Rethinking the art of the possible


We’re all well aware of the pressures placed on consulting firms to meet unprecedented client demand for insights to help them deal with the COVID crisis. The way in which thought leadership teams quickly pivoted to new topics while simultaneously ramping up production capacity and speed to market is impressive in itself. But what really stands out in conversations we had with leaders of these teams towards the end of last year is how they used the pandemic to rethink the art of the possible.

As the virus took hold, the research team at Accenture quickly built a data factory, drawing on a wide variety of sources including public policy changes, market information, and company financials, together with frequently updated survey information. This data factory enabled scenarios to be developed and regularly revised for different industries. “The focus was less on, ‘OK we’ve done that and that’s it,’ and more about taking feedback, taking on the additional questions, taking on new data, and refreshing what we had done along the way,” explains Francis Hintermann, Global Managing Director at Accenture Research. And while some of the intensity around the constant updating of the data factory has since waned, many aspects of the factory will stay and continue to support Accenture’s content in 2021 and beyond.

Elsewhere, as early as March 2020, PwC’s marketing team set up a programme called CFO Pulse, which involved sending out surveys to chief financial officers globally every other week. This allowed PwC to deliver content fortnightly, often supported by press conferences. “We never would have dreamt of doing something like that before—publishing a major piece of original, survey-based content across 23 countries every 14 days—but we pulled it off,” comments Ilona Steffen, PwC’s Global Marketing and Insights Director. “It inspired us to be more aspirational and aim even higher.”

At IBM, increased internal and external interest in thought leadership led to a sharper focus on measuring its impact, through the creation of an index that tracks performance against 20 goals, in order to help the team make decisions about where adjustments need to be made. This process has largely been automated, drawing on skills normally dedicated to data gathering and analysis to support content production. “Our data team are great, and once we were able to tap into that expertise and adjust their focus toward external data, we really were accelerating right through to the end,” explains Cindy Anderson, IBM’s Global Lead, Engagement and Eminence.

The need to produce relevant, high-quality content quickly led to a streamlining of processes and a more campaign-based approach at KPMG. “In order for us to walk the talk, we ourselves had to become more agile,” says Attila Kelemen, Executive Director, Brand and Thought Leadership at KPMG LLP. “Some of these new business processes are definitely here to stay. Thought leadership is an even more integral part of the campaign mix and we got much better at ensuring that thought leadership, in some instances, is the starting point from a campaign perspective.”

Of course, we’d all have preferred not to have had to go through the events of the last year or more. But these examples of changed processes and approaches go to show that there have been positives to be gained. Many firms have not just done the necessary in order to cope with the crisis, but have used it as an opportunity to rethink and challenge themselves—leading to some extraordinary achievements that are well worth sharing and celebrating.

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