Thought leadership is one of those PR and communications jargon words that everybody loves to hate. For those of us who work on the business-to-business (B2B) side of SHIFT, it’s almost always an ask in agency RFPs issued by prospective clients and an ongoing priority for current clients. But what does it really mean and why should we focus on it in communications programs?
Thought leadership is critical in establishing brand credibility and relevance with your target audience. Consider that unless they’re somewhat far into a buying journey, customers are much more interested in hearing about your expertise (in relation to what they prioritize and care about) rather than your product.
Your thought leadership message or platform can take many shapes and forms content wise – it can be a contributed article, a video, an infographic, commentary an industry trend or news article.
However, it always has the following components:
A solidified message
Thought leadership starts with an idea or platform from an executive or spokesperson who feels strongly (and is an expert) about what they’re talking about. It needs to be clearly defined, consistent, strong and something that the whole company can rally behind. You want your thought leadership platform to be something that matters to your business and will speak to both your customers and prospects but isn’t something that your peers are already talking about. Try honing in on one particular aspect of your business, technology or solution where you can own that message and stand out from what’s already being said. Bonus points if it’s a bold, contrarian, unique point of view.
Data to back it up
It’s an asset to have strong data that backs up your thought leadership platform. Try issuing a data report or running a survey of IT decision makers that will showcase the realities of business today. Then, with those results, tie that back to your thought leadership message and either dispel myths within the industry or shed light on real-world business problems.
Activities outside of PR
A well-structured B2B thought leadership campaign might start with PR, but it certainly doesn’t end with it. Make sure there are whitepapers, videos, webinars and other marketing collateral that will accompany your message. Additionally, don’t forget to run social promotions around solid articles you secure with relevant publications. The more eyeballs you drive to that story, the more likely the reporter is to work with you again and, hopefully, more traffic will be driven to your website. It’s a win-win for everyone.
With strong components of your thought leadership campaign, you’re ready to kick things off. But wait, your CEO asks you why you’re even doing this, to begin with. It’s important to recognize that a lot of people outside of the PR department at your company aren’t going to understand what thought leadership is and why they should lend their valuable time to support it.
Educating your C-suite, or other spokespeople within your organization is a major key to your success and something I recommend starting off with. Hold a meeting to outline what thought leadership is and how it impacts the business. For starters, if you say something interesting reporters will want to talk to you. We all know the power of the press and what regular, consistent and quality coverage can do for a company.
After you receive buy in and have solidified your message, you’ll want to assign goals to your campaign. If your CEO is having a hard time getting behind the idea, put metrics in place to demonstrate your confidence in what you’re proposing. Then hold yourself and your team accountable. If you’re not making as much traction as you had anticipated, perhaps it’s time to reassess your message or tweak your goals depending on what’s happening in the market.
Overall, the right thought leadership campaign can lead to loads of success not only within PR but the broader marketing department as well, however, it’s important to know what it involves and why it matters. Being able to demonstrate its importance will help set you and your team up for success.