The title of this blog may be a bit extreme, and I realize that some planned, strategic advertising can be part of an effective marketing plan for certain types of businesses.  However, to launch an effective campaign, advertising should be both targeted to the right audience and conducted consistently over timeand that’s not always achievable, especially with a tight budget.  Advertising may be valuable when it comes to “quick trigger” purchases, like many consumer products or servicesbut when it comes to B2B professional services, there is traditionally a longer sales cycle, and often several touches needed to close a sale.  For many small to mid-sized B2B professional services firms, where advertising budgets are not exactly bottomless, there are other cost effective alternatives to consider.

One advantage of being in the professional services industry is that you offer something unique to a specialized client base. People who have a need for your service tend to crave industry knowledge and aim to develop trust prior to purchase.  By finding interesting angles and being creative, you can get quite a bit of mileage and success from marketing efforts other than advertising. Consider the following:

Pitching an interesting topic or angle to the media: Generally, consumers are savvy enough to know when they’re reading an advertisemen – the intent to sell a product or service is clear. This can water down your message.  However, when someone reads a third-party article written about your firm, or he or she views coverage of an event your company hosted, they’re seeing something you didn’t pay for, which makes it more credible from the reader’s or viewer’s perspective. But, you must have an angle in order to hook editors and get them to use your information for an article, to run a press release, or to cover your event. So what to pitch?  Focus on what’s new and groundbreaking in the industry and what insights you can offer?  Is your company doing something innovative or different?  How is your firm engaging with the local community? That’s your story.

Before diving in, conduct research and know who you are pitching to. For example, if you want to submit an authored article to a publication, first review the publication’s website and find out what topics they accept and the submission format they prefer.  Making an editor’s job as easy as possible helps build a relationship and improve the likelihood of placements.  The goal is to become an editor’s recognized and trusted source of quality content that will stand out in his/her overly-crowded in-box.

Pitching your firm’s experts to the media: To make your expert more appealing to the media, it may be helpful to emphasize particular niches of expertise that are consistent with hot topics in your industry.  Again, think about making editors’ jobs easier. When you create a professional bio and pitch a qualified subject matter expert, editors have a go-to source when they need a quote. It’s a win-win situation.

Just like any relationship (client/referral source/strategic partnership, etc.), it’s important to develop mutually beneficial situations.

Self publishing your news: There are a number of free online tools to get your company’s news releases distributed on the web, so whether or not publications publish your news potential buyers are able to access this information. Depending on the quality of the news, the distribution/syndication tools used, and the manner in which the news is formatted, companies can indeed get their information to rank higher for keyword searches on Google, Bing and others.  Also, search engines tend to give higher authority to sites that are updated often, so simply keeping your site updated consistently with news items (and other content) helps to naturally optimize your site.

Generating information with your ideal client in mind: Stay connected with your client base, their interests and what’s going on in the news. Develop a content plan around this. Your list of topics should be a good mix of evergreen items that address pain points, from seasonal subject matter to commentaries on hot button issues.  These could range from a blog post or video interview, to a webinar. What’s so great about content?  You can repurpose it over and over again to reach different audiences.

Using social media to get your message out: When we discuss social media engagement with some B2B professional services firms, there’s often an initial reaction of, “well, what would we use that for?”. Social media itself is not really even a tactic without context. Rather, social media is a vehicle with which to engage your connections. No matter which platform, you start with building a profile, and inviting a number of connections. From there, you need to share content (such as events you are attending, articles you’ve written, webinars you are offering, news items, etc.) and engage with others in online discussions in order to build and maintain a following. Don’t be afraid to try out new tools. Being ahead of the curve with the latest technology gives a competitive edge, and these touches don’t take much time at all. In fact, you can spend about a half-hour per week on social media activities and still make a worthwhile impact.

Professional services are sold and purchased in a different manner than consumer products, and thus we need to adapt the way we market. For instance, I might see a special sale from Amazon in my inbox, click through and buy the item, but I wouldn’t purchase legal or engineering services this way. A certain level of trust is essential in forming this type of relationship. You are likely already familiar with your target audience, their needs, and their buying cycle. Keeping these in mind, and adding consistent value through thought leadership and multiple touches is one way to nurture these clients and prospects.  Explore the many inexpensive or even free marketing tools and outreach strategies available to connect with a larger, warmer audience, your firm can likely be effective in staying in tune with client needs and closing more business — while significantly cutting costs.