Five steps to help you become a thought leader

Clients often tell us they want to be seen as thought leaders. It’s one of those phrases which business people, and some public relations consultants, latch onto as a means of separating themselves from their competitors. But it’s not that easy. Here’s the 360 integrated PR guide to becoming a thought leader in your sector.

First of all, what does it mean to be a thought leader? Most definitions define one as a foremost authority, the ‘go-to’ person or organisation in their area of expertise.

Being a thought leader is not the same as simply having a controversial or outlying opinion or even bringing an innovative product or service to market. It is also not a quick fix – building a reputation as a thought leader takes time and depends on a sustained approach to communications.

However, if you are prepared to invest the time and the intellectual and emotional intelligence into the campaign, the reputational benefits of achieving thought leader status are tangible and valuable.

  • Customers recognise they are dealing with a supplier who understands their challenges better than the competition
  • Employees and potential employees are inspired to engage with the organisation as they appreciate that that their fresh ideas will be valued and listened to
  • Achieving earned coverage in your sector is easier to achieve, as journalists will seek you out for comment and interview, because your statements can be relied upon

Here are five crucial steps to becoming a thought leader.

  1. Be serious about it

It’s easy to say “We are thought leaders”. It’s much harder to be one. You’ll need to take a long hard look at your business and yourself and ask whether you have something you can legitimately claim to be an expert about.

  • Are you really a leader or do you just think and behave in the same way as everyone else in your sector?
  • Is your desire to be seen as a thought leader a smokescreen for the fact that you do not lead in terms of delivering new solutions to your customers’ problems?
  • Are you prepared to make that long-term effort?
  • Are you prepared to be vulnerable – if you put yourself out there, you may be approached with questions to which you don’t have immediate answers

If you feel confident to move ahead from a position of self-awareness, go onto step two.

  1. Define your niche

What makes you a leader? Being very good at what you do is not enough. To discern whether you are a thought leader, examine your culture, personality and business practice. You’re looking for that factor that both offers something distinctly different from your competition and also means that your organisation’s performance is significantly better than it would be without that attribute.

The niche you choose is something that is both directly related to the business you run and on which you have the expertise to speak with authority. It should be something you can speak about naturally.

For example, at 360 integrated PR, we focus on the reputational benefits of running a responsible business. Outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, demonstrates how business can inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis. Seth Godin has become a guru for fresh ideas in marketing.

  1. Identify your sphere of influence

With whom do you need to engage? Create a stakeholder map, detailing the people and organisations for whom your thought leadership strategy is relevant and credible.

This is not just about identifying who you should talk to. It’s also important to understand their base level knowledge of your themes and what matters to them as these factors will determine how your thought leadership can help those stakeholders improve in real terms.

  1. Develop the content you need

From a baseline understanding of your stakeholders, you can tailor your messages and create stories which challenge their assumptions, inspire them and, most importantly, catalyse them into action.

We recommend creating a content calendar, with at least 12 planned and coordinated media opportunities. It is important to keep an open mind about further opportunities that may naturally pop up.

Commenting on trending issues or news is a fantastic way to put yourself in the public eye in a natural way and, if you prove to be a strong or influential speaker on a particular issue, may lead to media interviews or appearances.

Use video, podcasts as well as the written word to communicate these stories.

  1. Amplify your message

Once you have created your messages and stories, you need to promote and disseminate your material to provide your insights to the right people at the right time. There are a host of opportunities to consider:

  • Earned – Content in traditional and online media, specialist titles, trade and local media can enhance your reputation, whether it’s an interview, feature or comment. You can also approach other stakeholders to see whether they will allow you to guest blog on their sites. Speaking engagements, presentations and running workshops for third parties are also effective.
  • Owned – Share your messages via your own platforms, including your own social media feeds (including LinkedIn for professional services businesses), newsletters, website and your blog
  • Paid – If you want to reach a wider audience via social media, then some form of paid promotion of your content will be beneficial. This is particularly true of Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Shared – High quality, searchable posts facilitate social media sharing

Being a thought leader is worth it in the end

A good place to start is to think of your own industry. Who are the thought leaders who spring most readily to mind? Why is that? What do they do? Where do they speak?

You will need to be different. More interesting. More imaginative. And a better storyteller.

The challenges are great, but the reputational benefits of being a thought leader are immense.


360 integrated PR helps companies communicate strategically and demonstrate thought leadership to boost their reputation. Contact us here or call 02381 845025 to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation to find out how we could support your business.

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