Businesses need gifted spokespeople that can articulate vision, company values and handle media questions. But increasingly, they also need to position their senior team as subject matter experts and ‘thought leaders’ capable of enhancing and adding to wider industry debate and commentary.
Marketers working closely with business leaders can become frustrated when they see other brands sharing views and being invited to government roundtables, but they miss out on the media attention.
The reason often lies in being able to help your spokespeople find, articulate and share their opinions and experience in an interesting and informative way. Having thought leadership published is a powerful way to establish their subject matter expertise and credibility and widen brand awareness.
Learning how to write compelling opinion pieces, and getting them published in mainstream media outlets, should be a critical part of your PR strategy. But marketers and spokespeople need to understand what thought leadership is and what it is not in order to achieve success.
Thought leadership is not about reporting. Journalists report the news and track breaking stories. Thought leadership is about providing an expert opinion – with an emphasis on having an opinion. That could be how to do things better, gaps in the conversation that people are overlooking or not considering, or specific advice such as ‘top three tips’.
The opinion should not be thinly veiled marketing or advertising. It should be objective advice explaining best practice and sharing knowledge gained through many years of industry experience. The media will not run opinion pieces that are blatantly promotional and self-serving or featuring links to buy your products or services.
Opinion pieces don’t need lots of background and a summary of facts – remember journalists cover that. You need to focus on writing your opinion or best practice advice. Make sure you convey that in the headline and the first paragraph and then explain it. Opinion pieces should be 500-700 words long. They need to be punchy, topical, relevant and engaging.
Although marketing departments can encourage their spokespeople to write content, thought leadership is about thought and leadership. It is not marketing or advertising. The value – AND marketers and business leaders must understand this – is having your company name in the by-line. If you want to plug your business in the article, then buy sponsored content or use your blog and social channels. The focus is on earning media coverage through merit.
Marketers and spokespeople must read the media outlets they aim to get published in. Not all publications run opinion pieces. If they do, it’s important you understand the style they accept. For instance, do they run informative articles like ‘5 ways to save your business time at tax time?’ Or do they prefer a strong or controversial opinion?
Do not use thought leadership for ambulance chasing. Taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune will make your brand look like an opportunist rather than a credible source of information.
It is also important to be wary of jumping all over a competitor in an opinion piece. Remember if you attack them and later on your business makes a mistake, they’ll attack you back. And, how will your customers react if you engage in cheap shots? Think carefully about the positioning.
Writing thought leadership for media success is an art. It’s probably unlike any other type of writing you’ve done. Think about getting expert help to hone in on the angle that will work and to write it in the style a media outlet will accept.