Thought leadership is more than having a point of view

The PR community throws around the term "thought leadership" to mean everything from whitepapers to tradeshow exhibits to speaking engagements and more.

Thought [thawt] noun: 2. idea or notion 5. a consideration or reflection
[lee-der-ship] noun: 3. an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction

The PR community throws around the term “thought leadership” to mean everything from whitepapers to tradeshow exhibits to speaking engagements and more. However, done properly, it can be the foundation for an entire, multi-channel communications campaign.

At InkHouse, we define thought leadership as a platform that transcends the corporate position and brings in market trends and issues to elevate the company out of a “features and functions” conversation. It provides the opportunity for a company to set the industry agenda and showcase its depth of knowledge. Done properly, thought leadership stimulates demand for companies' products and services by teaching the industry about what is needed and what the future will require.

There are three critical elements to a successful thought leadership platform:

  1. Offer a unique point of view. Your point of view is not about your product. It should lead back to your product or service, but it has to be about something bigger and more meaningful to your audience than you. This viewpoint must be relevant enough to be part of your industry's conversations, yet differentiated enough to rise above the din. And remember, controversy always breeds interest. If you agree with everyone else, you need to select another platform. Why is your approach to your market unique? How does the industry need to change in five or 10 years?

  2. Root your point of view in authority. It's not enough to have a compelling viewpoint. It must be rooted in authority – third-party research, proprietary data, or unique expertise. Data is a powerful tool for PR professionals. Unlike almost every other tool at our disposal, a single data point directed at the right audience is the fastest conduit between interest, engagement, and content sharing. To support a thought leadership effort, your data must be valid. We recommend starting in one of three places: your company's proprietary data, a study done by a third-party data provider, or a partnership with a respected analyst. Your choice will depend on the data itself. It must illuminate a unique insight that has broad implications.

  3. Tie back to objectives. This is the critical third element. If your thought leadership platform does not tie back to your company objectives, it's pointless. Your point of view and authority must draw a straight line back to the products and services you offer. This does not mean that you should plug your offerings in your thought leadership campaign materials. It does mean that your thought leadership platform should be designed to interest your audiences in how you view your market, so they will become interested in how you address that market.

Beth Monaghan is principal and co-founder of InkHouse Media + Marketing, one of the fastest growing independent PR and social media agencies in the US with headquarters in Waltham, MA. You can email her at, and find her on Twitter @bamonaghan.

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