Thought leadership is a well-known buzzword in the PR and comms world and one I’m often asked about. What does it mean? Well, put simply, a thought leader is more than an expert. They are an expert among experts. Someone who is constantly well-informed, ahead of the curve and able to guide the course of dialogue with pioneering insights. They anticipate change before it happens and captivate audiences with their innovative thinking.
Fundamentally, thought leadership is about pushing conversations forward into new territory. But tapping into that knowledge - and putting unique ideas, perspectives or predictions down on paper (more likely the laptop or phone) - means creating compelling content to share with a well understood audience. That also makes it a powerful PR tool.
The ability to offer fresh insight can be harnessed to grow audiences, raise profile and shape brands. Of course, first you have to be able to come up with those insights and some say that can’t be learned – you either have it or you don’t. In fact, I would argue that some of the best thought leaders are made. That’s what their PR teams are for!
When it comes to branding for new or existing markets, identifying thought leaders and spreading the word is crucial to success, especially when starting out or scaling up your presence. In the business world closing a sale or contract is often a long process, so anything that can be done to engage a customer in the first instance and nurture them through the buyer process should be explored.
Whether the objective is to gain investment, attract and retain the best talent, build credibility or boost sales, every business needs to establish a thought-led presence. Here are a few simple steps to follow to scale your business into its next phase of growth.
Identify the spokespeople
There are a few things to consider when establishing who the thought leaders of the business should be. Firstly, it should be someone who can see past their own products or services to see the ‘bigger picture’. The chosen ones must be able to speak without jargon and explain complex subjects in layman’s terms. They also need credibility, which usually means the CEO and C-suite are best positioned to fulfill the thought leader role. After all, they have first-hand experience in driving forward a successful business to draw on.
When you’ve identified who your spokespeople should be look at relevant themes, based for example on the national news agenda or the company’s objectives, and develop ideas for different angles on those themes. It’s not all for the big business leaders either - journalists and event organisers in particular are always keen to hear from specialists in smaller organisations to get their take on wider business issues.
While it’s not always easy to plan for everything - in fact the best thought-led pieces come from reactive commentary to the national news agenda – it’s a starting point and gives some steer to what you are and aren’t comfortable discussing.
Prep, prep, prep
While the leg work will be done by the comms teams when it comes to securing opportunities – whether that be an interview with a journalist or speaking at a key trade event – it’s ultimately down to the thought leader to deliver. Give yourself time to review the full brief provided, gather your thoughts, and prepare for any anticipated questions or challenges. It’s not always easy to find this time in the working day, especially when you are in a phase of growth, so put an hour aside in the morning or evenings to take the information in – it will more than pay off.
Once the preparation is done, enjoy it! Don’t take yourself too seriously and be confident in your conviction – you’re the expert after all. Expect more questions and conflicting opinions, all of which make for an interesting and rewarding conversation. Finally, don’t worry about pushing your products or services, they will sell themselves.
Reap the reward
Once you and your company’s name appear in a leading title a few times, or your picture appears on the agenda for a national conference, people will start to listen. You can use this experience as a talking point in new business situations and for networking. It’s also great for increasing your presence on social media, so get sharing.
For more on this and other comms tips when growing your company, download our guide to Marketing, PR & Comms for Business Scale-Up.