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April 26, 2010
Thought Leadership, the Next Public Relations Frontier

Converging forces are at work to revolutionize public relations as practiced in today’s social media landscape. Business now finds itself compelled to open new channels of communications in its quest to influence the public and to establish a position of “thought leadership.” Thought leadership is rapidly emerging as the key to enhancing company and entrepreneurial, credibility and to influence decision-makers in every field of endeavor.

Strategic thought leadership-focused public relations is now an essential tool in the quest to enhance company image by differentiating one’s philosophy and offerings in our highly commoditized, information-cluttered mediascape. It helps to build a favorable attitude toward a company, its products and management through the recognition that the company is a master of its business, considers the needs of its customers and the larger society, and comprehends the direction of the marketplace.

Many still spewing

While many companies are still content to spew news releases into the Internet through myriad paid or free PR distribution channels, such scatter-shot efforts pay few dividends and do little to position a company for leadership. What is required instead are strategic campaigns that emerge from a company’s mission and that consistently communicate an original, forward-looking perspective on core industry challenges.

A thought-leader company actively promotes ideas relevant to its marketplace and to the larger society which its processes impact. By joining the industry conversation and addressing pivotal issues with authority, one will, with consistent effort, come to be recognized as a leader in that field. The resulting leadership aura demonstrates to the market that your company has the experience and knowledge to support its words -- that you can walk the talk.

Thought leadership aura

Once achieved, whether for a large or small enterprise, thought leadership encourages customers and prospects to approach your company for insight and vision. Journalists, bloggers, and analysts, etc. will seek out your perspective. Prospects will add you to their “short list” when seeking outside services.

White most companies work hard to attain a level of industry visibility, thought leadership, which represents the distillation of company mission, vision, and structure, is proof of competence. It builds corporate image by demonstrating a proprietary command of timely issues and opportunities in a given industry. By speaking out through columns, briefings, and commentary, executives demonstrate an understanding of and commitment to moving their business, industry, and society forward. Thought leadership speak does not tout product attributes or features, rather it takes the consumer perspective by demonstrating the thought processes of its management team.

A compelling B2B advantage

B2B companies, especially in consulting and research related fields, will find that compelling thought leadership campaigns provide one of the most potent tools available to establish competitive advantage. By focusing on thought leadership communications, companies can frame and stimulate the conversation around the challenges, opportunities, and socioeconomic problems that they are best positioned to address.

The tools of thought leadership are evolving with the Internet but remain rooted in solid communications skills -- the written word, oral presentation, and increasingly, video. Many companies will find themselves challenged to produce professional-grade, ongoing thought leadership communications internally. When this is the case, one should seek public relations support from an agency steeped in your industry. External thought leaders may also be “borrowed” by aligning with respected academics, analysts, and consultants to help shape the conversation.

Whichever approach appears most feasible, it is crucial to make thought leadership a strategic imperative. Happily, the process can work for established, challenger, and start-up firms. But be warned, developing thought leadership requires work and an ongoing commitment. It demands that management view their company from the perspective of the outside world and speak to its needs rather than from your ego.

Committing to an ongoing campaign is the best way to demonstrate industry leadership and to ensure success in a business culture increasingly dominated by the contest of ideas.

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Len Stein founded Visibility Public Relations to position the full spectrum of creative marketing services companies for industry thought-leadership. 

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