All aboard the good ship thought leader

Thought leadership has long been featured in B2B marketing plans as a way to brand build and demonstrate eminence in a particular field. Delivery of the end result has changed over the years with lengthy hard copy reports being replaced with shorter, more easily digestible formats such as infographics or videos. But before you think about how to communicate your findings, how do you come up with the topic in the first place? And how do you keep thought leadership projects on track? A thought leadership board is a great forum for discussing ideas, coming up with a schedule and then discussing delivery methods.

Why do we need a board?

True thought leadership, described in a recent report by Edelman and LinkedIn as ‘free deliverables that organisations or individuals produce on a topic in their area of expertise, when they feel others can benefit from their perspective’ is not a sales brochure describing your goods or services. A board maintains the integrity of thought leadership by ensuring that content is focussed outwards rather than inwards. 

Undertaking thought leadership projects is not a decision to be taken lightly. When marketing budgets are thinly spread, a thought leadership board ensures your chosen topics are ones that will have the most traction in the market rather than those which serve as ‘vanity projects’ for individuals. 

Internal promotion of thought leadership is crucial to a campaign’s success. Members of the thought leaderships board act as internal champions of the work and can help their teams understand the relevance of the content to their own area of work and drive more conversations with clients and wider stakeholders.

It’s helpful to have a term of reference in place for your board. This need not be a weighty document but should set out the purpose of the board, its membership, roles and responsibilities, the quorum requirements and frequency of meetings.

Who should sit on the board?

A senior individual to act as the Chair of the board – someone who can galvanise effort internally and act as a figurehead for your thought leadership programme. This person should remain a constant.

Prominent individuals – those people within your organisation who are already thought leaders in their own right. They may publish articles, have a large following on social media (for the right reasons) or regularly speak at external events. These people can ‘drop in’ and pitch ideas for thought leadership to be taken forward or they might like to have a more permanent presence.

Rising stars – seniority or length of service doesn’t necessarily correlate with good ideas for thought leadership. With many viewing thought leadership as an eye to the future, your emerging talent should be encouraged to contribute ideas for thought leadership topics. Again, these individuals do not need to be present at each meeting, and can submit thoughts to the board for consideration.

Clients – yes, clients. They, as a group, will be one of the main ‘consumers’ of your thought leadership so it’s a good idea to ask them to contribute their ideas for topics that will be of most interest to them and of most use to their business. The thought of inviting ‘outsiders’ to an internal meeting might fill you with dread but it’s a good way of eradicating poor behaviour from your meetings such as lateness, constant checking of phones and deviation from the planned agenda.

Marketers – as well as having a view on the topics most likely to produce strong return on investment, marketers invariably hold the purse strings. If you are outsourcing any element of a thought leadership project, for example research or design, your marketing team will be best placed to lead agency appointments and ensure they are delivering on time and on budget. 

If you are fortunate enough to have in-house research and /or design resources, marketers still need to be able to schedule the launch of thought leadership campaigns and pull together all the internal teams to keep the project on track.

Your marketing team will also report on the success and impact of previous thought leadership projects and make suggestions for future modifications.

In-house researchers (if you have them) – they will usually undertake the bulk of the content production work (even if the work is published in someone else’s name!).

Designers (in-house or external) – there is nothing more frustrating than nearing the launch of a thought leadership project, only for an internal debate to ensue about the colour or style of a report/infographic. 

If your designer is part of the conversation, they can start thinking about design treatments at an early stage in the project. This allows the pre-launch focus to remain where it should be – on ensuring a wide reach through social media campaigns, on making sure the data for the launch communication is accurate and securing PR coverage for the report.

To conclude, whether thought leadership already forms a core part of your marketing strategy or whether you are thinking about embarking upon a programme, a board is a great way to keep your efforts focussed, your resources maximised and ensure you are making the impact you wish to in your chosen market.

Please contact me to find out how I can support your existing or fledgling thought leadership programme.

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