How to Create Thought Leadership, Part 1: Introduction

Thought leadership. What is it? Why is it important to a public relations or marketing communications program? Since 2004, thought leadership’s share of search has risen from approximately 5,000 searches per month globally to nearly 22,000 searches per month as communicators seek ideas for creating it.

PR professionals need to transform their leaders and subject matter experts into thought leaders, and are desperately searching for help. In this series, we’ll examine what thought leadership is, why we need it, and how to generate it.

What Is Thought Leadership?

The generally accepted definition of thought leadership, via Forbes, is:

A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise. A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.

The key to thought leadership is in the first sentence: thought leadership is a recognition bestowed upon us, rather than something we claim for ourselves. It’s an earned title, an earned accolade given to us by third parties. When we say we want to create thought leadership, what we’re really saying is we want to create recognition by others that we are one of the experts in our field.

Thus, it’s also the height of absurdity for us to make claims about our own thought leadership in the absence of that third-party validation. We should not claim we are thought leaders any more than we should give ourselves awards. Like awards, thought leadership comes from the outside.

Indicators of Thought Leadership

Based on the definition above, what are the third-party endorsements which indicate thought leadership? Any form of recognition of expertise contributes to our earning thought leadership:

  • Awards for our expertise
  • Non-sponsored speaking opportunities
  • Media mentions of our expertise
  • Citations in industry publications of our expertise
  • Patents and trademarks earned

Later in this series, we’ll look at a more formal reporting structure for thought leadership, but anything which someone else generates on our behalf that acknowledges our expertise is an indicator of our thought leadership.

Next: Creating Thought Leadership

Given our definition, what do we need to do to create that outside perception of expertise? The rest of this series will examine:

  • Creating materials which demonstrate our expertise using our PRIME framework
  • Distributing materials to channels for others to find
  • Activating our audiences to share our expertise
  • Measuring our expertise

Stay tuned!

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, How to Measure the Value of PR

Posted on July 17, 2017 in Leadership, Marketing, Public Relations, Thought Leadership

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change. Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim. He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast. Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.
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