Becoming a Thought Leader Requires, You Guessed It, Thought

Public relations is about more than simply getting a reporter to write a story about your company (not that there’s anything simple in achieving that feat). It’s also about creating name recognition of your company in the minds of consumers and investors, and about protecting that hard-won reputation from detractors and up-and-comers. One of the best ways to achieve these ends is to position yourself (or the most media-friendly person in your startup) as an expert, or as we in the PR business like to call them, a thought leader.

Thought leaders are the people in any industry who are respected as knowledgeable and innovative. They are in-demand speakers, authors, and frequent guests on TV and radio, as well as cited experts in print. Mark Cuban is a great, local example. How did they get there? Like anything else, it wasn’t magic; it was the result of the kind of strategic approach a PR professional can create and guide you along.

The basis of any good thought leadership campaign is blogging, whether that be on your company blog or on a platform such as LinkedIn, where you can readily find groups specializing in your areas of interest. (If such a group doesn’t exist, that’s even better—you can start it yourself.) Give yourself a comfortable schedule so that you can post on a fairly regular basis, and remember to self-syndicate via your other social media channels. But, most important, take controversial positions. These should be stances you truly believe in but which go against the established flow, or strike off in different directions. You want to be interesting to potential readers, and even if they disagree with you, they’ll at least be engaged.

At the same time, keep an eye out when reading your industry’s blogs and news sites, and general business sources, for writers who are described as guest commentators, guest contributors, etc. They usually have a small bio box or tag line that describes what their “day job” is, with a company website link. Once you feel comfortable with your writing, and you believe you have a great idea for an article, those are the outlets you’ll want to contact, positioning yourself as a contributor.

Write up a few paragraphs of your article and submit it to the correct editor. You don’t want to submit the entire article in case the editor doesn’t like the idea, or likes the idea but wants a different angle. Sometimes, the editors will even want to work directly with you on the finished piece.

Be patient. Just as reporters get hundreds of pitches every day, editors get dozens of thought leadership queries and submissions they have to juggle with their daily duties. As well, they need to consult production calendars and schedules to see if your submission can be slotted in. Waiting weeks for a response is not uncommon.

In the meantime, remember, you can only submit that article to one outlet at a time. Outlets will not run the same story as a competitor, and allowing someone to publish your article generally involves giving them what are known as “first rights”. Not only is it embarrassing for the outlets if two of them run the exact same article, there could be legal repercussions that fall back on you—not to mention you’ll never get a byline with them again.

It may sound like a lot of work but that’s only because it is. But the payoff is worth it. Not only are you raising your company’s brand awareness, but you’re increasing the chances of being a speaker at conventions, and best of all, having reporters calling you for comments and interviews instead of you constantly begging them.