Effective thought leadership should lead to you being top of mind as an authority on particular topics. Even better, thought leadership should help others advance by giving them access to your insight and valuable expertise. Thought leadership should start from a desire to share your knowledge for the greater good – such as to highlight a solution in your industry – and not simply to raise your profile.
In our experience of building thought leaders, we’ve seen many professionals, academics and entrepreneurs do this very effectively. But we’ve also spotted common pitfalls. While these do not necessarily cause reputational damage, it may mean your thought leadership will go nowhere, or you may get the wrong message across.
Here we share some common mistakes of thought leadership strategy.
Thought Leadership Mistake 1: Proclaiming your experience instead of your content
Many of our clients are proud of what they have achieved in their careers. And so they should be. Founding a business and leading it to great heights is a huge achievement. Of course, people want to hear about that growth story. But your success in itself is not enough to merit a microphone. It’s ideas and options – coupled with credentials – which is the killer combination.
We help our clients shape their opinions and ideas in a way that the media will be interested in, and that your audience will find helpful. If you’ve been successful in your career, it will inevitably mean that you have done something a little different – you have a unique approach or a disruptive way of doing something. The challenge is being able to break down your ideas in a clear, digestible way that could work as a media article, a talk, social media content and more.
Too often we see aspiring thought leaders shoot out emails to journalists with all the top lines from their CV, hoping that the impressive experience will make them interesting. But this puts the onus on the journalist to figure out what you could say.
True inspiring thought leaders know they have a message or idea they will cause a paradigm shift. They just need to find a powerful way to articulate it.
Thought Leadership Mistake 2: Focussing on success stories instead of your struggles and challenges
Similarly, many people start the thought leadership journey thinking that the most interesting thing is their success. Surely journalists or conference organisers want to hear about your fascinating achievements?
Actually they want to hear about your failures and your vulnerabilities. They want to identify with the human part of your story, because they want to relate their experience to your experience. They want stories of how you overcame things, not just the success at the end. Be prepared to be vulnerable. Be prepared to talk about your darkest moments – the times when you thought your business was on the brink of collapse and it was all over.
An audience wants to learn about how you managed and weathered a storm because in all likelihood, they are reading or listening to you because they are seeking guidance.
Thought Leadership Mistake 3: Being too narrow with your expertise
Be prepared to broaden your story / messaging / advice to topical issues. Many people struggle to understand that they, or their business, is not the story. The reality is your advice is the story.
Say you want to talk about your plan for creating a sustainable food system for example. There may not be opportunities to write about that this week or this month, because most things in the media require a ‘news hook’. (no PR agency can control what journalists want to write about no matter what they charge!). But there may be a journalist who is seeking a commentator on the effects of food supply from UK floods earlier this year. The chances are, if you work in food sustainability you can probably comment on this – even if the messaging doesn’t directly promote your business.
Thought Leadership Mistake 4: Being an expert on too many things
On the other side of that, you can muddy your image by being an expert on too many things.
Some clients are raring to get coverage as soon as they start working with us. Of course, we’re happy to oblige. But if you want to talk about food sustainability, perhaps you should turn down the offer for a journalist to write about your car collection!
When in doubt, ask ‘if someone were to Google me and this article came up in the top 3, does it match the professional image I’m trying to carve?’ Getting coverage for coverage sake could cause problems down the line when people associate you with the wrong things and it dilutes the exposure you have on the topics you want to be associated with.
Thought Leadership Mistake 5: Drive the conversation, not regurgitate the conversation
Very often, when people get the opportunity to write something for a publication they get over-excited and feel obliged to produce a historical account of the topic in question. That’s reportage or essay-writing, not thought leadership. Thought leadership is about giving your personal views or findings, perhaps even your own commissioned research.
Say you want to write about the impact of AI on retail. You don’t need to give examples of previous news headlines in this area or statistics. That was yesterday’s news and is already in the public domain. As an expert, what the media or conference-goers want from you is your observations, opinions and unique findings.
If you want your views to be even more impactful, don’t shy away from commissioning your own research or white paper. That can really set the news agenda.
We have helped CEOs, investors, politicians and academics develop and amplify their thought leadership through the media, speaking engagements, social media and more. If you would like to know how we can help you, with budgets to suit all, please contact us.