Becoming a Thought Leader is considered the holy grail of PR and marketing. Thought Leadership in the STEM industries is essential as a way of driving innovation, producing exciting solutions and sharing new ideas. Consequently and importantly, these leaders are trusted sources of information for their audiences. But in this noisy world where everyone has an opinion how do you raise your profile?
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You are already an expert in your field but becoming a thought leader is considered the holy grail of PR and marketing. It’s when you’re called by the BBC News to be an expert on a breaking story, when the most respected industry trade magazine calls you for your opinion and when you’re asked to speak at those all-important industry events.
But in this noisy world where everyone has an opinion, how do you become a thought leader? How do you elevate yourself and the brand you represent, with your own clear, well thought out viewpoint?
The initial stages to becoming and staying a thought leader is taking the time to thoroughly Research & Formulate your thoughts before Communicating them with the media. Follow our tried and tested steps to get you started:
STAGE 1: RESEARCH THE 5 BE’s
Focus on something you are passionate about. You must genuinely love your subject. If you care, you will come across as authentic and credible. To remain current, you will need to keep abreast of the latest thinking relating to your area of expertise – reading widely is an essential practice for a thought leader as is talking to other experts to fine tune your opinions.
Research your area properly so that you are informed on different possible perspectives.Consider topical issues, those in the news – for example; climate change, autonomous ships and piracy, and develop your opinion on them. Writing and news reporting is rarely impartial, so think about what the motivation might be behind the various documented opinions you read.
BE EVIDENCE DRIVEN
Evaluate which angles have the most merit, and document these. Having looked at the main options, consider the evidence that the opinions are based on. Draw up a list of evidence the writers refer to and evaluate which you think is the most robust and persuasive. Which do you find the most compelling?
Develop your opinion with appropriate proof points.As you develop your opinions, remember to keep detailed notes and annotate your text so that you can keep track of where your influences have come from. Depending on the material format you produce, you may need to quote sources.
Create visual representations of your idea.Wherever possible, create models, illustrations, infographics or even cartoons to bring your ideas to life. If you struggle with this, find someone who can help you. Remember, different people engage with, and absorb, information in different ways; by using graphics you can simplify complex concepts, increasing your chances of engaging with more people.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
It’s critical to be clear about who you want to engage withbecause this will inform the tone and intellectual level you need to adopt in your language, content and presentation style. For example, the BBC News traditionally broadcasts news stories in a way that an average 14-year old can understand – this means researchers and interviewers drill down to the essence of a story, sometimes appearing to oversimplify it in order to make it accessible to its broad audience. Other media organisations will have a different approach or style.
STAGE 2: FORMULATE
PULL TOGETHER YOUR THOUGHTS IN A ‘THINK PIECE’
With the information you have researched, draft a minimum of 100 words on each of the points below… alternatively, you can record your thoughts into a voice recorder. Ask yourself the following questions:
Why do you care about this?
Why should your audience care about?
What facts/developments do they need to be aware of?
What common assumptions/mistakes are made when trying to deal with this and why are they wrong?
Can you provide some examples of good and bad practices… – names, case studies, more names!
How do you propose this issue could be approached? Identify your evidence for suggesting this could work.
Map out the resistance you anticipate to your proposal, quote naysayers. Explain why you believe these naysayers to be wrong.
Summarise what you expect to achieve if your approach is followed.
Draft your introduction… and your conclusion.
Once you have your 1000+ words, take your draft to a colleague or your PR company, to review and provide constructive comment. For your key ‘Think Piece’, do not aim for a word count. You are aiming to produce a thoroughly researched, well argued, interestingly composed opinion that will provoke responses in thought, word or deed. And when you have done that – stop.
With your Think Piece done, your next challenge is to get your opinions out there!
For help on how to reach the right media outlets and audiences, don’t miss our Stage 3 article on Communication coming soon or request our full FREE guide on How to become a Thought Leader at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have reached the end of the blog and you’re not sure you have the time to action this, contact us to do the heavy lifting for you email@example.com.
Your business is made up of humans all the way through the supply chain. Yet when it comes to your brand, sometimes the human element is lost. No more so than when the subject matter is technically complex.
In PR, it’s easy to get caught up in why the widgets are so great, how they’re different etc. But people don’t remember widgets. They remember how they feel. As Simon Sinek says in his TEDx talk, focus on the why first.
Storytelling humanises brands. Out with the cold, informal, impersonal corporate language and in with the ‘real’; the emotional connection. Storytelling is built into us, we’re hardwired to remember stories, and feel compelled to share them.
“ Stories are up to 22 times more memorable than facts”*
Incorporating stories into your PR helps you distinguish your brand from your competitors. To be visible, valued and understood.
