public relations business

12 Keys for Thought-Leadership Effectiveness

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAedAAAAJGQzYTM4NmI3LTkyZTctNDYwMC1hNGU1LThhZDUyNjUwYWU5NwThought leadership is a communications and marketing strategy (and tactic, for that matter) that companies, organizations and individuals have utilized to varying degrees of success for decades. Our nation’s founding fathers, in particular, even used an 18th century delivery system – the pamphlet – to extol ideas (and, in some cases, to engage in character assassination).

The strategy also is one of those concepts that everyone in an organization typically believes he or she understands completely and can easily “bang out” without much planning or, interestingly enough, actual “thought.” That belief, of course, sits right at the top of the list of most-common mistakes made when putting a though-leadership program together.

Setting that one aside for now, here are 12 other keys to ensuring your thought-leadership program is interesting, on the mark and effective.

  • Start curious/inspire curiosity. We want to expand the conversation, correct? We do that by expanding the conversation – and the thinking – right at the beginning of the process. Don’t begin “topic-mining” by assuming you already know everything about a particular subject. If you begin curious in developing your points of view you will inspire your readers to be curious as well. Elevate.  Make them think, encourage them to learn.
  • “I” comes before “M.” OK, OK. Sometimes it’s just alphabetical. Thought leadership is about ideas. It’s not about marketing. Present the way you think, how you view situations, how you go about creating solutions. Don’t try to directly sell business. The business will accrue to you if your ideas leave the desired impression.
  • Answer questions. Don’t know where to start? Think you don’t really have any unique ideas or points of view. The following will kick start your creative thinking: What are the questions your clients have been asking? What are the questions you wish they would ask because you have some great ideas? What are the questions you are scared to death they will ask and you don’t have answers? What are the questions they are answering for you because you haven’t been timely in getting your message out?
  • Focus on narrow/narrow your focus. There is nothing inherently wrong about having an interesting take on a single topic or issue. Start there. And, even after you start putting your thoughts together on what you perceived as narrow in the first place, go ahead and try to trim some fat. You’ll be able to narrow your focus and make your article even more poignant. Remember: the reader won’t remember if your article was too short, but he or she will remember if it strayed off topic.
  • Right-size and know targets. You can always zero in on your audience better than you know them right now. High likelihood: Whatever category you put them in today, there is a smaller subset that provides a clearer, more-informed perspective. Go small to go big – the tighter the size of your group, the more upside for positive results.
  • Align succinct messages. First, understand that your themes need to be business-oriented. Because you are not selling products but instead positioning thinking, your messaging needs to make the business case … tightly, clearly and on the mark.
  • Back up. Don’t retreat. Back up your points of view. You have several methods – facts, research, best practices … all of the above. OK, you have gone to the trouble to develop a point of view or protocol or observation. And you have developed tight messaging that conveys exactly what you want to say. Don’t leave it hanging out there without any support. Reinforce it to drive it home.
  • Timeliness/Relevancy. So, your POV is really very interesting to you, but will it be to potential targets? Timeliness and relevancy at least give it a fighting chance. And by timeliness, current and future are far more compelling than hearing about how you solved something in the past. As for relevancy: we’ve already tightened up your audience focus, right? Is the subject matter spot-on for that very specific group
  • Patterns/Trends/Commonalities. If you don’t find yourself using one of these words – or a reasonable synonym – in the first two paragraphs of your article, you probably should close the file, call timeout and rethink what you are doing. One-offs aren’t the stuff.
  • Restraint.  Seems like we shouldn’t have to include this one, but … control yourself – stay away from what you don’t know. Do you really have experience with the area you are discussing? Or, are you stretching? (If you find your article is filling up with Hamburger Helper, your answer to the second question probably is “yes.”)
  • Sticky links. Granted, you aren’t running a commercial or an ad. However, there does need to be a stickiness or linkage – or, better yet, a “sticky linkage” – between what you do, how you do it and the solutions your clients will need in the future.
  • C-Squared. Deliver consistently and consistency. When effective, thought-leadership pieces are issued on a regular basis and readers look for them on at least an ad hoc schedule. Likewise, when effective, the quality level – irrespective of author or topic – remains at the same high mark that comes to be associated with the campaign.

If your thought-leading program is heading in the right direction, most of these keys take care of themselves. But, it’s always worth running through the list. Your want to deliver an effective program and the right approach can get you the desired results.

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Persuasion and Education

There are many benefits when one is teaching and continuing to do client work.  One of the most interesting is being exposed to how young people, and experienced professionals, today are viewing the role of communications.

The university-level view surfaced recently when we were discussing the role of persuasion in public relations.  To many, of course, the word sounds a bit strong and heavy handed.  And some may believe it belongs on one end of the job-description spectrum.

The students broke evenly into two groups: those who bought into the term and those who were immediately turned off by their perception of what it means.  With this divide, the progression of the discussion was quite meaningful and got us to another word: education.

Again, two groups seemed to form: those who believed communicators should educate and those who continued to believe that communicators should persuade.

Importantly, we next moved on to goals, strategies and tactics — and the students began to sort through some of the realities of the public relations business.  First of all, they began to see that, while persuasion is important, it needs to be viewed as an objective or goal.  And, most importantly, they began to grasp the all-important role of education and how it functions as a key strategy that enables everything else to fall into place.

Separately, a recent client experience also was meaningful in that the client was interested in hoping to test the “proof of concept” of a business expansion that he was considering.  His initial goals were modest: he simply wanted to “capture” the phraseology being used successfully at one site so it could be replicated in another.

As the process moved forward, however, the original communications mandate morphed into a consulting engagement that was far-more important (and beneficial to the client).  At the end, the communications piece of the project not only provided insights as to proof of concept, it also provided important observations and implications regarding branding, staff needs/retention, training, targeting new clients and, probably at the top of the list, crisis vulnerability.

Net-net, communications is moving in the right direction.