Thought leadership is a term often bandied around in marketing and PR, especially in B2B circles. But what does it really mean? How important is it? And how can organisations utilise it for the best possible outcomes?
What is thought leadership in public relations?
Thought leadership in PR is a strategy to get influential media coverage on the opinions of key people from within the brand or organisation. This means that their voice is heard by a relevant audience, with thought leadership designed to build trust and influence with potential customers/clients, media and industry experts over time.
Thought leadership content can be outworked in PR in a number of different ways, which can include:
- A key individual from the organisation providing ‘expert’ quotes or commentary to journalists or trade media on something relevant that is happening in the news, whether that’s in print, online, or via a TV or radio interview.
- The key person producing their own ‘thought leadership content’ such as blogs, articles, whitepapers, talking-head videos, guest posts in relevant publications, newspaper columns, podcasts (as a host or guest) or webinars.
- The key individual writing a book on their area of expertise.
- The individual speaking/presenting at seminars and conferences or being on roundtables or expert panels at industry events. This could also include being on judging panels for industry awards.
Why does thought leadership matter in PR?
Is there any evidence that someone becoming a thought leader has an impact on the business or organisation they represent? A 2020 report found that nearly half of B2B decision-makers spend at least an hour a week consuming thought leadership content and a similar number say that it influences their decisions. Another study indicates that around 83% of buyers value the thought leadership content they find.
In the B2B arena, where buying decisions are often made based on a wide range of different factors, using thought leadership to help increase brand awareness and foster trust within your target market can’t be a bad thing. Many businesses, by their very nature, are risk-averse. Therefore, PR activity that reinforces the impression that your organisation is the ‘real deal’ and are true experts in your industry can be a game-changer.
The benefits of effective thought leadership content
With an effective thought leadership content strategy, the benefits can include:
- Increased brand awareness – your organisation gets a mention every time the key individual is referenced/featured in the media.
- Building authoritative links – online publications will often link to the organisation that a thought leader represents, especially if they have an in-depth bio page on their website for that individual, containing information not found elsewhere, as this provides the reason to link. Links form a major part in helping to build an effective SEO strategy.
- Building the brand narrative – having thought leaders within your organisation helps to ensure you’re seen as a brand on the cutting edge of industry expertise, trailblazers within your field, and can assist with telling your story, especially concerning the future.
- It gives you a USP over competitors – being known as thought leaders can be a great way to help your organisation stand out from others and give potential buyers the differentiating factor they are looking for to help with their purchase decision.
- Attracting the best talent – people want to work for an employer who is a market leader, knowledgeable and progressive. They also want to see that an organisation they work for will value them as an individual and help them develop their own knowledge, skills and industry profile. A 2021 study found that 50% of buyers believed that thought leadership content helped companies attract the best talent.
How to leverage thought leadership content in B2B PR
Having established how beneficial that effective thought leadership content can be to a business, it’s important to make sure that your organisation leverages it in a way that stands the best chance of producing the best possible outcomes. It isn’t something that happens overnight, but, over time, it is possible for key individuals within a business to become a real ‘go-to person’ for local, national and sometimes even global media on certain issues, which can help to amplify the brand, products or services and their other thought leadership activity.
Choose the right key individuals to produce thought leadership content
It’s essential for anyone who will be representing your business to be someone who is:
- Passionate about what they do and what your business does
- An expert in their subject matter
- Already active in industry conversations, whether that’s on social media, forums, through blogging or at in-person/online industry events
- Media trained (or willing to be) and enjoys speaking in front of an audience
- A good communicator and able to effectively explain complex topics in simple terms
- Happy to represent the organisation and build the company brand as well as their own
- Critically-minded and willing to challenge established ways of doing things – taking things into potentially new territory and offering fresh insights on the wider industry as well as their niche
Often, this person already holds a fairly senior position in the organisation, such as CEO, director or the business owner/founder, but this isn’t always the case.
Develop a proactive thought leadership content and PR strategy
Having a thought leadership strategy that has a strand which the key individual themself sets is important – as it’s truly authentic and led by the real expert. They already have their finger on the pulse of the industry and have opinions on certain aspects of it. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t benefit from some ideas about different types and forms of content that can be produced, as well as specialist digital PR expertise when it comes to getting it in front of the right people. Whether that’s guesting on a podcast, producing a whitepaper or research report, speaking at a conference or doing an interview about a specific topic, coverage gained here can be a great foundation to build on and provide evidence of expertise and a heightened profile for future opportunities too.
As well as planning in opinion-led pieces that are not necessarily linked to certain dates, seasons or events, it’s important to stay on top of things reactively as well.
While some things that enter the news agenda can’t be predicted, there is a lot that can be for most industries, and you can plan content and PR opportunities around this to some degree. For example, if you know that relevant regulatory legislation will be changing at a certain point in time (or is under review/out for consultation), be ready with relevant content, quotes and pitches ahead of time whenever possible.
Reacting quickly to the changing news agenda
On days when something relevant does hit the news, whether it’s a surprise budget announcement or something else completely unexpected, reacting quickly is key, and that’s where experienced PR professionals with existing relationships at key publications and media can be worth their weight in gold. Getting in ahead of others and being available for comment or interview when needed can make a huge difference to whether you achieve coverage or not.
Thought leadership is about selling narrative, expertise and opinion, not products or services
Thought leadership content is about leveraging the expertise and opinions of a key individual to help build brand profile, along with media and audience trust, rather than pushing products or services, and the distinction here is important to help build and retain credibility. The good news, as mentioned earlier, is that thought leadership content does positively influence conversions too, as well as the many other benefits it can bring to an organisation. Once an individual’s profile has been raised, and people find their opinions interesting, the rest generally follows automatically.
If you want assistance with a thought leadership PR strategy or would like more information on media training for thought leadership activity, get in touch using the form below.