As thought leadership content becomes increasingly commonplace within communications strategies, Byfield’s Account Executive Jess Hancock considers what questions PRs must ask themselves to ensure their piece is effective.
In the last decade, the extent to which firms have become invested in thought leadership as a demonstration of the depth of their expertise has become increasingly apparent. We have seen a growth in the number of firms producing reports and whitepapers for their client sectors; a rise in the prevalence of blogging across all professional services; and, of course, the explosion in the numbers of ‘industry influencers’ following the growing corporate presence on social media. But whilst many acknowledge the growing value of thought leadership, fewer can explain what thought leadership is – and more significantly – why it is important for enhancing client relationships.
What is thought leadership?
By its very definition, to create thought leadership is to ‘influence a narrative by understanding what needs to be done’. The form in which these reports are created can be many, ranging from insightful articles on sector trends, such as the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) regulation of crypto assets; to an industry whitepaper analysis of the impact of the Spring Budget 2021; to podcasts with C-suite executives, to this very blog on thought leadership itself.
However, to influence a narrative, one must first understand the wider context in which the narrative sits. Thought leadership is a key marketing tool which can be applied by every professional, team and firm to every piece of content, project and campaign. Its purpose can be broken down into three key areas: to demonstrate authority and authenticity, to shape the sector to benefit your clients and, most importantly, to build trusted and meaningful relationships.
Why is it important?
Thought leadership is essential in bringing key strategic value to both your client and your firm. In all of its forms, thought leadership can be used to build your firm’s reputation as an industry leader, by highlighting your knowledge and experience in front of a target audience. By presenting knowledge or a viewpoint on a new development in your sector, you are able to shape industry discussion in a way that specifically benefits your client. The target audience is not limited to existing clients, but can differ depending on the purpose of each campaign. Moreover, thought leadership can bring strategic value by showing your firms ethics and values in a way that is more digestible by these audiences. For example, it’s unlikely that every prospective client will read the details of your firm’s ethics and values page, but they might read a blog that establishes them.
Thought leadership is used, therefore, to create an authentic and authoritative narrative that clients can view, trust and relate to – thus establishing the firm as key commentators within their field. This authentic narrative can be used to shape the sector. The meaningful content you create via thought leadership, not only mirrors your firm’s objectives, it shapes the sector by exemplifying your firm’s ability to achieve them. With this demonstrated experience, your firm is able to build trusted and meaningful relationships with both its clients and peers.
How can I achieve this?
Something that prospective content creators must remember to consider is that thought leadership must: feel authentic, be relevant to the sector, and demonstrate valuable insight. One way of achieving this is by keeping abreast of upcoming themes in the news agenda through regular horizon scanning. Should the theme in the news agenda align with your clients’ objectives, you can use the angle to create an interesting narrative. In addition, is essential to use the correct tone-of-voice to shape brand identity. For example, by using short staccato sentences to express an assertive tone, or using academic language to convey intellectualism. It is worth noting that the tone-of-voice must be consistent and true to the firm and their pre-approved identity. Finally, when reviewing each piece of content, ask yourself two questions: will this help to achieve my goal and, if not, why am I doing it?
Know your competitors
It is all too easy to focus on the “who, what, where, when, and why” of your own message but you must all address how your work fits within the existing market. In order to influence a narrative, you must first understand and anticipate the views of others – most notably, the views of your competitors. What sets you apart from other firms and why should people listen? To lead by thought you must, therefore, have the ability to pre-empt obstacles and truly understand the market in which you’re attempting to break into. It is worth noting that when “cutting through the noise”, it is essential that your message remains authentic. There is no value in creating a message that is individual in the market if it diverges from your firm’s values, purpose or knowledge. Conducting a thorough competitor analysis in the build up to any campaign is nonetheless, an invaluable measure. Once you are confident in your position to fill the thought leadership gap, there is equal value in knowing your audience and knowing what they’re interested in. What matters to the audience? How will this be received?
Thought leadership is a tool through which to demonstrate authority and authenticity, to shape the sector to benefit your clients and, most importantly, to build trusted and meaningful relationships. It is vital to remember the value in keeping abreast of upcoming themes in the news agenda through regular horizon scanning – also, to know your audience and competitors. The most important questions you can ask yourself when creating thought leadership content are: Does my message have value? And, is it authentic? Good thought leadership certainly involves asking yourself a lot of questions and more significantly, being able to answer them. Thinking with purpose means being able to defend and explain each action. If you can address each of the aforementioned questions, and understand the importance they have to your clients, then you’ll have mastered the art of thinking about thought leadership.