In the past several posts, we've written about thought leadership campaigns, comparing them to product PR and identifying five ways thought leadership can benefit an organization.
In this post, we wanted to identify ten of the success factors for conducting an effective thought leadership campaign:
- An executive willing and able to provide industry insight, even if it might be controversial. As we mentioned in the prior article, we helped a semiconductor startup take on Microsoft regarding industry standards. That only works if executives are confident in their position.
- An executive able to commit the time necessary to brief your thought leadership team and to conduct interviews with them and with reporters, podcasters, and other influencers. We had secured a live CNN interview at a major trade show for one executive but he decided he didn't want to get up in time to be in position for the interview at 7AM so we had to decline.
- Identify your objectives. It's important to identify why you're conducting a thought leadership campaign. If it's because the company is looking to raise money, that will help focus on the topic and the audience segment to address. If it's to find business partners, that means a different set of topics and audience, etc. Of course, one of the goals is to build trust and credibility but how you achieve that will be determined in part by the topics you address.
- Identify the right topics and expertise. The issues you address can be a point of differentiation but pick topics that you can "own" and that are relevant to you and your customers. It can be okay if other companies are also addressing the same topic -- but you need to figure out a compelling perspective. (More on that in the next bullet.) We've had clients who were serial entrepreneurs so that their expertise and topics might be different from a CEO who helps grows companies but doesn't launch them. (Launching requires different skill sets from growing a company.)
- Need a compelling viewpoint on industry issues. The topic may be the same as what others are discussing -- that's how you know it's a good issue. But you need to make sure you have a compelling perspective on that issue. And that viewpoint can't be seen as self-serving because editors won't be interested and it could turn off potential customers. The viewpoint and insight needs to touch on issues that are important and relevant. And the executive needs to be able to discuss the insight in a compelling way -- and that may not always be possible. We once had a terrific client who, on one topic, couldn't give a compelling interview even though he was excellent on every other topic. We asked him about that, and he said, "Oh, I find that topic boring." We then never let him talk to a reporter about that topic; we used a different executive whenever that topic came up. You need to educate (not sell) audiences about your topics and you need to develop insights that help distinguish your company from others in your market. In addition to insights, we've found that using analogies can help audiences grasp clients' perspective. Avoid jargon when possible. Provide best practices and lessons learned.
- Need to use that viewpoint to convey the organization's values and personality. The viewpoint needs to match the company's values and personality. Many customers look for companies that are authentic and whose values mesh with their own -- and they get upset with anything that seems deceptive. By way of example, we recently got approached from an advocacy group but when we checked them out, we found that they weren't nonprofit (though their URL was a dot-org) and they weren't actually nonpartisan (though they said they were). Those were red flags, and we quickly and easily decided not to pursue the opportunity.
- Set reasonable, achievable goals. The term "reasonable" means different things to different organizations. It depends on the industry issue -- for example, the issue may be seasonal so it means in off months, there's limited activity. It depends on the executive's availability -- he or she might be able to devote only a couple of hours per month to briefings and to any actual interviews; in that case, you shouldn't pursue dozens on potential media interviews -- you should focus on just a handful. We also once had a potential startup client in stealth mode that wanted two articles in the Wall St. Journal before they actually announced anything. (We told them, respectfully, that if they were in stealth mode, it was for a reason, and therefore two articles before launch was unrealistic. They went elsewhere, and as far as we can determine, never secured a single article in the Journal.)
- Set reasonable demands. This is slightly different because by this we mean: expecting to blog twice a week may be a very aggressive timetable. We know that executives need to review content, and they may not have time to review content on a timely basis to meet the expectation of posting twice a week.
- Identify the appropriate channels. One client, for example, didn't have a social media presence. That's okay, we can (and did) set that up for them. But we've had clients, even recently, who didn't have and couldn't secure because they were already taken, social media IDs that made the most sense for the organization. Ideally, a thought leadership campaign will take content and reformat it to be distributed as a blog post, a bylined article in a publication, cross-promoted across social media, pitched to reporters and podcasters for possible interviews, pitched to conference organizers for a possible panel discussion, used as the basis of a webinar produced by the company, etc. However, not all channels may be appropriate so the team needs to look at what are the best channels.
- Test and update your content and perspective. It's important to test what content and which channels are most effective. We've found that LinkedIn is great for some clients but that might be true for your organization; we have one nonprofit client where Facebook is more important than LinkedIn or Twitter. Realize that could change over time, and that it's important to test what you're doing from time to time to make sure it's working, that audiences are engaging or sharing your content. Over time, issues evolve and it's important to make sure your thought leadership perspective evolves as well.