The Essential Elements to Building a Thought Leadership Program? – Part 2 of 3
By Terri Douglas and Christie Denniston, Catapult PR-IR
In Part I of our three-part series here, we explored and defined the role of a thought leader. Being a thought leader is not easy; it requires a great deal of focus and commitment. The path to becoming a thought leader is a true process. Becoming an industry thought leader is not about self-promotion or the pushing of products but rather focuses on education and collaboration on best practices for an industry or evolving market.
The bottom line is: Act Like the Leader in What You Say and Do PERIOD.
Step 1: What is the Leadership Position I Seek?
The first step to becoming a thought leader is to determine what thought leadership ‘beachhead’ you desire to claim. This is a great time to reflect upon the value your organization provides to customers, end-users or other relevant target audiences.
Questions to Consider:
- What is it that you do that no one else can?
- What makes your organization unique?
- What are one or two key attributes that your team can do that now that one else can claim?
The responses can range from having a patented technology to the location of your organization. This is a good time for collective brainstorming. Conduct an assessment of your organization, ask questions and solicit others’ feedback. You will be surprised what you learn through this process.
What are the Components to a Thought Leadership Program?
After first determining what leadership position you want to OWN, it is time to turn your attention to developing and implementing a program using strategic public relations. A thought leadership program is made up of five key areas, which include:
- Media Relations
- Analyst Relations
- Strategic Messaging
- Content Marketing
- Thought Leadership
- Social Media
We will be exploring each of these more in-depth. One important point is that not one of these areas is more important than another. Each has its place within the overall thought leadership program. In addition, each of these elements should be executed in tandem with the others and not in a linear process. For instance, as communications professionals, it is very easy to want to only focus on social media or even media relations. Avoid this common pitfall and, instead, turn your attention to creating a balance of all of these attributes at once. It is impossible to manage or execute a successful public relations program today with standard approaches. Rather, a blend of these following programs is necessary to attract new and evolving audiences and influencers:
Media Relations: This typically is what communicators think of first. Media relations is about creating and maintaining relationships with key journalists that cover your marketplace. Once you have determined your thought leadership ‘beach head,’ all outbound communications and interaction with media should reinforce the organization’s key messages. We have an opportunity as communications professionals to self-publish our own stories. How often do you see entire news releases or blog posts shared as ‘news?’ A steady cadence of news releases/announcements should be issued on at least a bi-monthly basis to strengthen and reinforce the organization’s market-leading position.
Analyst Relations: Analysts play a unique role in the thought leadership position of an organization. In speaking with an analyst recently he shared he, ‘always welcomes opportunities to learn from those who are on the front lines.’ As such, analysts are influencers, an important audience to provide not only third party credibility but they, in turn, speak to others all day, every day and are important in ‘echoing’ a company’s leadership stance. Analysts also can be tapped for quotes in companies’ news releases in order to reinforce their positioning in the market – analysts do not agree to be part of companies’ announcements that they do not believe in. It is an important signal to the larger market that an organization is a significant contender when analysts are referenced in news releases or other corporate materials.
Strategic Messaging: It has been argued that this component is the bedrock of any effective thought leadership program. Strategic messaging distinguishes a firm, company, school or non-profit from others and, therefore, should be interwoven into all company materials including: PR, marketing, advertising, website and social media. It is important to keep your messaging simple so it is memorable and creates a lasting impression.
Content Marketing: Relevant, quality content is like gold to journalists. In the past five years, newsrooms and editorial teams have been cut by as much as half. This is an opportunity for communications professionals to contribute by-lined articles, blogs and Q & A’s. Organizations can begin to position themselves as thought leaders and subject matter experts by selectively targeting outlets that are relevant to their industry and CONTRIBUTE CONTENT!
Thought Leadership: We have a client who, on average, speaks at a tradeshow once a week throughout a given year. Can you imagine the frequent flier miles? While this kind of commitment can be daunting it also has served the organization well in being positioned as a thought leader in their given industries. In addition, awards programs are vital to a company of any size. From the Inc. 5000 to local business awards – organizations who qualify should identify those of most interest and apply. Whether you are a finalist or selected as a winner, awards are opportunities for you to promote your accomplishments and remind the industry why you are leading the market. Not only can organizations seek out opportunities to speak at conferences but can do so via Webinars.
Social Media: The intent of social media is to turn communications into interactive dialogue. One of my favorite quotes is, “It is all about how you use it.” This could not be more true than with social media. Once an organization has built its cache of thought leadership content, is it time to promote it via social media. The point should be made that social media does not equal Facebook and Twitter. Consider first your audiences’ needs, interests and concerns. Where do they turn for information? Is it YouTube, Flickr, Groupon, etc? Regardless of the social media platform – use it to showcase your organization’s collective knowledge. Here are 10 ways to leverage social media for thought leadership:
• Microsites on key thought leadership topics of interest to your organization
• Secure Twitter hashtags of relevance to your industry
• Create Video Scribes
• Write and post blogs
• Video Sharing Sites (YouTube)
• Message Boards
In our next article of this series, we will share two case studies and provide PR professionals with practical ways to implement a thought leadership program for their organizations.
Terri Douglas is co-founder and principal of Catapult PR-IR. A veteran of the high-tech world, she has more than 25 years experience leading the PR/IR activities of industry leaders and emerging growth companies. At Catapult, Douglas is responsible for the strategy, development and execution of customized PR programs that move your business forward. She also leads investor relations initiatives, and assists with positioning and messaging and corporate public relations.
Christie Denniston, APR is senior director, client services, Catapult PR-IR. She is an accredited member of PRSA and brings a passion for excellence and more than 10 years of experience in public relations, marketing and corporate communications for Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and non-profit organizations. At Catapult, Denniston helps develop and execute the media and analyst relations strategies that position the firm’s clients as leaders in their respective industries. She also participates in business development and is responsible for managing many of the day-to-day media outreach, project management and client communication activities of her assigned clients. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is president of the Boulder Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). Denniston holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in public relations, sociology and political science from Drake University. In addition, she has a Master’s degree in public administration, with an emphasis in executive leadership from Drake University.
Published: April 30, 2012 By: