Unfortunately, the term “thought leader” may be on the verge of becoming over-used and even misunderstood.  A lot of our firm’s work is in this space, and it is interesting to see how companies of all sizes and shapes are latching onto this description without much understanding of what it really is.
True thought leader programs are not just about getting news coverage and/or quotes by their CEO’s and newsmakers published.  That’s called media relations, and it’s definitely an important component of most organizations’ outreach efforts. We are definitely believers in the power of earned media and editorial endorsement.
However, true thought leadership goes way beyond that.  A thought leader is an institution or organization that is on the forefront of its industry in terms of being able to identify and provide truly expert and in-depth commentary on issues and topics that matter most relative to the future of their particular industry.  They thoroughly understand the current and future needs of the constituencies they serve and the policies they influence, and they rigorously develop plans and programs to positively and innovatively impact their organization’s future through smart commentary on important topics.
Thought leader organizations typically have a high rate of innovation which puts substance behind their claims as industry leaders.  They seek to address critical issues with timely solutions, and they constantly add to evolving and important conversations that are meaningful and critical to the audiences they serve.
In other words, they are not just seeking news coverage about their company’s successes.  They are offering up new perspectives that are truly moving their companies and their industries toward needed solutions to challenging problems.  Successful thought leaders demonstrate, through their strategic and continually evolving knowledge-sharing, a long-term commitment to the things they believe in and the topics that move their industries forward.
In terms of how all this translates into actions, the following are some tips:

  • Thoughtfully determine the most significant issues facing your industry and the audiences it serves and then develop message points to support your proposed solutions.
  • Understand the editorial priorities of your targeted media outlets and structure your communications outreach accordingly.
  • Make sure your CEO (or primary spokesperson) is media-trained and available to weigh in on issues of importance.
  • Take a long-term view toward editorial relationship-building.
  • Recognize the value of timely outreach.

Cathy Ackermann, founder and president of Ackermann Marketing and PR, may be reached at cackermann@thinkackermann.com

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