Delivering thought leadership effectively requires an integrated communications strategy including both short- and long-form content, PR and events.
The thought leadership times, they are a-changing. When we first started working with clients on thought leadership in 2001, the overwhelming majority were looking to increase brand awareness. The report itself used to be the campaign: produce it, get it into the right hands, job done.
Now the report is just one of many assets. A huge amount of business development activity now happens around thought leadership and that’s in addition to the marketing campaigns, events, videos and other content produced to support the campaign.
A single thought leadership initiative can fuel an entire year’s worth of content for a brand, making budgets work harder but also requiring much more planning and foresight to be as effective as possible.
This growing importance of thought leadership has necessitated a shift in how we think about its delivery – from a ‘once and done’ mindset to one of prolonged campaign planning.
The language is also changing, with many partners in professional services firms cringing (so we’re told) at the words ‘thought leadership’ while simultaneously demanding content that positions the firm as an expert in front of clients and prospects.
How B2B firms make and deliver successful thought leadership was the topic of discussion at a recent event held by the Professional Services Marketing Group (PSMG) at the offices of Howard Kennedy LLP in London.
Grist’s Co-founder and Managing Director, Andrew Rogerson, spoke about the current state of thought leadership and shared insights from our latest report, How the C-Suite View and Use Thought Leadership.
Mel Root, Director of Business Development and Marketing at accountancy firm Price Bailey, and Rebecca Scully, Head of Marketing Communications at law firm Gowling WLG UK, also shared their experiences of major thought leadership campaigns.
These are the three biggest takeaways from that session.
1. Sweat the assets
It’s no longer just about the report; both Price Bailey and Gowling WLG prepared large campaigns with a variety of assets around their survey-driven thought leadership report.
Price Bailey’s Inside the Minds of Business Leaders report anchors an 18-month campaign that covers a staggered release of blog posts, newsletters, videos and events.
As the campaign draws to a close, ebooks are created based around themes from the previous report. Interviews are included in order to bring fresh thinking into the issues and introduce the next report, generating new leads and new interest.
Gowling WLG’s Multiplicity campaign was a shorter programme but still based around both a research-driven thought leadership report and a suite of content assets designed to keep the message alive.
For Gowling WLG’s Rebecca Scully, thought leadership is about starting conversations, not just joining them; it needs to have a tangible impact in terms of increasing contacts. Using a variety of content assets keeps the conversation going.
2. Planning is key but be flexible
Gowling WLG’s campaign focused on sales generation, not brand awareness, meaning a tight plan around the sales funnel was devised at the outset. The team planned an integrated campaign that began with forming a think tank comprised of industry experts, testing topic ideas with them and, later in the process, having them act as a checkpoint for research.
Gowling WLG was targeting a very niche audience with the Multiplicity campaign – general counsels in global firms – which meant it could plan the campaign down to the most minute details, including which action would trigger someone’s move to the next stage of the sales funnel. Content assets were a key part of these actions, and they were all produced up front.
Price Bailey’s campaign was broader and, as it had a longer timescale, planning was more flexible. A lot can happen in 18 months, so change became baked into the planning process – a process was developed for updating the report in three months’ time, six months and so on.
Each new content asset was based on a different topic highlighted in the report. This helped the team to keep both the report itself, and its accompanying assets, fresher for longer.
3. Getting internal buy-in can be the hardest part
Even the tightest planning and the best suite of content assets won’t make your thought leadership programme fly unless you have buy-in from colleagues and stakeholders.
At the PSMG event, there was a resounding consensus from attendees that getting internal support can be the most difficult part of launching a thought leadership campaign.
Bringing in internal champions to inform the thought leadership from the outset can be key in ensuring the success of your programme.
Price Bailey involved internal subject matter experts in developing the content assets and Gowling WLG brought in both internal and external experts to inform topic decisions and act as a sounding board for the ultimate report.
By having these people involved from the beginning, they feel in part responsible for the success – and you should never underestimate the impact one partner getting publicity has on encouraging other partners to step up for their turn in the spotlight.
Find out what the C-suite is really looking for in our Value of B2B Thought Leadership Survey reports, available here.