driven thought leadership, conference notes, and web messaging. Meanwhile, the other three Big Four are playing catch up.
Once the Technology team saw how thought leadership could help them jump-start the conversations they want to be having with prospects, existing clients, and other leaders in the industry, they started investing even more time into the program, coming forward with their own spin on article ideas that we were able to validate and strengthen with data.
Thought leadership, in our experience, can be too focused on a specific “leader.” But taking a team-wide approach is critical for building company-wide credibility. Especially in the world of remote work, where we may feel somewhat disconnected from our networks, presenting a united front is key. After all, people don’t hire the Big Four for a single individual—they hire an entire league of seasoned professionals.
We helped build the profiles of specific individuals in order to promote the cohesive whole, demonstrating that the firm is so much more than its name and “traditional” reputation—it’s about the unparalleled talent that you’ll have in your corner when you hire them.