What is thought leadership? How do you become a thought leader?
And how do you pitch your thoughts and opinions to publications or secure guest spots on podcasts and panels?
This was the topic of October’s B2B Comms Breakdown LinkedIn webinar with my co-host Ayo Abbas of Abbas Marketing and special guest Aceil Haddad of MATT PR.
Here are the edited highlights; scroll to the bottom for the full video replay of the full discussion.
What is thought leadership?
Aceil Haddad: For me, it’s demonstrating an opinion backed up by your expertise and your experiences.
In a world full of noise, people are more and more looking to experts to understand the minefield that is life and how to get over issues.
It’s sharing challenges and making people feel they are not the only ones struggling, especially with the economic climate we find ourselves in.
I think thought leadership is particularly important as we navigate through it together.
Ayo Abbas: You can be a subject matter expert but not a thought leader; you can be something really good at something but not sharing it with the world.
So it’s about vocalising it externally. It’s about opinion but also solutions. You look at stuff from a different viewpoint and angle but share different ways of doing things and how to solve problems.
Solutions are important. There’s a lot you can do in terms of talking about what’s wrong with the world, but leadership and being viewed as an expert has to have a solution.
Stacey Meadwell: I did a LinkedIn poll and asked which term people prefer: thought leader, expert opinion, comment piece. And a lot of people hate the term ‘thought leader’.
I don’t think it’s a label that you can put on yourself. I think it’s other people who decide that you are a thought leader.
Yes, it’s about sharing opinions, but also sharing other things. Have you seen good things happening? Or calling out stuff that is not working.
There’s a whole wealth of information that you can share that can set you up as the person that people will turn to and follow.
How do you become a thought leader?
Ayo: What’s that bit of pie that you’re going to own or want to be known for? What’s your specialism?
You have to be willing to put your head above the parapet and say, ‘This is what I believe and why’.
And it’s got to be consistent. It’s the combination of your message, your tone of voice, what you’re saying and what people come to you for – that consistency.
And it doesn’t happen overnight; you have to keep going, and it builds up and compounds over time.
Stacey: It’s not just about sharing opinions but also other views. What have you seen that is interesting? What have you noticed?
It’s not just me, me, me, this is what I think, but being a curator of what else is interesting that’s going on in your area.
That can help set you up as somebody that people come to because they know you’ve got interesting things to say, but also, you’ve got your finger on the pulse of what’s going on.
Aceil: I always ask my clients, ‘What’s happening that you’re not seeing being published?’
Especially in the world of the built environment, it’s the same voices and businesses, and they are so confined to what they can and can’t say.
I firmly believe that anyone can be a thought leader. I think everyone has something important to say. Never underestimate that.
It doesn’t need to be the person at the top; it can be the person who’s just started, the returner to the market, or somebody who’s had a career change because their perception and understanding of the market is valuable.
How do you pitch to publications and for speaker opportunities?
Aceil: With my clients, we write the comment pieces and go to the specific outlet and say, this is what we’ve written about, and I know that you’ll like it because X, Y and Z.
Or the zeitgeist is this, which is why we have responded with this.
The other way you do it is to approach an editor, ‘I’ve had this experience, are you interested in sharing it? This is why it’s a problem. And this is why it should be shared’.
So, the proactive and the reactive approach.
In terms of speaking opportunities, the first thing is developing that reputation through blogs and comment pieces so people know who you are, what you’re saying and how you add to the panel.
Stacey: I’ve commissioned comment pieces and had people pitching ideas. Having a publication in mind is a good strategy because you can write for their particular audience.
As an editor, I was looking for what would be of interest to my readers. If you’re putting out a generic piece and pitching it to many different publications, it might not be a good fit for most.
Also, It’s got to have a viewpoint or an opinion. I used to get lots of people pitching what was essentially a press release.
You have to highlight a tension: ‘This is important because…’. Create a bit of drama around an issue, and make it punchy and interesting so it stands out from all the other opinion pieces being pitched.
And avoid obvious marketing. The publication’s job is not to do your marketing for you. They’re interested in something beneficial to their readers, and trying to drop in little references to your products or services will not cut it.
Ayo: I would add, read the publications you want to pitch to. Assess and understand what they’re covering and what style they like and use because that really helps you to pitch.
Your headline/email subject line, for example, could be in the style of a headline that they use.
Keep an eye on what is happening in the news and how that applies to the built environment [or your sector].
Legislation is a good one. It is pretty dry, but everyone has to deal with it, everyone’s trying to figure it out. ‘This is coming in, this is what you need to know’ – that stuff is a relatively easy way to get coverage.
Check out the video replay for more on pitching – and the full response to each question.
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