Thought leadership is a powerful PR strategy.
Giving advice is a form of art.
Whether you’re a leader giving orders, an industry expert providing advice to clients, or a blogger offering insights, there’s more to giving people direction than just telling them what they need to hear.
It’s about advising in the spirit of servitude.
And that is what thought leadership is all about.
Of course, thought leadership is also a great PR strategy.
How do you get it to work?
Step 1: The Foundation
Some might think that thought leadership is about handing out good advice left and right. But giving good advice is difficult.
The willingness and ability to serve will transform someone who gives good advice into a thought leader.
Why is servitude so important?
Existentialism and Thought Leadership
When it comes to thought leadership as a PR strategy, I often remind myself of the beautiful words of the Danish existentialist Soren Kierkegaard:
“If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there.
This is the secret in the entire art of helping.
Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he — but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.
If I do not do that, my greater understanding does not help him. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.
But all true helping begins with a humbling.
The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.”
You can find people who aspire to lead. And you can find people who can give good advice. But can you find a person who possesses both of these traits — and is prepared to step into the role of the humble servant?
Servitude is the actual foundation for success for any aspiring thought leader.
Step 2: The Message
Every thought leader must, just like an organisation, have a core message. For many years, my personal core message as a thought leader in the PR industry was that we must adapt to digital-first. That core message was present in everything I said and did.
The secret is not to have a core message, though. Thought leadership success stems from passionately communicating that message repeatedly — while still moving forward.
By dividing the core message into content themes, the thought leader can cover distinct areas of interest without getting stuck:
Let’s use a fictitious example of an IT company. First, they decide on a core message for their content strategy:
Core message: We make IT easy to understand.
Then, the IT company breaks their core message down into four business-critical content themes:
Q1 content theme: We make people understand the internet of things.
Q2 content theme: We make people understand business automation.
Q3 content theme: We make people understand cloud computing.
Q4 content theme: We make people understand managed services.
For each quarterly content theme, they produce content packages. Each content package could contain the following:
Step 3: The Structure
Every thought leader needs an online basecamp, whether that is a brand website or a personal website. To get the thought leadership across, the content must be wisely published and distributed for inbound success.
One powerful way to structure thought leadership content is to opt for a deep content structure:
Here’s an example of an online content structure that’s five levels deep:
In the example, five layers of evergreen content are stacked:
Deep content is centred around providing increasingly higher quality to content divers since they’re more valuable than surface browsers.
As for the importance of structure and depth, the logic is the same as for iceberg publishing and content themes.
Read also: The Deep Content PR Strategy
Step 4: The Resilience
For anyone in a position of superiority, be it a leader or an adviser or both, accepting the role of a servant is the true challenge in thought leadership. As such, it’s not an easy path to take.
Long-term resilience is most important for a thought leader who wants people to listen. The thought leader must be ready to take the high road and persist — even seeking the path with the most obstacles.
The Stoic PR Professional
I’m fascinated by Stoicism and I’m inspired by the idea of translating classical Stoic virtues (wisdom, courage, justice, temperance) and applying them to public relations:
The Wisdom Pitch
“A Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desires into undertaking.”
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Tell stories of how organisations can be wise and overcome obstacles that have stopped others in their tracks.
Convey the PR message of how to apply wisdom, knowledge, and experience.
The Courage Pitch
” We cannot choose our circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
Tell stories of brands that never back down in the face of hardships that would lay waste to other organisations.
Convey the PR message of how an organisation can be righteous even when storms are raging.
The Justice Pitch
“Concentrate every minute on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.”
— Marcus Aurelius
Tell stories of how organisations relentlessly can strive for honesty and transparency — even when it’s uncomfortable.
Convey the PR message of how all brands, without exception, can rid themselves of dishonesty and incompetence.
The Temperance Pitch
“It’s not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”
Tell stories of organisations that strive for higher values in a world where all other organisations suffer shortsightedness.
Convey the PR message of organisations prepared to abstain from short-term gains to make the world a better place for all.
Read also: Stoic Philosophy for PR Professionals