Professional services marketing is relatively new, with the late 1980s being widely seen as the start point. Accountants led the way through to the 1990s when law firms, management consultants and surveyors joined in – really catching up by the turn of the century.
To understand professional services marketing, one really needs to look at the seismic change in the City of London that impacted the financial services arena and then swept across the supporting industries.
The key year in the marketing of financial services was 1986. The so-called ‘big bang’, that saw the British Government under Margaret Thatcher de-regulate the City, almost overnight. By ending the separation of dealers and advisors, the ‘big bang’ enabled large takeovers and mergers. This reduction in regulation resulted in a snowballing effect, where large companies continued to grow exponentially. After the stockbrokers and jobbers, the next to take up the baton were the accountancy firms.
The rise of the big 4
The amalgamation of different firms led to the formation of extremely large partnerships. These mergers made business sense for these firms but did present a problem. An organisation made up of smaller firms risked having its identity diluted. This is exactly what happened with many of the accountancy conglomerates of the late 1980s.
Marketing became an essential tool to enable these large partnerships, made up of a myriad of firms each with their own procedures, culture, personnel and brand, to create a clear vision of how it wanted to present themselves. The big firms grew sizeable marketing teams and through the 1990s became increasingly adept at a wide spectrum of marketing from PR and communications through to pitch management.
The rise of the law firms
Seeing the success that marketing had brought to accountancy firms, such as Deloitte, KMPG and PWC, law firms soon followed suit. Until around 1990 law firms were not legally allowed to promote their services. After a few false starts law firms started investing in specialist professional service marketeers.
The digital revolution
The result of this marketing evolution was an era of creativity. This also coincided with the advent of the internet and before long, websites grew from a list of services to a genuine first point of contact for many clients. Going through the last 20 years there has been a significant divergence between the big firms with sophisticated (and expensive) websites and smaller firms failing to keep up – the gulf has become the difference between the Premier League and Sunday football with very little in between.
Other digital technology also became increasingly advanced, it was clear that those companies that embraced the change would stand to benefit the most.
Social media became the first area to follow websites with LinkedIn becoming the business choice and some limited Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques. Now we are in the age of blogs, apps and far more sophisticated SEO planning as the market reacts to a fast-evolving Google algorithm. Vive la difference!
From the turn of the century the larger law firms really started getting a handle on brand management as a method of differentiation in a congested and largely vanilla market. Increasingly this has now been achieved by focusing on corporate values. And in an interesting about turn it is the financial services that are following the lawyers.
The gulf between the large professional firms and the smaller ones is getting larger and there are very few medium-sized accountancy firms making an inroads at all. The picture with law firms is better, but it is still only the top 30 making any meaningful investment. It is much the same with management consultants and surveyors. The big differential is that larger firms understand the value of developing and protecting their brand and know the difference between marketing and selling, whilst the smaller firms generally see marketing as an expense and confuse it with selling.
At MSP Reach we understand the professional services market and the nuances that make it different. We work with mid-sized firms to help them punch above their weight whilst making sure that they spend their budget on areas that will make a real difference.
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MSP Reach is part of the MSP Organisation, a professional services company that supports businesses with a range of key services. Visit our website here – MSP Organisation