The other night I was reading a story to my kids about a young girl who realizes she’s the only one who celebrates Chanukah in her class. Instead of feeling embarrassed for being different, the girl embraces it and starts, “The Only One Club.” Soon, all the kids in the class want to be part of the club. Each shouts out reasons why he or she should belong… “I’m the only one with red hair,” one boy says. “We’re the only twins,” a pair of girls yells. Even the teacher joins the club since she’s the only grown-up. Everyone has something that differentiates them from the others.

What marketers and PR professionals do on a daily basis is much like the book: We find those differences that set businesses apart. It’s one of the critical components of business storytelling.

For some businesses, particularly professional services firms, finding these differences is more difficult. With no product per se, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s “first, best or only” about a specific firm. What we tell our clients is that it’s all about the people – the people set them apart, not the services. If that’s the case, how does a partner at a law firm or a portfolio manager at a financial advisory firm stand out from the crowd? Here are my top five tips:

  1. Be available and responsive: It sounds really simple, but the press tend to use experts who respond quickly. Reporters are working on tight deadlines and often need someone to explain an issue or provide opinions within the hour. Set yourself apart by being willing to get on the phone at a moment’s notice.
  2. Make topics relatable:  The best spokespeople are those who can explain complex issues in a way (aka laymen’s terms) that anyone can understand. Remember to avoid jargon; even if a reporter understands a topic, readers may not. This Wall Street Journal story, “Report on the Recent PiggyBanking Crisis,” is a perfect example of how to take a complicated topic and make it relatable (and very funny too, I might add).
  3. Talk about the impact: In any debate or issue, the audience wants to understand how a particular issue will impact them. What will happen if different scenarios play out? To provide value, be prepared to talk about the “what ifs.”
  4. Be discoverable:  When your target audience searches for a topic, we want them to find you. To do that, you need to put yourself out there online. We’re living in an age where there are tremendous opportunities to develop and publish content – through blogs, tweets, contributed articles, opinion pieces, even video.  Be a resource for news in your industry. If you don’t start talking about what you know, someone else will.
  5. Engage in conversation:  Whether speaking to a reporter or communicating within social media channels, it all comes down to engagement. Look for opportunities to engage by commenting on articles, participating in online forums or interacting with others on Twitter. Everything we do online should be thought of as a two-way conversation. It’s the same as real life; no one likes being talked “at.”

In business, it’s rare that anyone is truly unique, but strong marketing and a willingness to take steps to differentiate can be all you need to stand apart from the crowd.

Stacey Mann is the executive vice president of account services for Greenough. Send her an email at smann@greenoughcom.com or follow her on Twitter @sliedermanmann