Developing game-winning, thought leadership campaigns

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For me and a good majority of the population, back-to-school season signals one thing: football. Sure, the Olympics were great and while it was amazing to watch so many athletes in action, now it’s time for helmet-crushing, sod-churning, touchdown-running football.

While football and “thought leadership” couldn’t seem like more disparate topics, several parallels exist between the execution of a football game and a well-designed, thought leadership campaign. 

Just as successful football teams are often led by a group of key coaches and players, industries are often guided by the wisdom and insight of several thought-provoking leaders. Sometimes these thought leaders are currently “on your team” (people working for your company), but you also need to “recruit players” to strengthen your team (industry experts, association executives, etc.). Just as a football team leverages the strengths of players on the field, marketing strategies should engage business leaders to give a face—and more importantly credibility—to your company’s strategic efforts.

To execute a successful, thought leadership campaign, consider the following steps:

  1. Develop Your Team. Identify specific individuals with expertise from different areas of your business. For example, in a safety-related business, you might want to designate an industry leader to speak (live, press releases, white papers, webinars, etc.) about OSHA regulations. They can do a better—and more credible—job of setting up the issues that your products and services will solve. As another example, let’s take the document management industry. In this type of business, there may already be someone on your corporate team who is a leader in security measures. Consider them to speak from a first-hand perspective about your company’s efforts. Remember, these people don’t have to be tremendously media savvy—they just need to know their stuff. But having a cadre of internal and external experts is always helpful.
  2. Set the Schedule. Once you know the resources available, set the “season’s schedule” by finding the appropriate vehicles for your team to showcase their expertise. Typically, this should at minimum include timing with key conferences; specific, historical industry benchmarks (e.g. Fire Prevention Week); and, in some instances, seasonality (e.g. end-of-year organization). Bylined articles, white papers, speaking opportunities, blog posts and LinkedIn group discussions all are great places for spokespersons to reach target audiences. Set up a schedule for engagement opportunities.
  3. Coach the Players. Develop messaging for target audiences and provide key spokespeople with media training. The best executions are always those that begin and heavily focus on general strategies and best industry practices. Having experts blatantly “hawk” your products and services is not credible and will often have negative repercussions. Their role is to bring clarity and spotlight specific issues and concerns.  Your job as a marketer is to explain how your product or service solves this gap. It is critical to prepare internal and external though leaders for interviews so they understand the overall objectives of your campaign and provide journalists with useful, relevant information. This will help ensure a more prominent place within an article and help you remain on a journalist’s source list for future stories.
  4. Execute. Once the experts are identified, the PR schedule is in place and the team is media trained, it’s time to hand the ball over to the experts and let them execute the game plan. Encourage your thought leaders to post blogs, develop Twitter accounts and participate in LinkedIn forums. Offer them up as sources of information for relevant editorial opportunities and nominate them for industry awards and speaking events.  When possible, highlight their names with photos to give a face to the individual.

Just as fans come to know the successful football players, people in your industry will begin to know and recognize your thought leaders. Businesses like to do business with organizations that are perceived as industry leaders—and companies that regularly provide useful, interesting insight on industry topics earn this perception. This football season, maybe it’s time to reintroduce your team by executing a thought leadership campaign into your marketing matrix.

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