Worth their weight in gold
20th September 2019
The value of thought-leading, quality and substantial pieces of coverage can’t be underestimated. Worth their weight in gold, in-depth opinion pieces, blogs and features for example, provide clients with the opportunity to reach a highly targeted audience with in-depth messaging, authority and … thought-leading thoughts! Doing so positions the client as a voice of knowledge, delivering access to decision makers and driving action, whether that be awareness of a brand, applications for a recruitment campaign, purchase of a particular product, fundraising or simply increasing hits to a website.
Yet sometimes, when it comes to planning a PR campaign, the inclusion of in-depth articles can be relegated to second place when allocating budgets and resource, or even dismissed by clients who prefer ‘quick and often’ blanket press releases celebrating bigger hits and the delivery of higher circulations but which often result in smaller actual column inches.
When PR budgets are increasingly stretched and clients and PR agencies are often expected to deliver more for less, should we be advocating that in fact, less is more? i.e. does one thought-leadership piece reaching a niche target audience, actually deliver more bang for buck than a blanket press release resulting in NIBs and snippets…
A voice through the media
According to Wikipedia, a thought-leader is an individual or firm that is recognised as an authority in a specialised field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded. A PR’s responsibility is to give that thought-leader a voice through the media – securing an opportunity with a specific media title to feature an in-depth, lengthy, opinion-based article, feature or blog, written by a client. Doing so, takes time, patience and effort.
Here at Eden PR, the delivery of in-depth, thought-leadership pieces runs in parallel with day to day media relations, and we always recommend a series of thought-leadership pieces as part of any PR strategy. Over the last few months, we have secured articles for clients in priority target titles including Personnel Today, Education Today, and Rail Professional. This has allowed our clients to put their own identity on an issue and lead with their ideas, solving problems and directly reaching a very niche, target audience.
A vision for the future
A good thought-leadership article should inspire and turn attention, providing a vision for the future. It positions a client as trustworthy, innovative and as standing out from the crowd, ultimately having a tangible impact on a business – helping a client win new business opportunities, to seal a deal or drive growth with existing customers for example.
Working with a client to help shape a ‘thought’ which is ‘leading’ and newsworthy all at the same time, requires careful guidance. That ‘thought’ doesn’t always need to be unique. Instead, a piece can work to answer questions on a popular subject. Crucially, articles should always demonstrate proof – using data or customer insight to inform an argument. Emotion and storytelling are also key to bringing a narrative to life. Importantly, presenting an angle to a client and gaining agreement before selling-in to media, is essential. The angle must align to wider business plans and strategies.
Of course, thought-leadership articles aren’t without risk. By giving an opinion, there’s the chance of alienating a proportion of a client’s target audience who may not agree with a particular stance. However, by offering a ‘fair’ opinion backed up with evidence, the chance of alienation are minimised.
The first step
Setting up thought-leadership articles takes time, finding the right media source to feature a client’s ‘story’. Once an angle has been agreed, the first step is to pitch that story-line to an agreed media title. When it comes to thought-leadership pieces, always spend a good amount of time having a look at what your target media title has covered before on the subject – how can your client challenge what has been said, what additional information can they offer, what examples do they have to bring the story to life. Check out which journalists have covered the subject and use them as a first point of contact to sell-in. And be prepared to work the angle – the journalist might want a slightly different hook. Alert the client to the need to be flexible. Finally, it’s wise to have a #1 #2 and #3 target, gradually working the way through the list until someone bites!
Once secured, a good basis for a quality piece is comprehensive research. Setting up a series of interviews with potential spokespeople within a client’s business, offers the chance to gather a wide perspective of opinions on the angle in hand, before committing to a final spokesperson. Also consider canvassing external opinion – quoting trade associations or chartered institutes adds credibility to a client’s stance.
The importance of amplification
Once published, a thought-leadership piece will continue to have legs. It helps build relationships with journalists, opening doors to future opportunities, reactive quotes and comments. It can also drive speaking opportunities and even press coverage. But in order to have legs, amplification is important. Making a thought-leadership interactive should be part of a specific PR plan around the piece itself. Think how about the article can be pushed out on clients’ social media channels and newsletters, as well as the publication’s channels.
And ensure that members of the client’s team are aware of the piece and its content. In some cases, a Q&A might need to be developed in tandem if the article is particularly controversial to ensure all are aligned with the company message. A simple step – make sure internal teams are ready to answer and direct enquiries.
Fresh and timely
Thought-leadership is a long term strategy. Educating clients to manage expectations around change and delivery of outcomes is vital. Short term impact can of course be tracked, hits on a website, calls to a hotline, the number of applications for a recruitment drive for example, are easy to monitor. Longer term impact requires patience and an evolving, fleet of foot thought-leadership strategy whereby ideas for pieces are constantly adapted to be fresh and timely in line with a client’s often changing, wider business objectives and unpredictable industry trends.
As PR budgets continue to be stretched, the argument for quality over quantity becomes increasingly influential in determining PR strategies. There is certainly an argument that less is more. If so, PR agencies have the important task of re-educating clients who are nervous about committing time and budget to developing a thought-leadership strategy alongside day to day media relations. Thought-leadership boosts credibility and gains a sizeable share of voice in a competitive market. Be bold and brave.