Six Key Steps to Cultivating Thought Leadership

Jun 29, 2016

By Sue O'Keefe

Cultivating Thought Leadership is like any other marketing campaign—it contains distinct elements, rolled out over a specific period of time. It’s also different from many campaigns you’ve probably worked on, in that you are raising the profile of a specific person, not a company. Because of that, your Thought Leadership campaigns should be separate and distinct from your ongoing Industry Leadership campaigns. (Not sure the difference? We’ve defined each of them here).

If you have executives or even Subject Matter Experts who are thought_leadership_chess.jpg
somewhere along the path to Thought Leadership, your expertise in Marketing Communications can help them grow and maintain their status. How can you tell who’s ready and who’s not? Read on…

Step 1: Identification. Your Thought Leader needs to be a visionary who is approachable and ready to be in the public eye. This person may be the CEO of a company, a CTO or CIO or even a board member. Perhaps you’ve already identified your company’s Thought Leader. Hint: he or she is probably the person who everyone waits around to talk with after meetings or at industry events. They consistently have good ideas and are able to articulate them in ways that get everyone’s head nodding in unison.

Step 2: Coach, Coach, Coach. Even the best speakers and presenters need help developing their style and figuring out how to make their best ideas shine. By offering honest feedback, you can help your emerging Thought Leader hone his or her public persona. Encourage them to find their unique presentation flavor—a way to genuinely connect with their audience and build a fan base. Many Thought Leaders do this by bringing in a personal dimension to their interviews and talks. By being a good listener, you can help your executive find their own distinct way of presenting.  

Step 3: Topic Identification. Although Thought Leaders generally don’t need too much coaching in this area, it’s an important step, because it’s all about positioning. Their company will definitely receive some side benefits from their exposure, but this campaign is primarily about taking their visionary ideas and successes, and driving proactive, issues-led campaigns around them, based on driving the conversation. A strong PR team can bring the objectivity necessary to accomplish this, by landing placements in the media, analyst reports, etc.—shaping these ideas into consumable topics.

Step 4: Build Relationships with Key Influencers. Although beat reporters and traditional analysts will be talking regularly to your Subject Matter Experts, CMOs, and others, your Thought Leaders need to be on a different level, talking to key business reporters, editors-in-chief at industry publications, lead analysts, and even analyst firm CEOs. Cultivation of “give and take” relationships with these individuals will lead to your Thought Leader being called upon as a key source for articles and the vetting of new technologies, ideas and applications. Their ongoing communication with these Influencers will offer them the opportunity to consistently refine their vision, even as they are being credited for their new ideas.

Step 5: TrendJack. Introduce the Thought Leader into the conversation by commenting and offering a unique, personal opinion on breaking news and trend stories relevant to the themes and topics you’ve identified, on their own blog and social media accounts. Offer compelling content, and then repurpose it for LinkedIn Pulse, SlideShares and videos. Don’t worry about having them control the conversation—they can’t. The presence of detractors does not prevent them from elevating their status. In fact, controversy only drives coverage, and that will increase overall visibility!

Step 6: Leave a Trail of Success to reinforce followers and convert non-followers. Followers and non-followers alike need to hear from your Thought Leader consistently. A strategic approach to content marketing, media/analyst relations and social media can help you create that trail of credibility and success by developing a body of work, including written/online, multimedia and live event content. You can even create a microsite positioning the Thought Leader as the foremost expert in a particular category or trend. On this microsite, you can post position articles, other uniquely created content, media placements and curated content from other sources, invite top analysts to contribute, post coverage from top media, and amplify with social media.

Thought Leaders stand out in crowded markets by turning their unique vision into action, into results. They are sought out for their opinion and their wisdom for speaking opportunities, Op-ed pieces and contributed articles. But Thought Leadership is a marathon, a never-ending process, and even the best PR teams behind celebrity Thought Leaders are constantly looking for ways to be innovative on behalf of their clients. Ongoing reinforcement of messages all starts with a strategic plan, and if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to bring that plan to fruition, the process can be seamless.

Ready to learn more about cultivating Thought Leadership? Download our free White Paper: “So You Want to Be a Thought Leader…”

Topics: social media, Thought Leadership, content marketing, public relations