When companies seek public relations support, their expectations may revolve around quick results or immediate return on investment (ROI). While some aspects of public relations can lend themselves to this approach, many PR strategies, like increasing brand awareness and establishing industry thought leadership, are more of a long game.
Being viewed as a thought leader doesn’t automatically come with the CEO title, but rather, is established by providing unique and insightful thinking, staying a step ahead of industry trends, and providing thoughtful and informed solutions to the issues and opportunities within an industry. The savviest of thought leaders also demonstrate values and purpose, thus creating even greater connections with their audiences. At the end of the day, being a thought leader goes a long way toward increasing your brand’s reputation, credibility and consumer trust over time.
Establishing thought leadership can be achieved in a few ways:
Identify Your Wheelhouse
In order to be a thought leader, you need to have a depth of knowledge that others don’t have. If you’re only reiterating opinions that others also share, you’re not doing anything to push the industry forward and thus, not being a thought leader. Take the time to identify your expertise and ensure you have the knowledge to be considered a thought leader.
Have an Opinion
One of the main pillars of thought leadership is having a defined point of view. As an industry expert, you should be well-versed in all things relating to your industry, including opportunities, issues and barriers. While being able to identify these issues is important, the bigger signifier of thought leadership relies on having a strong opinion on what solutions and steps can be taken to capitalize on opportunities and solve the challenges within the industry while also looking ahead to proactively identify opportunities in your field.
If you’re the CEO of an affordable housing development firm, you should be able to speak to issues on homelessness in your city, affordable housing funding, construction labor shortages, etc. While no one will expect you to be an expert in each of these topics, you should have enough knowledge to understand how these topics overlap and thoroughly hone in on at least one topic.
Don’t Be Too Self-Serving
Think about the people you trust— whether they’re your physician, motivational speakers, professors whose courses you’ve taken, etc.— these people are credible for their experience, but also, for their ability to focus on something other than their own agenda. You trust these people because they have an education or experience that provides them insight and they share their expertise in a way that benefits others.
To be a thought leader means you are careful of self-promotion, and rather focus on the bigger picture and the issues at hand for the industry as a whole. The purpose of thought leadership is to be a trusted source of information, meaning you need to be authentic, transparent, and willing to focus on solutions that benefit the broader community. While a thought leadership strategy should support your business objectives, values and integration of your brand, messaging should be carefully executed to not appear overly promotional.
Boost Your Industry Presence
Show up, but intentionally. If you’re looking to be seen as an expert, people have to 1. know who you are and 2. know that you’re present and actively participating when it matters.
Seek speaking opportunities, volunteer and board positions within industry groups, and look for opportunities to share your unique point of view in your industry and among your peers. Having a presence at ribbon cuttings, community fundraisers and networking events may also be beneficial, although care should be taken not just to be present, but to be impactful. Get on the agenda, ask thoughtful questions and share your opinions in a way that is respectful of the opportunity. Always be sure to drive conversations instead of simply standing in the crowd.
The most adept “experts” know that they should never stop learning. To establish yourself as a thought leader for the long haul, make sure to stay on top of current events and trends that affect your industry. When speaking to the state of the industry, be sure to not only address current issues and trends but look into the future. A thought leader shouldn’t only be reactive to current events, but proactively looking ahead to future possibilities.
Keep a finger on the pulse of your industry to fortify your place as a thought leader. Also, take the time to educate yourself on current events that could cause a significant shift. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, changed the way most businesses in every sector operated. Many thought leaders emerged throughout the pandemic not only because they responded efficiently and appropriately to the ever-changing climate as it was happening, but because they also looked ahead at what these shifts could mean for the future and how they could lead the way.
Work with a PR Agency
Establishing thought leadership doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a distinction that comes with time, requires great determination and bears responsibility. If you’re considering how thought leadership might benefit you and your business, a PR agency can help handle much of the leg work by identifying opportunities, tracking relevant industry data and creating a strategic plan to help you achieve your goals.
Contact Nuffer, Smith, Tucker today to explore the benefits of thought leadership.