One of the most valuable skills a PR strategist has is the ability to see what others can't. As business counselors with communications expertise, we are uniquely capable of creating clarity from complexity. Whether it's tackling a crisis, facing a tough issue, or rebuilding a reputation, we can connect the dots for our organizations in ways few others can. It is in these moments our counsel is most needed, not only to influence business strategy and practices at the highest levels but to draw new patterns altogether.
Unfortunately, too many organizations prefer familiar patterns and shy away from the risk that comes with thinking differently. The good news is many of us work with individuals throughout organizations who are innovators with fresh perspectives and great influence over the development of new products, systems, approaches, and markets.
These individuals can be difference-makers for companies, industries, and the broader marketplace. By sharing these leaders' ideas and earning recognition for their contributions through a well-designed thought leadership strategy, PR pros can help build brand value, engage stakeholders, and set organizations apart from the competition in business-impacting ways.
One note of caution: not every innovator makes an effective thought leader. Similarly, not everyone who desires the stage is suited for it. Too often we see ordinary individuals positioned as "extraordinary" when their track record proves otherwise. This does our organizations and our industry a disservice. By being more discerning and finding unique thinkers with credible accomplishments among our leadership teams, we can earn respect and recognition for the clients, companies, and brands we champion.
To create effective thought leadership programs, consider the following:
- Study what's out there – First, figure out what everyone else is already doing in your industry and how well they are doing it.
- Find your niche – Next, look for places your organization has deep expertise and differentiating capabilities – and around issues your stakeholders care about. Stake out a space where you can establish a clear platform that isn't already claimed by others.
- Identify your innovators – Which people have a passion and a point of view worth sharing with accomplishments to back them up? Look within your ranks for those who can authentically and boldly share new ideas and practices while engaging stakeholders in meaningful discussion about business-impacting issues.
- Stand for something – Take a position and confidently share it. Don't waste the spotlight on something predictable. Use these moments wisely to challenge conventional thinking, put forward new ideas and position your organization as a pioneer.
- Make your voice heard – Think, write, speak. Pick a few issues where you have credible industry leadership and communicate with your stakeholders frequently about what you're doing to effect change.
- Leverage channels – Consider every earned and owned channel as a way to deliver thought leadership content on a cadence basis and listen for feedback and engagement every single day.
- Monitor and measure – Establish meaningful metrics that can demonstrate how thought leadership helps builds the business. Track indicators such as greater engagement from stakeholders, higher quality new business inquiries, requests for thought leaders to speak at preferred venues, heightened awareness of key messages and understanding of your platform issues, and, of course, a desired behavior change motivated by a call-to-action.
Elise Mitchell is president/CEO of Mitchell Communications Group, which was named 2011 PRWeek "Small Agency of the Year" and a 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned/Led Company in North America by Women Presidents' Organization.