Thought leadership is more than just the latest marketing buzzword. When used correctly, it can make the difference between a company’s catapult to success or descent into obscurity.

For public relations agencies, the days of relying on the power of the standard press release are long gone. Incorporating thought leadership into a comprehensive communications strategy is key to tell clients’ stories and facilitate strong media coverage. 

The late Joel Kurtzman, founding editor of strategy+business magazine, coined the term “thought leader” 25 years ago as someone who is recognised as someone who deeply understands their business, the needs of their customers and the marketplace in which they operate.

The strategy is to establish an industry expert, in many cases a company’s chief executive officer (CEO) or other company leader. Then create credible and easily-consumable content that validates that individual’s expertise. A successful thought leadership campaign will incorporate white papers, industry research, blog posts, app downloads, podcasts and an already influencing social media presence.

It’s a PR agency’s job to tell its clients’ stories to the media in ethical and compelling ways. Stories must appeal to the media to attract investors, market traction and possible business partners. The challenge in today’s media landscape is to know and understand the most effective strategies to get a clients’ stories in front of journalists so that they will be published and get the validation needed to be successful.

Establish Credibility

When well-established and relevant media outlets need vetted sources for their articles about that company’s industry, on whom should they call?

Journalism has changed dramatically in recent years. The evolution of social media and citizen journalism — when ordinary people report on newsworthy situations — there is often very little, if any, fact-checking. Because mainstream media is no longer our only source of news, professional journalists are faced with the challenge of credibility.

How the Industry has Changed

There is no shortage of companies and startups who want coverage, but journalists rarely have the time to research, check for accuracy and write the compelling article you want and need them to. For this reason, we see a push from mainstream journalists for more vetted sources. Cision’s 2018 global State of the Media report found that globally, 75% of media say that ensuring content is 100% accurate is most important for their organisation, even more than being first to publish.

techUK recently published an industry report, Digital Ethics in 2019: Making digital ethics relevant to the lives people lead, that highlights the key steps necessary to move forward digital ethics. In it, the report concludes industry must:

  • convert ethical principles into tangible actions that make digital ethics relevant and beneficial to the real lives people lead,
  • demonstrate how taking an ethical approach is having an impact on the way they operate, and
  • actively reference the key ethical principles and values that are driving change to the way companies are operating in the media.

If companies want them to get it right, they need to curate/create the content themselves. Creating an online thought leader profile that establishes a CEO or company leader as an industry expert is one basic way to establish industry or company credibility. These profiles can detail things such as areas of expertise, areas of responsibilities, professionally-relevant opinions, education and achievements.

It is important that the media sees CEOs as an industry leader if they are to trust them as a vetted source.

Harness the Power of the CEO

Don’t underestimate your power as CEO. Harness it.

From startups to well-established corporations, CEOs need to be at the forefront, represent their brand, and be part of the day-to-day PR strategy. When CEOs embrace a thought leadership strategy, it strengthens brand validity that attracts investors, shareholders and potential business partners.

Done correctly, thought leadership has real business impact. The State of the Media report, that surveyed 1,355 journalists from across six countries on their perception of the media and communications industries, found that 49% of business decision makers stated that thought leadership directly led them to grant business to an organisation.

Market a Vision, Not a Product

Consumers, investors, business decision makers and journalists want to know what company leaders think about their industry and where they think it is going. What’s driving the next big topic?

Leaders also need to clearly define their vision for the future of their companies if they want to have any impact with business decision makers.

According to the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study “How Thought Leadership Drives Demand Generation” (surveyed across industries in Germany, France and the United Kingdom) 50% of decision makers are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organisation that has articulated a clear vision versus one that does not publish thought leadership.

Consumers want you to inspire confidence in your product or service. Investors want to quantify your company’s value. Journalists want a good, factual story. In today’s media and marketing landscape, to remain competitive and relevant, a company—no matter its size or length of time in operation—must incorporate thought leadership into its public relations strategy, there’s no way around it.

Thought leadership is an emerging market. Not only should companies incorporate thought leadership into their PR strategies, but CEOs and company leaders also must have a visible and active role in it. When they do, it cements a company’s credibility and strengthens the brand; attracting investors, shareholders, and potential business partners.