Want insights from national news editors about what makes a story? Click here for our report
How to become a respected expert in the sustainability space was the focus of our recent webinar in our series on how to be a thought leader in different industries.
The sustainability space is the most rife area to promote your subject matter expertise because it is so topical, and therefore the public and media alike are seeking original ideas and solutions to very serious problems.
So while the sustainability space is a crowded area of subject matter experts, there are also many opportunities. There are more publications, podcasts, speaking engagements, webinars and social media conversations on this topic than on any other.
In our webinar we invited guests Chris Hall, founding editor of ESG Investor – a popular industry publication aimed at helping asset owners incorporate ESG into their investment strategies, and Liana Fricker, a regular public speaker on carbon neutrality, founder of the Inspiration Space and a small business mentor.
You can visit the full recording here. But if your short on time, we’ve summarised some key points on how to become a leading voice in the sustainability sector below:
What does it mean to be a thought leader in ESG or sustainability?
This question sets the context for the rest of our discussion. It’s important to understand what it means to be a thought leader from different perspectives.
Chris spoke from the point of view of an editor who commissions articles or uses quotes from experts. He described thought leadership as the ability to provide leadership in a particular space. Not dissimilar to business leadership, thought leadership requires being on top of current challenges and trends and identifying the path ahead.
Liana is our real-life case study of someone who is considered an expert in the sustainability sector. She cited two key criteria: Leading by example and capability; and knowing the range and limitations of your own knowledge.
Here at TLPR we summarise thought leadership as the term suggests – having the ability to lead thoughts in a particular direction.
What makes your expertise worthy of media attention?
Our panellists then explored what makes someone’s expertise or thought leadership get picked up by a journalist or publication. In essence, it comes down to showing that you understand the audience of the publication or platform in question and connecting with them at their level, using language they will understand and that is appropriate to their pre-existing level of knowledge.
For example, if the audience is ESG policymakers, you need to explain risk. If the audience is business leaders, your story or advice should probably have something relevant to profit. If your audience is ESG analysts or investors it will need different information. All of these have an interest in the world of sustainability, but they will be reading articles for very different insights and advice.
"DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE BEFORE YOU CRAFY YOUR MESSAGE"
You also need to provide valuable insights or perspectives that haven’t been heard before. As Liana put it: “What angle can you take on the story to create that lightbulb moment where people like I never thought about it that way?”
Thought Leadership PR’s advice on this is to read any media publication before pitching to them. Get a sense of not only the subjects that they cover, but also the level of analysis. Does the publication cover news stories of new research on sustainability issues? Or does it also feature analysis and commentary by leading experts? It is important to see how your expertise as a thought leader could fit into the pre-existing formats of a publication.
How do you establish credibility to be considered as a commentator in the first place?
Many people assume that you already have to have an online presence to be considered to be a commentator for a media article, webinar, talk or podcast. This is partly true. But we know, as PRs, that it’s more about the advice you can offer than your profile. If you can prove you have something valuable to add to a topical discussion, that’s the first hurdle. But you also need to have an authoritative, professional online profile which qualifies you to talk about the issues you want to talk about.
So, how can you establish your credibility on your own channels? Having a clear and active profile on social media is the best route. If your audience is related to decision makers in business, then your LinkedIn profile is the best to work on.
"BE THE REPLY GUY"
Posting regularly about topical, timely and original news stories in your industry is better than self-promotion. So is following and connecting with other thought leaders. This shows that you are interested in the conversations in your industry, not just your own ideas.
Social listening is another strategy to establish your credibility as a leading voice. Liana, who has built up 3k+ followers on Linkedin says, “I listen more than I talk…….There’s a lot of people talking all of the time and I’m a big believer in saying nothing unless you have something to say that will have an impact. If you’re constantly trying to be profound, constantly trying to motivate, you’re constantly trying to fall.”
We agree. Amplifying other people’s messages if they have value is as important as broadcasting your own.
Genuine passion and knowledge makes the best thought leadership
Finally, if you have passion for what you do, it translates naturally into thought leadership. Passion for your subject matter means you’ll be drawn to reading the latest research and stories about it. You’ll live and breathe the subject matter and will naturally form a personal stance on something. As covered above, having a clear and strong angle is one of the things which will make you stand out as a thought leader on a particular niche.
For instance, our panellist, Liana’s TedX talk was born from personal interest in the topic. After taking a carbon literacy course, the subject matter inspired her to see the world in a whole new way. “I realised that I didn’t have to worry about my flights. I didn’t have to worry about how much I drove, if I reduced how much food we wasted as a family, or if I didn’t buy fast fashion.”
"WITH PASSION COMES GREAT CLARITY OF THOUGHT"
This new inspiration to keep track of her family’s digital footprint shaped the topic of her TEDx talk. Afterwards she was approached by a senior figure at Accenture who said, “I’ve never heard anyone talk about sustainability like that.”
That’s why at Thought Leadership PR we always want to work with subject-matter experts who have a purpose – a message to share for the greater good. Because we too know that an audience can detect if you are genuinely passionate and knowledgeable about a cause or topic.
These are things that will make you stand out as a thought leader in sustainability.
Want to learn more about what thought leadership is? Check out our blog explaining thought leadership here.
Get in touch if you’re ready to start your thought leadership journey.