Thought leadership is one of those terms that gets thrown about by PR professionals, but it is difficult to relate to for those who are new to communications. It generally refers to breaking a new idea or argument and is often associated with content – op-eds, graphics or videos – that challenges the status quo. This is a very crowded space, with lots of voices vying for coverage, however, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be a thought leader and differentiate yourself when you are talking to media.
What you do need to do is have something insightful to say, but that doesn’t mean you have to always be completely original or indeed controversial to be heard.
Thought leadership is attainable for most businesses and is an essential part of profile-raising. If you are able to take complex matters that – via your own expertise – you have simplified and made relatable to an audience who previously did not understand it, then by definition you are a thought leader.
On many occasions, spokespeople offer top-line corporate platitudes, without ever taking a stance or pushing a message that is relatable to their audience. Those who get asked back or to comment again tend to be those who contributed to the discussion, offering insight, context and expertise that the reader or viewer would not have been able to deduce themselves.
We often see it with football pundits or news contributors. If a pundit spends their time spewing out bland platitudes whilst never taking a stand on any of the action on the field, they are unlikely to be asked back.
Using the football example, it is very easy to understand who is offering depth of thought and who is a celebrity filling a gap on the broadcast schedule.
Host – Was it a handball?
Pundit – I can see both sides, it’s a tough one to call.
Host – Was it a handball?
Pundit – When I was a player I would always close off my body when I am trying to block a cross. The defender hasn’t. He has made himself big. That’s simply not allowed and the referee has no choice but to award the penalty!
In Scenario 2, the analyst has offered a detailed explanation, applied their own experience and made a logical conclusion. This is what the viewer wants and its adds to the watching experience. It also means that the viewer has a discussion point when they talk to their friends about the incident.
Companies in many sectors can do the same. If you want your brand to be relatable to your clients, then you need to be packaging your expertise in a way they can understand.
So, take a company looking for further investment in their new wearable healthcare device. If they simply talk about the portable nature of the product, they may get some coverage, but it is unlikely to be sustained or affect sales in the long term. If their CEO is pitched as an expert on the future of wearable medicine and how it will shape healthcare, many doors are open to them over a long period of time.
The PR’s role is to understand that expertise and make content relatable to their client’s target audience – hopefully, in a similar way to what I have done with thought leadership in this article!