How to become a thought leader

1 November 2023  |  Insights
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Thought leadership is a powerful communications tool for charities and campaigners who want to be taken seriously and increase their impact.

Successful thought leaders build a reputation as authorities in their area of expertise and can have a significant influence on public perceptions and action – think Brene Brown on leadership, Lady Shami Chakrabarti on human rights, or David Attenborough on the environment.

While not all thought leaders will achieve their status, we’ve seen many charities and individuals grow their thought leadership profile, reaching their target audiences and raising awareness of the brand they represent and the important issues they’re campaigning on.

So how do you become a thought leader? Here are some of the key questions to ask when considering a thought leadership strategy for your organisation.

1. Who do you want to reach, and where will you reach them?

As always in communications, audience is key in thought leadership, so think about the audience you want to build your reputation with and the media they consume – whether that’s traditional or social.

Producing content for your organisation’s website or social platforms is a great start, but if you want to build your reputation with new audiences, it’s a good idea to cast your net wider.

Pitching your thought leadership spokespeople to relevant sector media, podcasts or events is a great way to establish your credentials and reach people who are likely to engage with your work.

If your thought leadership content features in sector websites or media, it has the added benefit of improving your SEO, driving people to your website and making it more likely that other journalists or event organisers searching for an expert in your field will find your name at the top of the list.

If you’re not sure which media your target audience consume, it’s worth doing some research to make sure you’re putting your efforts in the right place. Our Intelligent Tracker can help by analysing the behaviour of your target audiences online, giving you monthly insight into the media, podcasts and blogs that are influencing them.

2. How can you add value?

Thought leaders offer wisdom, expertise and opinion on an area of specialism.

Sometimes this might be bringing a new issue or piece of research to light, or giving insight into what life is like for the people your organisation supports. This piece in the Times from Pilgrim’s Friend Society spokeswoman Alexandra Davies does both, combining information and personal stories to comment on the realities of getting older and how people can navigate this.

Compelling thought leadership can also offer a different perspective to a national story that’s already in the headlines. It’s important to be authentic – like in this RTE interview, where Dr. Ed Kessler from The Woolf Institute, which promotes interfaith understanding, talked about the need to replace military action with dialogue in light of the Israel/ Gaza conflict.

Thought leaders shouldn’t just be experts in their subject – they should also be able to communicate it clearly, simply and with passion to draw your audience in and keep their attention.

When pitching thought leadership to the media, it’s also important to make sure the article you’re offering fits with their agenda and style. If there’s a specific publication you want to be featured in, it’s worth tailoring your piece to make it more attractive to them. This approach worked very well for one of the charities we work with recently: the editor liked their comment piece so much that he didn’t just agree to publish it, but also asked the author to write a regular column.

3. How will you resource it?

Thought leadership is a long-term strategy, and can be labour-intensive.

You’ll need to have the time and resources to produce thought leadership content for your own channels and for the media, to identify opportunities to pitch them.

Your organisation’s thought leaders will also need to be available to speak at events – and if you want to build their profile in the mainstream media, they will need the flexibility to be available for media interviews, sometimes a very short notice.

But done well, it’s an investment that can have a major impact on your brand.

The more you showcase your expertise, the more you’ll be seen as the go-to spokesperson for your area of expertise and the greater your profile will become: benefitting both your organisation and the issues you care about.

By Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR

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