“A big mistake is not putting the most important/interesting thing at the front. E.g. ‘Everyone at Natwest has had £100 stolen from them’, rather than, ‘New research has been published by leading global cyber security company LockupmyData, conducted by the highly regarded Whatsitallabout research company as a result of face to face interviews with 6,000 cyber security professionals last year. The findings show that Lockupmydata is rated reliable by 49 percent of respondents’.”
There are several ways you can incorporate brand storytelling into PR.
Here are a few examples of storytelling best practice:
A LOOK INSIDE YOUR COMPANY
We have to remember that people are curious. Recently, Salesforce opened their new tower in San Francisco. Rather than a dull release, they gave their audience a behind the scenes look into their business showcasing how their new offices incorporated their brand identity and that they’re not just a tech company. Not only that, they display their eco-friendly credentials detailing their on-site water recycling facility.
THE FOUNDING REASON YOUR COMPANY CAME TO BE
Every business has a story. Warby Parker, a US eyewear retailer was founded to tackle the problem of expensive eyewear after one of its student founders lost his glasses on a backpacking trip and couldn’t afford to replace them. Warby Parker also partners with not-for-profit organisations to distribute a pair of glasses to someone in need for each pair they sell. So, the original brand story was already engaging but the fact the company helps those less fortunate continues to fuel their story, see how they’re now helping students in the City of New York.
HOW YOU HELP YOUR CUSTOMERS
Client testimonials & customer references give your brand credibility. They also create powerful stories of the impact of your technology. Most clients aren’t early adopters so want the confidence that they’re not just simply your guinea pigs, that your solution is tried and tested. Leverage those client relationships with your early adopters and showcase them, like Splunk. Make your customer the hero in your story.
Storytelling is for EVERY brand…
There will always be a nugget to create a story around, even if it’s not immediately apparent. Whether it’s the reason the brand was started, the way a product is produced. There is always a story worth telling. Let us help you find your story and bring your PR to life.
* Source: Jennifer Aaker, Social Psychologist, Professor of Marketing at Stanford University Graduate School of Business
Thought leadership is not a buzzword. Developing a campaign using your STEM experts can elevate your visibility and value beyond your competitors.
Thought leaders attract business
Thought leaders are those with a unique perspective and passion about how something can be achieved. They speak with clarity about industry problems, ideas and potential solutions. Their opinion is rooted in knowledge and knowhow so that their ideas can be realised, and their successes replicated.
Thought leaders are engaging, inspirational and motivating.
Typically these experts have a media profile and they attract followers because, within their community, they are visible, valued and understood. Consequently, they become trusted sources of information for the wider media and their audiences.
Take for example, Simon Sinek, the leadership and branding expert – his presentations are highly visual, accessible and offer clear, articulate, replicable steps. His message is simple, easy to remember, reference and repeat. As a result, his ideas spread, his profile increases, and he sells more books and his consultancy grows.
Bathe in reflected glory
A business can employ any number of thought leaders – each an expert in their own field, with different communication styles and preferred platforms. Whether you grow your own or employ existing thought leaders, the important thing is that you encourage and support them to capture, structure and articulate their best ideas. Doing so will add further value to your business’s vision and mission.
It’s worth noting that the process of sharing thought leadership enables you to harness and harvest the intellectual property (deliberate small ‘i’ small ‘p’) which resides in the heads of your most valuable employees – employees who one day may be employed by your greatest competitor. Encourage them to share their brilliance while employed by you, so your business can bathe in its reflected glory.
Passion is persuasive
Don’t talk about things you don’t care about because it will show – it will be dull, and everyone will ignore you. Talking and writing for the sake of it does not make you a thought leader. Don’t write about the same stuff as everyone else, this makes you a copycat and possibly a plagiarist.
Being an expert takes time and commitment as does having an expert opinion. Developing an opinion usually means that you have investigated, considered and formulated different perspectives around an issue.
Few people will invest time and energy if they don’t care about a subject. When people commit some effort, it’s because they give a damn and when you give a damn, your passion shines through and it becomes so much more compelling. Therefore your expert does not need to be a sales-person or automatically comfortable in the limelight. Confidence in front of the media comes with skills to be learned, and it’s why we run services like our Media Training.
Your business needs thought leaders because they help your business to grow, which reflects well on your reputation and showcases your brilliance.
Here at EC-PR our guiding principle is to help you communicate with conviction. We want you to share those firmly held beliefs or opinions courageously, even in the face of contrary opinion.
But how do you do that? Communicating with conviction is about saying something because: you believe it to be true, you care about how you express your opinions and you want to make a difference, in equal measures.
