Make your experts thought leaders

Competition for mindshare among journalists today is fierce. Not only do they produce the buzz we hear, but as individual marketing targets, they receive it, as well.

Competition for mindshare among journalists today is fierce. Not only do they produce the buzz we hear, but as individual marketing targets, they receive it, as well.

Journalists are the bull's-eye for PR pros, who spend their days placing countless phone calls and carefully crafting numerous e-mails, just hoping to persuade reporters to use one "expert" or another.

So, how can PR folks elevate their experts from self-proclaimed to valuable thought leaders in the minds of reporters and editors?

There's no easy answer. Journalists constantly seek fresh, better sources. So, unless your guy is White House press secretary Tony Snow, your expert isn't likely to become the sole source of information on a given topic.

This revelation, however, should not lead your experts to despair. In fact, there are a few simple things they can do, including striving for knowledge, communicating with finesse, and being accessible; these will help them build trusting relationships with the press and increase the likelihood that they will be called upon for comment time and again.

Whether in written or verbal form, thought leaders are educators. All educators have the obligation to be scholars, seeking to continually increase their knowledge and understanding on a certain topic and embracing the opportunity to share thoughts and informed opinions with others.

One of our clients, for example, is a thought leader in business continuity and disaster recovery. He spends a large part of each day acquiring knowledge about crisis preparation, management, and recovery so that he may better educate his colleagues, clients, and the press. And, he provides his communications team with these insights and information - helping us do our job better.

Partly by nature and partly through a continued effort to improve their skills, thought leaders are effective communicators. They strive to be articulate; they lead with the headline and get to the supporting points quickly. They are also not afraid to offer their opinions - not off-the-cuff remarks, but thoughtful, educated insights. They are persuasive, yet fact-based. They understand how to utilize silence. And they're just downright enjoyable to talk with.

Thought leaders are also accessible. News waits for no one, and only those who are quick to answer when opportunity knocks will be called upon again. Sure, schedules may need to be juggled a bit to accommodate deadlines. Genuine thought leaders recognize that the value outweighs the short-term inconvenience.

So if you're thinking, "My expert would love to do this," then get on board. Work with him or her to improve interview skills, and hold regular meetings to discuss issues and trends. Identify reporters for whom your expert can offer the most benefit. And create a clear and consistent strategy to reach them. Set measurable objectives and a timeline; work the plan, and gauge the results.

Becoming a recognized thought leader doesn't happen overnight. However, if you and your specialist have the skill and desire, a disciplined communications effort can help turn your expert into the most valued and oft-cited knowledge resource: a thought leader.

Amy Littleton is VP of KemperLesnik Communications.

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