An A to Z of Professional Services Marketing: Advertising

Professional services | Nigel Clark | 21 January 2020

Course Leader for Professional Services courses with the College, Nigel Clark, is creating a new series 'A-Z of professional services marketing', starting with 'A' for Advertising. 

For many years and for most product and service marketers, advertising and marketing were synonymous. If you were in marketing, you were mainly working out how, where and when to advertise. And if you were in advertising, you were spending a marketer’s budget.

What did Advertising look like to Professional Services marketers?

Professional services (PS) marketers, on the other hand, were at pains to point out they were about everything but advertising. Advertising was their ‘bête noire’, almost the antithesis of what they considered good marketing to be. If PS marketing was about developing discrete one-to-one relationships, then how could advertising play a role when it was an indiscriminate punt to an ill-defined audience? Spray and pray! 

Any firm that resorted to advertising was looked down upon as being unprofessional or even desperate. At best, it was the seen as a preserve of small firms that needed profile to attract a regular stream of new clients, particularly in areas such as personal injury law. 

If you were a larger practice, with a reasonable market profile and established clients, then advertising marked you out as a firm that didn’t value its existing clients, wasn’t focused on building relationships and didn’t care about where its marketing pounds or dollars were spent.

Advertising = hubris + wastefulness.

The only point of debate between PS marketers was the value of the ‘advertorial’: a piece of paid for editorial and surely marketing’s worst portmanteau.

So for a time, the easiest way to define the difference between professional services and consumer product marketing was the former’s hostility to and the latter’s obsession with advertising. 

Advertising today

Today, we don’t yet have role reversal - and I very much doubt we ever will – but technology, digital innovation and data intelligence has changed the picture significantly (although GDPR and data protection is probably slowing down the pace of change a bit).

Firstly, consumer marketers no longer have to see their customers as an amorphous, indistinguishable blob. They may not yet understand an individual customer in the same way a professional firm can a prominent client (although whether firms do or not will be the subject of a future post), but all marketers can now segment, profile and communicate to individuals as never before. 

Hence the language of relationships, engagement and insight is now ubiquitous across the marketing spectrum, not just reserved for professional services.

Advertising performance and what this means for clients

And with advertising, when you can use data metrics to measure the impact and ROI of advertising so precisely, especially in the digital sphere, then it is much easier to banish the claim of wastefulness and even any trace of hubris.

I’m still wary of the impact advertising alone can have in any professional services marketing campaign, but I do see it as part of the mix as long as its ROI is tracked. For instance, isn’t today’s equivalent of an advertorial a potential contributor to a content-focused thought leadership campaign?

Ultimately the value of all marketing is defined by cost and return, so why should any available tool or approach be discarded if it can contribute positively to attracting and retaining clients?

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