Tell the truth 80% of the time
Usually, we’re told to tell the truth all of the time but let’s get real here, you can’t always. And, that’s not because you actively want to be dishonest, but because you don’t always have all of the facts. So, we recommend that you are 100% truthful, but recognise that in reality, you can only do that 80% of the time. This is because for 80% of the time you will be in command of all the facts. You will be in a position to talk about what you have achieved together with the ‘how and why’ it is important to your community. 80% of the time you have no excuse for being dull and boring and, should therefore be inspiring, provocative and engaging. If you can’t think of something interesting to say – engage someone who can because without a shadow of a doubt there isn’t a business without a story – businesses don’t survive without a kernel of an idea. When they forget or fail to evolve that idea, that’s when they start to falter.
So, what about that remaining 20%? In an unfolding crisis you’re not in command of all of the facts or, in the case of business closures or redundancies, the facts are uncomfortable to talk about. In either scenario, your focus must be on what you do know and what can be done to help achieve the best outcome and why. Your focus will not be on scratching at the scab of corporate incompetence (your own or someone else’s) or the fear and indignity experienced by those being most hurt by the crisis. Therefore, it’s important to remain honest and truthful to your core values, but recognise that 100% transparency isn’t possible in evolving situations. You have to do the best you can with the information you have in the situation you’re in.
Saint or Spinner
The PR industry is renowned for ‘spin’ which implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive and highly manipulative tactics to alter the facts and change opinion. I find the word ‘spin’ repugnant. The implicit absence of truth and decency not only suggests a lack of respect for the people you want to engage with, but denigrates their intelligence. People are smarter than they’re often given credit for. So, let’s cut the spin.
Language is powerful, both verbal and non-verbal. Your choice of adjectives can turn someone on or off. Your body language can be offensive or not engaging simply because your smile doesn’t quite reach your eyes or appears to have turned into a sneer.
This is where professional communicators, people like us, can help – we take the facts and create pieces of communication which accurately reflect the intelligence, passion and spirit of what you are trying to achieve. Not only that, we’ll show you how to engage confidently with the media. Let us help you express your opinion so that it is credible and convincing, no spin required.
People are impressed by BIG ideas
It’s human nature that we want to be part of something that is bigger than ourselves – to be involved in something that we couldn’t possibly hope to achieve on our own. Think about sport, religion, politics. They offer a variety of clearly defined propositions based on a belief, behaviour and culture set. Each attracts a tribe. In every tribe there are leaders, there are participators, and perhaps the most important of all followers, those who advocate and support on behalf of the tribe. The number of followers determines the financial success of the tribe – so, inspiring and nurturing them is critical to success. Manchester City Football Club wouldn’t have a £108m transfer budget if it they didn’t have raving fans. It’s exactly the same in business. Your proposition, beliefs, and, most importantly, purpose need to be so clear that like-minded people gravitate towards it like a magnate and encourage their network to do likewise. Without this you cannot expect to achieve success nor can you expect your communication to be compelling in any consistent kind of way.
So let’s focus on the truth, ditch the spin and build a tribe of raving fans. Let’s put your business in the limelight for the right reasons. We can help your team communicate with conviction so your business can soar.
Effective communication requires you to take responsibility for achieving your desired outcome.
If someone does not respond to you in the way you had hoped, it’s usually because they don’t understand you and not because they are being deliberately difficult. In most instances, certainly in the work environment, people would prefer to collaborate and assist, rather than be deliberately obstructive.
Unless there is prior history which has created a block in the relationship or, you are asking them to do or consider something unusual, we have to assume it’s the communication that is flawed and not the person. You must take responsibility for ensuring the communication is understood sufficiently well so that the recipient is equipped to respond.
Effective communication, communication that provokes an intended response in thought, word or deed has become confused with, for example, butt-covering. Butt-covering is where you copy everyone you know in to every email irrespective of the quality of your email content.
I’ve heard people say its quicker just to email everyone in the team. This is not true if you then have to email each person again and again and then phone them and then meet them because no one understood what was required of them in the first instance because the message was badly thought out and poorly executed.
Bear this in mind:
• If you have a clearly defined communication objective, it’s reasonably straight forward to put in place checks and measures to see how well you’ve engaged the recipient(s).
• If something needs to be done it’s worth a conversation. This is your opportunity to get them to tell you what they think you’ve asked them to do and for you to clarify anything that isn’t clear.
• In a more formal environment you can get a show of hands or, use a feedback form to measure your success in achieving your objective.
Quality communication is not difficult but it does require thought and the application of a little intelligence. Anyone can write rubbish.