Thought leaders need to say it first

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A key objective of many public relations programs is to gain recognition for a particular executive as a “thought leader”.

But sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when a nominated executive doesn’t have any particularly new ideas.

It’s even more difficult when executives don’t want to talk to the media, aren’t responsive, don’t like giving presentations, or don’t like the content of articles or papers drafted for them.

Thought plus leadership

It’s also often overlooked that “thought leadership” is a two word phrase.

An organisation can have the most knowledgeable, deep thinking, ideas generator in the industry, but if they keep it to themselves it’s never going to gain them recognition as a thought leader.

Executives who are not quite so knowledgeable but who still make good sense, and who are available for commentary, are the ones who will be seen as thought leaders.

What’s often made difficult for public relations operators in implementing thought leadership programs is the leadership part.

First in, best dressed

To be a thought leader you have to be at the forefront of the conversation.

It’s no good expressing a view days after the topic has been aired, unless it’s a completely new, thought-provoking take on the subject.

Trying to get clients to move quickly on a subject can be very frustrating at times.

And when a client suggests that their public relations person contacts a journalist to follow up on an article that appeared that day as they have the same sort of views, it’s just embarrassing. Thought leadership is definitely a case of “first in best dressed” not “me too”.

Getting started

Most experienced executives in any industry have, by definition, interesting thoughts that can be used to gain recognition for them and the organisations they represent.

It’s also possible for a good public relations professional who knows the industry to develop a series of thought-starters that can be used by executives so that they can become involved in discussions and be seen as good sources of information.

But if the promotion of an expert is not helping the overall position and reputation of the organisation that employs them, it’s all a waste of time.

Such programs have to be part of a wider strategy program and complementary to other image-building activities.