Visible Experts and AEC: The Impact of High Profile Thought Leaders on Business Development

By: Sylvia Montgomery

AEC firms have a distinct advantage when it comes to visibility. A great many other professional services providers have little more than lines of code, spreadsheets, or buried cable to put on display. High visibility projects can translate easily to visible expertise. And getting noticed is good for brand building, especially considering the recent research done by Hinge on Visible Experts. In a study of 130 such thought leaders and over 1,000 of their clients, the research study uncovered the tools that Visible Experts employ to grow their personal brand awareness and the benefits of having one of these high profile thought leaders within your firm.

Over 60% of the 130 experts interviewed revealed two primary benefits that their status brought to their firms:

Brand building. Your brand is a combination of your reputation and your visibility. Having an industry celebrity with known expertise builds up both aspects of your firm’s brand. Your entire organization will benefit from basking in the glow of your resident superstar. Here’s a breakdown of that impact:

Visible Experts’ Impact on Firms’ Brand-Building Capabilities


Business Development. A significant majority of the experts interviewed reported that their status had a major impact on their firms’ business development and growth. A big part of thought leaders’ effect on business comes through lead generation. Not only does the presence of a Visible Expert create more inbound traffic to firms and their websites, but it also allows the firms to charge a premium for the privilege of working with their singular talent.

The study breaks experts out into five levels of visibility:

icon1Level 1: The Resident Expert

Recognized as an expert by clients, staff, and colleagues, these individuals are not well known outside of their firms.

icon2Level 2: The Local Hero

Known in the local market, these individuals’ expertise has started to move beyond the boundaries of the firm, occasionally drawing business based on their reputation.

icon3Level 3: The Rising Star

Individuals whose reputations are moving onto the regional or even national stage, attracting better business at higher fees.

icon4Level 4: The Industry Rock Star

Nationally recognized names within a given niche, attracting top-tier business opportunities and commanding premium fees for the individual and the firm.

icon5Level 5: The Superstar

Individuals who have broken out of a particular niche and become synonymous with an entire area of expertise, with major firms seeking to associate themselves with them.

These range from The Resident Expert and Local Hero, all the way up to Global Superstars. Even a fairly low level star can command rates between double and triple the industry baseline rate. And a Global Superstar can bring in hourly rates in the neighborhood of thirteen times higher than standard. Even without more inbound traffic, a Visible Expert can mean significant growth in revenue.

But inbound traffic does increase. Here are the top tools that AEC experts reported using to develop leads:

Top Marketing Tools AEC Visible Experts Use


As the top rated tool indicates, online methods are a must. Traditional networking is still alive—particularly through speaking engagements—but getting the word out about in-person events is very much an online activity. The production of content—blogs, article, books, and whitepapers—is crucial to developing an identity as Visible Expert and using that identity to drive business to your firm.

It’s also important to note that a Visible Expert’s place within those five levels of stardom correlate to the growth and business development. While a resident expert might not have a significant impact, growing your thought leader’s reputation to that of Local Hero or Industry Superstar can significantly transform your firm’s brand.

The takeaway here is that it won’t happen immediately or overnight, but it can definitely happen. Even better, the research reveals the shared ways that Visible Experts ascended to stardom and how to take the fast track to high profile expertise. Through this replicable process, you can learn how to build a better and more profitable personal and professional brand.

About the Author:

Sylvia Montgomery is a Senior Partner at Hinge, a marketing and branding firm for professional services. At Hinge, Sylvia provides strategic counsel to national clients. She is a co-author of The Visible Expert, Inside the Buyer’s Brain, and Online Marketing for Professional Services. You can follow Sylvia on Twitter @BrandStrong.


Share This