Thought leadership combines multiple elements including:
- Executive profiles and interviews
- Bylined articles
- Blog articles
- Speaking opportunities
- Branded content
From the outset, that could look like a standard PR or media relations program.
But the difference is that many PR programs are focused on highlighting an organization’s products or services whereas thought leadership is often focused on key issues.
Thought leadership, on the other hand, isn’t about selling. It’s about advising. It’s offering perspectives on issues that matter to customers so that when they do think about a purchase, they take a look at your organization because leadership clearly understands key issues that keep customers up at night.
The idea is if you provide advice — as this blog article is doing — without trying to “sell” the reader on your services, customers will see you as credible and thoughtful, and that may help them decide to work with your organization.
The real difference between a standard PR campaign — and, keep in mind, touting your products and services is important, too — and thought leadership is the focus on issues, not product. It’s on educating potential customers about what they need to know.
An example of the importance of educating potential customers came from one of our first clients, almost 20 years ago. We conducted a program that communicated information that addressed issues relevant to the customers of a small financial software startup. After a couple of months, the founder, whose still there though the company has grown and operates under a new name, told us what looked like negative news. He said that our work did not increase the number of customer calls but — and here’s the good news — the calls that came in after our program were 90% more qualified than before.
By helping the founder provide insight into a problem customers could not solve on their own or with Excel (the standard approach then and now), we helped customers better understand that there was a cost-effective solution for an end-of-month problem that kept them up at night.
Thought leadership in this case raised awareness, spoke to an issue that mattered to customers, and actually made the phone ring.
If you’re focused on issuing press releases about your new product, a new feature in your product, etc. — which can be important, and we’ve worked on hundreds of those kind of announcements — you may be able to help with lead generation.
But product PR generally does not help when a company seeks to raise investment rounds or to get acquired.
For that, whether your organization is a B2B, B2C or a nonprofit, thought leadership campaigns can showcase their expertise, capabilities, values and successes.
We will be writing more about thought leadership over the next few months. In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.