CMO Q&A: Deloitte Consulting's strategies on thought leadership, engaging execs

Jonathan Copulsky, Deloitte's chief content officer and Deloitte Consulting's CMO, talks to Diana Bradley about why the firm is leading thought leadership rankings.

How is your role structured at Deloitte?
We have Deloitte and our individual businesses [business units include audit, tax, consulting, enterprise risk, and advisory services]. I report to Diana O’Brien, the overall CMO for Deloitte, in my role as CMO for Deloitte Consulting and in my separate role as Deloitte’s CCO. [O’Brien] oversees all of our research, eminence, and publishing activation. I have counterpart CMOs for our other business units.

Last March, Cathy Engelbert became the first female CEO of Deloitte and in January, Deloitte Consulting named Janet Foutty its first female CEO. What are their plans for the company?
[Engelbert] is also the first female CEO for any of the "Big Four" accounting/professional services firms [Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and KPMG]. [Engelbert] is bringing a focus on how we are innovating with how we do our work and helping our clients cope with innovation. [Foutty], who has led our federal practice and tech practice, will also amplify what [Engelbert] is doing around innovation, trying to point us in new directions. She will particularly focus on improving and expanding our presence in digital activities, so helping our clients with digital marketing and digital transformation. Those will be key elements to our go-forward strategy.

What is the biggest challenge for Deloitte Consulting from a marketing or comms perspective?
Our revenues in the US are approximately $7 billion. We have many different practices, sectors, and industries that we serve. It is challenging for us to understand and pull together the common threads which help to represent all of Deloitte. But it is really about finding marketing campaigns that bring together all the diverse parts of this very large and complex organization and in a simple and straightforward way help our clients understand how we can help them.

Our goal for consulting and for the business overall is to be the largest, most successful, profitable, and compelling professional services firm in the world. Our goal from a marketing standpoint is to take that message and make sure people understand it. While we are proud of where we came from, there are still some people who assume we are only an accounting firm. We aim to educate them to think differently. 

Can you talk me through the strategy and process behind Deloitte’s thought leadership differentiation?
In 2011, we created a strong set of quality standards for every piece we published. We backed that up with an editorial workflow process, similar to the best magazines in the world. We also invested more in curating content around specific topics. Additionally, we created a new platform called Deloitte University Press [which publishes original articles, reports, and periodicals that provide insights for businesses, the public sector, and NGOs].

In 2014, we started creating podcasts, massive open online courses, interactive graphics, and videos to amplify what previously had been primarily white papers.

Source Information Services recently ranked us number one in terms of quality of thought leadership at a professional services firm. Four years ago, we were number 18.

But we need to continue to reinvent the way we present. We have done that with podcasts, MOOC, and interactive graphics. We recognize that we need to meet our readers and clients where they are as opposed to where we want them to be. Part of the reason why we continuously experiment with different formats is to enable us to see what works and what doesn’t. 

A recent Source Information Services’ report also recognized Deloitte University Press as a preeminent channel for engaging senior executives. What are your top tips when it comes to doing this?
First is the ability to speak in the language of our client execs and understand the major pain points they have and to be able to translate that into very pragmatic and practical recommendations about programs they can pursue. Second is to recognize the difference between what is marketing and promotion versus new ideas. I don’t know a single senior executive who doesn’t have time for new ideas that make him or her think differently about his or her business. So our thought leadership and the reason why we have our separate imprint Deloitte University Press makes it clear that when leaders and visitors come to that site, what they will get there is interesting and provocative thinking, not marketing collateral.

When did you start using podcasts as part of your marketing strategy?
I serve on the board for Chicago Public Media, which is the home for podcasts like This American Life and Serial, so I was very familiar with the tech and that is what prompted us to look at this.

Our podcasts used to include our senior partners or practitioners who spoke at length about a particular topic. Last year, we re-launched our podcasts and changed to an interview format, hosted by former NPR reporter Tanya Ott. We tried to take lessons learned from the success of podcasts like Serial and make them feel more engaging and like an interview, instead of a broadcast of a talking head.

Success from this has really been two-fold. We have thousands of regular subscribers and listeners. But this has also helped to amplify our thought leadership [efforts]. Often, we will have an article, white paper, video, or podcast all on related parts of the same topic. So all the formats complement one another and amplify the overall pick up in terms of engagement with our clients. In some cases, [it will inspire them] to recommend us to other clients; and in other cases [it will inspire them to] have a conversation with us. That prompts opportunities for us to engage with them about providing services.

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