Thought Leadership Actually Requires Thought and Leadership

Frank StrongFrank Strong, Founder & President, Sword and the Script Media

The popular technology news site TechCrunch recently announced it was curtailing contributed content. It will stop considering unsolicited pitches from the public in favor of invitation-only contributions.

Why the sudden change? Editor-in-Chief Matthew Panzarino and Senior Editor Jon Shieber underscore PR motivations in a co-written commentary:

“…over time, we noticed that the pipeline for the network had gotten a bit overrun with pieces that we strongly suspected were ghost-written by PR or really had no business being given the platform. For every gem, there were increasingly a lot of rocks.

Rather than sifting through an inbox of thousands of pitches looking for the diamond in the rough, our contributor network is going to go invite-only.”

Suffice to say, those editors know what’s best for their news site, but if we put the relationship between PR and media aside, I don’t think who puts pen to paper is the precise issue here.

Many founders, particularly in the emerging technology, have a dire need for business savvy PR talent to help them tell a story. PR is often at its best when it helps a business articulate an idea in order to attract the right attention.

The important distinction here is that PR is not the idea but rather it is a vehicle for eliciting an idea.

Erick Sherman, a prolific freelance journalist, beautifully summed up what I believe is central to the TechCrunch conundrum in an Off Script interview, the Q&A series for my Sword and the Script blog:

“Companies also have to invest their own time. I know so many top practitioners who have to create something out of whole cloth because a company won’t make experts available. It’s like asking someone to come in and write a thought-leadership piece and then have no thoughts to offer.”

Contributed articles are an important way to earn visibility for new ideas, especially the sort that has not been covered by the media or isn’t generally well understood. Contributed content is thought leadership at its finest: opening or changing minds, defining markets and shaping reputations.

But thought leadership is not something you can just toss over the wall to PR and hope it turns into coverage. I believe invitation-only contributions will make this very clear and will in fact, make quality PR more and not less important.

About the Author: Frank Strong is the founder and president of Sword and the Script Media, LLC, a veteran-owned PR, content marketing and social media agency in greater Atlanta.

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3 Comments

  1. Darrell Ellens on April 6, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    I agree with you that there are way too many articles about thought leader and not enough articles written that are thought leadership article. The problem is too many people are given the title thought leader and have yet to defined the meaning to themselves. This is the exact intersection where the confusion starts.



  2. Frank Strong on April 6, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for the comment. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s because “thought leaders” today are selling products not solving problems. There’s a relationship there, but it’s a subtle and soft sell that only PR pros really know how to do well.



  3. Edward Brown on April 7, 2017 at 8:07 am

    LinkedIn’s Pulse is a game changer where budding thought leaders don’t have to wait to be chosen. They can choose themselves (Seth Godin). Although “Branded Journalism” has been hijacked by publicists and marketers, TechCrunch’s move is tantamount to the music industry suddenly deciding not to accept anymore promo tapes, because rappers glorify certain brands for profit. If this was to happen, the music industry might miss out on the next Drake. Yes, TechCrunch will change its content gathering system to reflect its lofty aspirations, but it may miss great content that would have otherwise landed in their laps.