The words “thought leadership” get tossed around a lot in our industry, but few people actually understand what it means or how to achieve thought leadership status.
Here’s a secret: it’s really not that complicated. A thought leader is just that—someone who is a leader of thought in their industry or field. You must have expertise that people want to hear or read about. Those “thoughts” are usually pretty niche, and you should have the skillset, degree or personal experience to back them up.
Become an expert.
To become a thought leader, start with your expertise. Did you invent the internet? Engineer the first self-driving car? Create microwavable popcorn? It’s OK if you didn’t.
You don’t have to be the first to do something in your field to be considered an expert, but you do have to have the technical skills and knowledge to back up the advice you’re dishing out. Our expertise lies in crafting the message and getting it noticed, but good thought leaders are able to bring real value and authenticity to their audiences.
Be willing to advise.
Being a thought leader takes courage. I have had a number of clients ask to be positioned as thought leaders, but when the time came for those articles or content to publish, they were hesitant because of others who might have differing opinions.
I totally get it. Putting your expertise out into the world is a scary thing. I say this as I’m actually doing it. But have some confidence in yourself. You can’t be a thought leader without voicing an opinion.
Lay a foundation.
Once you’re a subject matter expert and feel you have something valuable to contribute, that’s when the magic can happen. Although, it’s not actually magic; there’s a strategy behind it.
A PR team or in-house PR manager should first work in your local market and with industry publications to establish credibility. In most cases, before landing the The New York Times, you have to start with the local daily or business publication. Any national reporter will immediately Google you if they receive a pitch and don’t recognize your name. When they do, you want them to find positive articles and clips of you sharing your expertise on a local or regional level. A baseline of relevant, local coverage paired with a skilled pitch and a timely angle can be just enough to pique a national outlet’s interest.
Be patient. Keep trying.
The final piece of the equation is one of the toughest: patience. Once you have a solid hold on your local media market, a PR team should continue to develop fresh angles and ideas to have your expertise included in bigger and bigger outlets. This might include tying your expertise into a current national trend or developing a column with a unique perspective.
Securing coverage can happen quickly if the timing is right, but it typically takes weeks or even months for print publications that have long lead times. The key is patience and continual outreach to boost your chances of a national feature.
If you are truly an expert, have quality content and establish a solid baseline of local coverage, you could be a thought leader! It won’t happen overnight, but when it does, establishing yourself as a thought leader in your industry can separate you from the competition and help build trust with your audiences.
Don’t forget that thought leadership is just one component of an overarching communications campaign. Whether establishing your expertise locally or working toward your next national feature, always be sure your thought leadership plan is strategic, measurable and aligns with the overall goals of your organization. With a little patience and a lot of perseverance, you’ll soon be fielding calls from reporters reaching out to you for insights and comments!