By Simon Maule
For many of us, Summer holidays offer an opportunity to relax. They can also provide the chance to reflect. For communications professionals, this is a period when we can take stock; assess performance so far and set new objectives for the rest of the year.
Underpinning this period of analysis will be two fundamental questions. What am I trying to achieve through my communications activity? Is the approach working?
These questions come at a pivotal time for our industry. As the drive to link communications outputs to wider organisational objectives grows, thought leadership is an approach growing in popularity. In recent years a sizeable cohort of organisations have turned to thought leadership to combine marketing and sales activity. Research we conducted earlier this year found that nearly half a million people worldwide now have the term ‘thought leadership’ in their job title.
With adoption of thought leadership increasing, we wanted to know why. In particular, what do communications professionals want to get out of thought leadership.
Recent research with senior figures at eighty leading organisations tells us that the purpose of thought leadership is evolving. Most strikingly, there is a growing desire for thought leadership to build on traditional communications outputs, and offer long-lasting commercial benefits.
Rather than focussing on coverage and exposure – an important but traditional measure of PR success – thought leadership will be primarily used by organisations to shape new thinking. The proportion of respondents who believe the purpose of thought leadership should be to provide a fresh perspective on pressing issues jumps to 50% over the next decade, from 32% today. At the same time, the proportion who see the need for thought leadership to raise brand awareness will drop to 38% in the future, from 65% today.
The desire for thought leadership to provide an opportunity to collaborate with target audiences is also increasing. The proportion of respondents prioritising opportunities to collaborate and co-create with target audiences jumps from 17% now to 29% over the coming decade. This swing points to one of the unique benefits thought leadership offers: working with target audiences to shape content and develop key issues. It is increasingly recognised as a prime way to achieve future success, as end users become loyal advocates.
In short, organisations clearly recognise that thought leadership can – and should – deliver much more than typical PR metrics like brand exposure.
What can we learn from this? Well, if you are using “silly season” to reassess your communications objectives and consider new approaches, combine those communications objectives with that of the wider business. Doing this will help sell the concept of a thought leadership approach, and make the case for budget easier.
Then, if thought leadership gets the green light, set indicators which allow you to measure the ability of your campaign to influence audiences and change behaviours, as well as exposure.
Those that use thought leadership intelligently will find it does more than raise awareness; it will deliver tangible business outcomes. Doesn’t sound too silly, does it?
- Simon Maule is Director at Linstock Communications. Simon has worked for TheCityUK, BNP Paribas, American Express, Raleigh International and Grant Thornton. Prior to Linstock, Simon was head of corporate communications at Gavin Anderson & Company, an international PR consultancy.
Picture credit: Gonard Fluit