How to Create Thought Leadership for Communications Programs

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

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