You can’t be a ‘thought leader’ without a P.O.V.

Written by Lahra Carey

Thought leader… it’s the latest buzzword in professional services and the lofty goal expressed by many Marketing Managers… funny thing is… the businesses we work with generally already have a reputation for being the biggest or the best in their field and yet their management team are often completely unprepared for leveraging that success and position to actually do ‘thought leadership’.

Which is a bit of a waste really… If you’re already the industry leader with a website that screams ‘legitimacy’ (industry papers, testimonials and case studies amongst others) why wouldn’t you leverage these credentials to say something new and newsworthy?

Enter NewsFlash Media…  where a large part of the work we do for clients is to unearth pithy points of view that will make headline-grabbing news stories, consequently raising our clients’ profiles in the media.

As part of that process we often hear participants say: “What we’d like to do is raise our brand awareness amongst potential clients by commenting on the issues that matter to them…” Which makes sense, doesn’t it?

But here’s where the trouble begins. Professional services firms – lawyers, financial services and management consultants – don’t actually make anything. They build their success on the back of their own clients, and their expertise by researching and advising on systems and trends and industry data.

Which should make great fodder for thought leadership pieces, given that journalists love trends, predictions and third-party experts who are not simply pushing a specific product. But, as we keep rediscovering, it’s not that simple.

The C-Suitors we train, generally out of fear, often need to be cajoled to express any original opinions. They’re afraid of being ridiculed by their peers, contradicted by a competitor or venturing away from the comfort of presenting a balanced opinion (aka fence sitting), by expressing a passionate view.

Some of the most common excuses we hear include:

  • Potential breach of client confidentiality
  • No current evidence (such as a recent report or up-to-date data)
  • We might upset the Government/a client/a stakeholder if we express our authentic view

While case studies with testimonials from real clients are always great collateral, you don’t have to divulge client details to hold an expert view.

Up to date data is always great for making your case but as an industry leader, your own experience provides the proof-point to your expert opinion not the data.

Then there’s upsetting a potential stakeholder. Often we hear clients say that it’s too hard to put forward an authentic view because it could put clients offside. Put this into perspective. How hard is it to ignore your better judgement, to go with a strategy or policy that your experience tells you is wrong. Wouldn’t you rather set the record straight and champion the right idea or approach? Isn’t that what leadership is all about, daring to differ because you know better?

By the time Steve and I are ready to throw a microphone in front of participants at one of our sessions, we’re already spent hours researching our clients’ industries and the trends impacting their customers’ industries. Without exception we take bland, vanilla ‘management speak’ and turn it into interesting, thought provoking and insightful commentary. There’s no question the stories and the expertise are there – they’re just buried deeply under a pile of jargon.

Most of the time, eventually, we see a shift in the attitudes of our C-Suitors. It’s always gratifying to see the delight on the face of very intelligent, very capable and very experienced professionals finally giving themselves permission to become a thought leader – taking a position and expressing their expert opinion without reservation.

At this point, for us, it feels like the hardest part is done. All that’s left now is getting the client over the nervousness of facing the media interview.