Thought leadership fulfils a number of roles. At its core it’s focused on producing value adding content for clients. This usually takes the form of white papers, research reports, industry briefings, blog posts and company magazines. It is often the key output of a firm’s external communications strategy and as such it always has the potential to be a key PR ingredient. This leads onto its other natural role – to help raise the profile of the organisation and increase visibility of the brand to a wider audience.
High quality thought leadership that feels relevant and of value to its target audience can easily gain a momentum of its own. In the world of social media, for example, sharing interesting items on LinkedIn and Twitter provides a comparatively new and powerful channel for disseminating thought leadership in a manner that is ‘viral’ and which has the potential to reach a vast audience.
‘Commoditising’ intellectual capital and thought leadership and using it as a marketing tool has been a key part of my own experience over the last decade. The key challenge to overcome in this area is linking the value of the output with the investment – both man-hours and financial – and selling this to the senior leadership team. In busy firms, especially those with a billable hours culture, creating thought leadership can often be seen as “a very good idea” but it can fall fairly far down the list when it comes to fee-earner priorities.
My approach has been to ‘extract’ thought leadership in a way that produces results without making unwieldy demands for time on key individuals. This works in two ways. The first is by pro-actively being able to ‘download’ and write up the insights from an individual to produce tangible outputs that don’t take months to generate. The second is partnering with external specialists – be this for research projects or other specialist pieces – and then playing a key ‘lynchpin role’ that ensures both sides get what they need (the specialist gets access to data and individuals, the fee earners who take part get outputs they’ve bought into and which they will have confidence in using with their clients and prospects).
- Responsibility for launching and co-editing a leadership and talent magazine – YQ, primarily comprised of thought leadership, which doubled its circulation in its first year to 10k.
- Working with clients to uncover their own insights by conducting in-person video interviews with key industry leaders such as the CEO of publishing house Faber & Faber; the Global HR Director at Diageo; and the Chief Executive of pension, insurance and investments firm Friends Life.
- Generating client stories – frequently in the form of case studies – which are used for business development. I typically interview the consultant responsible for the work and then write the article, ensuring that the key value proposition of the work is clearly demonstrated. I have done more than 20 of these in the past four years.