What Thought Leadership Actually Costs

Dec 11, 2018

We get the question quite often: “What’s it going to cost?”

With thought-leadership deliverables such as white papers, reports, and articles, the flippant answer might be another question: “How long is a piece of string?”

There’s no clear-cut dollar answer to the cost question. Every piece of strategic content is unique unless it is part of a long series of cookie-cutter deliverables whose inputs and influencing factors are well-known from the get-go. There are simply too many variables to consider, from the robustness of the authors’ arguments to the number of review cycles needed.

But there are guidelines that can help and that’s what we’re going to share here. They’re based on experience gained over decades of producing thousands of pieces of strategic content of all shapes and sizes and formats, as well as from many more thousands of articles back in our journalism days.

The guidelines are expressed in numbers of hours, because charging per unit of time is how most of our consulting clients traditionally charge, and because it gives everyone involved a tool with which to encourage efficiency in development of content.

We break things into two main categories and across four sizes (word counts) of deliverables. Here’s what that looks like:

What Thought Leadership Actually Costs

So what about the dollars, the euros, the pounds sterling? I knew you’d ask that. The key variable, of course, is the hourly fee of the strategic content providers. Those rates usually vary according to the service; typically, copy editing and proof-reading are charged at lower rates than writing and line-editing or manuscript editing. Strategic content planning, coaching, and other advisory services may be priced much higher. Suffice it to say that most editorial service providers cost more than most people pay per hour for car repair, but less than they pay their lawyers.

There are the bargain hunters, of course. They’re the folks who view writing as a most basic commodity service. In some cases, they’ve Googled “freelance writing” and confirmed their biases by finding content farms whose freelancers will take notes and write up some readable copy for low money. Few editorial service providers worth their salt will engage with those prospects. They know it’s too difficult to work with folks who won’t take the time to understand the nuances that go into developing top-tier strategic content geared to specific audiences.

The guidelines above are just that: guidelines rather than a fixed rate card. They should give you a sense of the starting point for discussions that should explore at least some of the variables, as much as they can be foreseen. In a future blog, we’ll dig deeper into what affects the costs of great content.

One day, perhaps, there’ll be clever machine-learning algorithms that uncover the patterns among the many variables and come up with guidelines far more sophisticated than what you’ve got here. Until that day, well, you’ve got long pieces of string and short ones and other ones in between.