Thought Leadership
A Time and a Place for Everything: Authentic Thought Leadership

Mary Tobin

As marketing communications professionals, we’ve all been there.  You’ve lined up a great speaking or media opportunity for your executive on a topic they truly command.  Everyone is fully prepped and ready to go.  When the hour arrives, they deliver…just not what you expected.  Instead of sharing engaging insights on the topic at hand, your thought leader delivers a bold-faced commercial.  The result…you fail to make the article, the speaking opportunity falls flat, and you’re left to pick up the pieces, including mending valuable relationships.  Not the result you, or your executive, were anticipating.

Thought leadership, done right, is a powerful marketing tool.  Especially in policy-driven cultures like D.C. or state capitols.  It establishes a sturdy foundation for credibility and strong relationships.  It helps your message cut through the noise of the wonks, pundits, and oversaturated government IT commentary proliferating in this market space.

A charismatic spokesperson – a marketer’s dream – is always helpful to the cause, but (let’s be honest) is seldom a given.  Authenticity, on the other hand, is essential and, thankfully, can be cultivated.  Think of it as the secret sauce that you can be sure is factored into the mix.  And in government circles it’s a rare commodity, so your executive can really shine if they’re able to project authentically when the hour arrives.

We offer a few tips for setting the table for authentic thought leadership.

  1. Choose carefully – Charisma, aside, you want an individual who is truly an expert on the topic at hand and is comfortable – or can get comfortable – with the idea of being a thought leader
  2. Invest in your spokesperson – Set the stage for success by level setting your vision of thought leadership and the role that it plays in your marketing strategy. Unlike more transactional campaigns, thought leadership initiatives often have an indirect path to lead development.  It is important that your thought leader understands this reality, as well as how thought leadership inherently differs from business development
  3. Help them find their “voice” – Identify what makes your thought leader unique and capitalize on it. For example, she may have unique experience as retired military, an educator, a software engineer, and now a product manager.  Digging deep into that collective experience can bring a unique perspective – identify it and cultivate it
  4. Don’t skimp on prep – A little media training can go a long way. Show, don’t tell.  As part of the prep phase, we like to share examples of thought leadership done right – short clips or examples of thought leaders who nail it – as well as thought leadership gone horribly wrong.  This gives your thought leader concrete examples of both the gold standard to embrace and debacles to avoid.  Also during the prep phase, be sure to rehearse how and when it is appropriate to weave in mentions of your solution or organization – one of the most effective ways is through success stories.  And, critically, make sure they understand the audience they are addressing.  Government professionals want leaders that understand how the topic at hand relates to them specifically – too often the anecdotes shared are not relevant to the audience at hand and guarantees your spokesperson has lost the room.
  5. Banish sales jargon – This is often the greatest sticking point, especially when the thought leader hails from the realm of business development. Practice makes perfect, and core messages are key.  Speak their language, perhaps preparing a “battle card” that provides key messages and examples to share
  6. Pick the right channel – Not all thought leaders are great presenters, and not all great presenters are great writers. Pick and choose the best channels based on your thought leader’s strengths.  They might not be good on his feet during an interview or panel discussion, but is sensational at a written Q&A or guest blog.

When it works well, thought leadership can be almost magical, creating unexpected ripples of opportunity.  We’ve all experienced it.  Now it’s time to share.  We’d love to hear examples of your thought leadership best practices and success stories.  Let’s keep the conversation going.

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