Maximize Your Investment in Thought Leadership to Effectively Build Reputation


December 6, 2022

By Kacie Escobar, MBA, APR

The term “thought leadership” is thrown around so often in marketing and communications that it is now considered by most to be jargon. However, the concept of positioning your organization as a thought leader, or industry authority, remains an important reputation-building strategy.

From conference presentations to advertorials to topical studies and blog posts, tactics that fall under the leadership umbrella come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are seemingly endless avenues available to share your thoughts – so many that it can almost be overwhelming. Along with the need for a genuinely original, authoritative perspective, industry thought leadership requires a discerning approach that maximizes your investment and emphasizes quality over quantity.

The word “no” arguably holds more power than any other word in the English language, which is why it can be so daunting to say (does anyone really like to be the bearer of bad news?). We would love unlimited time and resources to explore every opportunity, but the reality is subject-matter experts involved in thought leadership programs are generally short on time.

Beyond the investment of their time and energy to share creative ideas, there may also be a financial obligation and an opportunity cost associated with each activity. Declining an invitation to participate or choosing not to pursue an opportunity may not only be fiscally responsible, but also the best option for your reputation as a thought leader.

Pursue the right thought leadership opportunities – not just any opportunity.

In Edelman’s 2021 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study, most decision-makers and C-suite executives said they spend more than one hour per week reading and reviewing thought leadership. Thought leadership led to more business transactions, but readers considered less than half of what they consumed to be “valuable.” This presents an incredible opportunity for organizations interested in generating greater visibility, boosting their reputation, and, ultimately, increasing revenues.

While the natural tendency may be to accept any and every thought leadership opportunity, we caution clients to err on the side of strategic decision-making. Consider the following when deciding whether to move forward:

  • Will it reach our target audience? Better yet, will it help get in front of a smaller or niche segment of our audience that has previously been more challenging to reach? Every strategic decision begins by defining who you want to target. If the opportunity won’t help you reach one or more of your priority audiences with content they value, move on.
  • Is this a one-and-done engagement, or does it present an opportunity to repurpose valuable content? For example, although your presentation might reach a smaller in-person audience, the chance to record, edit and share the recording as a series on social media could maximize your investment by reaching a much bigger audience over time.
  • Is this worth the investment of our resources, or can we secure a greater return on investment by pursuing other tactics? Consider factors, such as the impressions this opportunity will generate, how it might compromise your team’s ability to pursue more pressing priorities and costs. This question is critical for organizations with limited resources, such as nonprofits operating with donor funding, government organizations operating with taxpayer dollars, or smaller teams with minimal bandwidth to undertake projects outside their primary function.
  • Will we be in good company? Review the other organizations or employees that have previously received awards or spoken at the event under evaluation and consider whether you would be among peers, role models or competitors. Ensure your brand benefits from being associated with others involved, and avoid the opportunity if the answer is “no.”
  • Would our employees agree? This is particularly important for award recognition or insights related to cultural and internal issues. Avoid turning your greatest advocates into adversaries. The approach to your thought leadership must be authentic, transparent and align with employee feedback or engagement on the topic at hand.
  • Will this information help others? While sales of your product or service should ultimately drive marketing and communications program objectives, the purpose of thought leadership isn’t to sell. As Dan Ward, APR, CPRC advised, be a “servant” thought leader. Focus not on how thought leadership opportunities benefit your organization, but on how they benefit your audiences – otherwise, they will see right through it.

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” proceed with caution – or not at all. To effectively maximize your investment in thought leadership, exercise your judgement to evaluate and decline opportunities as appropriate. This will help you narrow the focus on creating valuable content that converts consumers of your thought leadership into customers of your products and services.

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