Selling a service

In the property industry we are used to promoting bricks and mortar. This has the benefit of a geographical location and ‘milestones’ such as planning consent, public consultation events, ‘turf cutting’, and ‘topping out’.

When promoting the attributes of a property consultancy – that is, the ability to provide property advice – we are rarely involved in the final, celebratory, moments of a property’s lifecycle, in fact we rarely come into contact with the end user.

Ultimately we are communicating logic over emotion and expertise over bricks and mortar, and this is significantly more challenging.

I’ve worked for several property consultancies, including CBRE, Trident Building Consultancy, and currently Carter Jonas and Chestertons and generally I find that thought leadership, therefore, is the best way to communicate expertise.

There is a significant difference between thought leadership and voicing thought. Good thought leadership, rather than adding comment to an already comment-saturated market, is part of a broader campaign which develops thinking or practice, leads by example and facilitates collaboration and change.

Done well, thought leadership is a great opportunity for a property consultancy to engage with a target audience over a long period of time, to establish niche expertise, to influence the way a market works and to set it apart from the competition.

Here’s a recommended approach:

Selecting a subject / position

  • Select a subject that is aligned to your purpose and values, is topical, directly related the service line and of relevance to your target audience – for example, related to social, political, legislative or economic change.
  • Try to select a topic (or at least an angle) that has not been addressed by another property consultancy.
  • Ideally identify a subject with broad interest and potentially wider implications.
  • Ensure that your subject plays to your strengths.
  • Consider precisely how you will add to, and exceed, the existing body of expertise. Check that the corporate PR vision / management is happy with position advocated.
  • Seek potential partners and collaborators.

Developing a thought leadership position

  • Understand the change and outcomes that you are looking to achieve.
  • Collate new thought on a topic of real interest to your subject – comment opportunity no. 1.
  • Turn those insights into practical advice, backed up by example – comment opportunity no. 2.
  • Test that practical application in your work – comment opportunity no. 3.
  • Implement a collaborative approach that generates broader impact – comment opportunity no 4.
  • Measure its impact.
  • Tell the story – comment opportunity no. 5.

Important checks

  • The topic and approach should be in line with both the overall and service line strategy – it must not conflict with key messages and should be relevant to target audiences.
  • Your organisation should be abiding by your approach or at least moving towards it.
  • Your thoughts should be followed through with actions.
  • Thought leadership should not be considered a fixed statement: if the external circumstances are changing, you should constantly review your position in light of this.

The subject of thought leadership is described in greater detail in Penny Norton’s book Promoting Property:  insight, experience and best practice, which was published in April 2020 and can be purchased from Routledge, Amazon and all main booksellers.