Picture two equally qualified firms bidding on the same project. The representative of one firm tells the client, “Here’s our brochure.” The other says, “Here are reprints of some articles we’ve published showing our thought leadership on the issues you’re facing.”
Which firm has the better chance?
Publishing informative articles is one of the foundation blocks in any brand-building program. An article can demonstrate one’s credentials when seeking speaking engagements, and can form the basis of the speech itself. It can be sent to prospective clients as a reprint, either on paper or electronically. An article can be repositioned for a newsletter or blog. And perhaps most importantly, writing an article forces the author to think through his or her topic in greater depth. This kind of thinking gives insights into the client’s needs and why a client might choose one professional or firm over another.
So why don’t more engineers get published? After at least a decade of working with engineering firms, I’ve found that many engineers know they need to get published, but don’t know how to go about it. Or they may have written an article and then been unsuccessful in getting it published because it didn’t meet an editor’s needs.
Plan with the end in mind
As the old saying goes, “fail to plan, and you plan to fail.” It’s true of all areas of brand-building. In publishing articles, ask yourself:
- Who are my current and prospective clients? This indicates in which magazines you’d like to get published. Do you or your firm want to grow a K-12 business? Publish in education magazines. Do you want to demonstrate expertise in trenchless technologies? There may be potential clients among the readers of municipal affairs, public transportation, utility, and the oil and gas publications. How about forensics? Go for lawyers’ publications.
- What skills do you want to apply now, and in the future? This leads you to choosing topics that will demonstrate those skills. So, in considering topics, ask yourself, “What do clients want?” A municipal recreation center manager, for example, wants a building that is low cost to build and operate, works for all users, and looks good. This person likely doesn’t care about helping your firm try out an amazing new design — she or he wants something that works. So, demonstrate your understanding of that by providing information on trends in areas such as energy management, security, and crowd control.
While many articles by business professionals are the “how-to” kind, they don’t work well from a branding perspective. Clients don’t care how the work is done — that’s what they’re hiring you to take care of. Rather, they want to know that the engineer is aware of the issues that may affect them. The best way to show this is through a “trend” article that describes a trend, shows how it may affect the reader, and offers advice on avoiding the resulting problems or maximizing benefits.
One kind of how-to that works is the “how-to-work-with” article. Consider a forensics engineer I worked with who specializes in determining why things break or fall down. His clients were insurance carriers and lawyers, and so we wrote an article on the forensic engineer’s role and how to get good results when working with one. We published a version of this in an insurance magazine, and another in a legal magazine.
Some would-be authors are too busy to write, or writing is painful for them. A solution: bring in a freelance journalist to interview the “author” and to ghost-write a first draft for review and correction. It saves the engineer time and often results in a better product. The writer’s fee, from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, is well worth the investment.
Consider inviting a client to co-author the article, particularly if the article discusses a specific project. Editors may be reluctant to trust an article written by the firm that did the work, but will trust the content more if the client jointly authors the article, showing agreement that the project was a success.
I recently worked with an environmental engineering firm which had done innovative reclamation work on a municipal landfill. An article on this project, jointly authored by the firm and the municipality’s environmental manager, was published in a trade publication for the solid-waste sector.
As a result of the article, the municipality received several requests from other municipal representatives and regulatory staff to tour the landfill in question.
The municipality’s environmental manager enjoyed the professional recognition that resulted from the article, and the professional firm secured work on similar projects from people who participated in a site tour.
Carl Friesen, MBA, CMC, is principal of Mississauga, Ontario-based Global Reach Communications, which helps business professionals demonstrate their expertise through publishing articles in magazines and authoring books. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 289-232-4057.