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How to Build Your Thought-Leadership Campaign from Scratch

The thought of thought leadership typically elicits ideas of (1) high social-media visibility and (2) large volumes of whitepapers, blog posts, and other content.

And those items generally are part and parcel of a thought-leadership campaign.  “Thought leadership,” however, is not strictly synonymous with “content marketing” or “social media marketing” – despite the overlaps.  It is an entirely distinct marketing animal – and building up a thought-leadership campaign from scratch requires its own bag of tricks.

Paul Dunay, leader of PwC‘s financial services & US Brexit marketing efforts, recently spoke with me to share his tips for getting thought leadership off the ground.

1. Find Your Thought Leaders

This tip may seem obvious, but it is the first step – and an important one – to developing a thought-leadership campaign.  Organizations aren’t so much thought leaders as are their people – those with influential voices. 

I asked Dunay what marketers should look for in identifying their budding thought leaders.

“They’re probably in your inbox already asking about this or that or the other thing,” replied Dunay.  “They may have already been out in the press – so you can read any press releases and any articles recently on your firm; they might be quoted in them.  So they’re usually fairly prolific.  They might even have something they want you to edit or read.  They might be blogging on LinkedIn.”

In a professional-services organization, they may be easier to find because of the very nature of professional services.  In an organization that sells widgets, however, Dunay suggests using experts on particular products sold by the company, such as engineers, product marketers, and others working in a product group.

Regardless, thought leaders-in-waiting are often already acting like thought leaders – generating content and/or insights on key topics and issues. 

2. Start with What You Know

There are two types of thought-leadership marketing: supply-side and demand-side.

Supply-side thought leadership, said Dunay, centers on things that the organization or the person already knows and/or is already good at. 

These items can include:

  • Topics that the thought leader is already talking about
  • Things your organization has already researched or done case studies on
  • Products or services that the organization has sold, and
  • Products or services that the organization consistently sells well.

Demand-side thought leadership, conversely, represents areas that the person or organization wants to get into – but is not yet an authority on and/or does not yet offer a solution for.

When starting a thought-leadership campaign, Dunay advises, it is generally better to start with the supply-side areas because those areas represent a better-known quantity – and, as such, are already likely gold mines of content and data.

“I think people often start in the wrong area – the demand stuff – because that’s…sexier than the things that are on your shelf [or] that you’ve already done, it’s kind of a green field, there’s not a lot of revenue there, [and you] want to position [yourself] for this burgeoning market,” said Dunay.  “You’ll probably have only one person – or maybe two people – in your organization that might be able to talk about it.  You may not have a case study or some sort of result to bring out, but you do have a unique way of thinking about it.  That’s good – maybe not your best place to start.”

3. Make Your Thought Leaders Accessible

As with any marketing initiative, it must be guided by policy and training.  This is especially true of an organization’s internal thought leaders, advised Dunay.  Accordingly, having media training, media-training policies, social media policies, and any other necessary “process or protocol for how to engage with a particular thought leader”.

At the same time, putting thought leaders in the public eye isn’t just about putting a wall between the good and the bad.  Just as important is the organization and communication that goes into letting external influencers – such as journalists and conference organizers – know how to readily reach the thought leader.

“Hav[e] some sort of a thought-leader list that they have with contact information – cell phone; if they have an executive assistant, who that person is [and] what their phone number is; and email address – so that they can get the scheduling done really quickly,” suggested Dunay, emphasizing the urgency with which press items need to be dealt.  “A lot of these things come down and they come down fast, and so speed to market is gonna be your friend – and anything that’s going to stand in the way, like sitting and waiting for emails to come back, is just going to slow you down.”

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