“Thought leadership” is a communications and marketing approach that organizations—and individuals—have used to varying degrees of success for decades.
It’s a concept that most people in an organization typically believe they understand completely and can easily “bang out” without much planning or thought. That belief sits atop the list of most-common mistakes made when putting together a slew of influential messages.
Here are 10 keys to ensuring your next strategy is both interesting and effective:
1. Start curious/inspire curiosity.
PR pros work to expand a conversation by augmenting the early thinking in the brainstorming process.
Don’t begin “topic-mining” by assuming you already know everything about a particular subject. If you begin curiously developing your points of view, you will inspire your readers to be curious. Elevate them, make them think, and encourage them to learn.
2. “I” comes before “M.”
Sometimes it’s just alphabetical. The concept of “thought leadership” is about your ideas. It’s not about marketing. Present the way you think, how you view situations and how to create solutions. Don’t directly sell your business.
3. Answer questions.
Are you short on unique ideas or unsure of where to start?
Kick-start your creative thinking by answering:
· What questions have your clients been asking?
· What do you wish they would ask, because you have great ideas on a given topic to impart?
· What are you scared they will ask that you can’t answer?
· What are they answering for you, because you haven’t been timely in your messaging?
4. Focus on narrow/narrow your focus.
There is nothing wrong with having an interesting take on a single topic or issue, so start there. Even after you start putting your thoughts together on what you initially perceived as narrow, trim some fat.
You’ll be able to narrow your focus and make your article even more salient.
COMMUNICATORS: Stop being an order taker and become a strategic partner.
Your readers probably won’t remember that your article was too short, but they will remember if it strayed off topic.
5. Know your targets by starting small.
There’s always an opportunity to know your audience better. Whatever category you put them in today, there is probably a subset that provides a clearer, more-informed perspective.
Go small to go big. The tighter your group, the greater the chance for positive results.
6. Align succinct messages.
Understand that your themes should be business-oriented. You aren’t selling products; you are positioning your thinking. Craft your messaging to make the business case. Do it cleanly and clearly.
7. Back up; don’t retreat.
Use facts, research and best practices to support your viewpoints. If you’ve worked to develop an original observation, and you have developed tight messaging that conveys exactly what you want to say, don’t leave it hanging out there without support. Reinforce it to drive it home.
8. Timeliness and relevancy.
Your point of view is interesting to you, but will it entice potential targets? Timeliness and relevancy give it a fighting chance.
If you don’t find yourself using one of these words—or a reasonable synonym—in the first two paragraphs of your article, you should close the file, call timeout and rethink what you are doing. One-offs aren’t the right stuff.
10. Practice restraint.
Control yourself; stay away from what you don’t know.
Do you have experience with the area you are discussing, or are you stretching? (If you find your article is filling up with verbal Hamburger Helper, you’ve answered the second question).
If your program is heading in the right direction, most of these keys take care of themselves, but it’s always worth running through the list above.
Michael Geczi is vice president for marketing and communications at Cast & Crew Entertainment Services. He also has been an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. A version of this article first appeared on his blog.