Companies often have several goals when embarking on a thought leadership campaign, but a common one is to raise their profile in the market. Whether they are a global bank or financial services firm looking to break into a new territory, a tech giant launching a new product, or a law firm that wants to unveil a new area of practice, thought leadership is one of the most effective ways to get brand recognition.
It stands to reason that PR is an important component in thought leadership. Identifying the overarching theme, shaping the research and content, then generating PR results off the back of the findings require close collaboration between commercial, marketing and PR teams from the outset.
But many brands still aren’t getting this recipe right. Whether they are guilty of bringing PR and communications teams into the mix too late in the process, or they are struggling to find media hooks that could have been baked in at the start, it’s a familiar story. So here are our top tips for helping to avoid these common mistakes and ensure your campaign packs that all-important PR punch.
Planning and strategizing
Before starting to put together your campaign, use your own PR and communications channels to help understand the current media environment. Listen to what’s being said in the market before you decide on the topics you want to develop and try to find a new and original approach.
A sure-fire way to alienate PR teams is to bring them in too late in the process, when all the thinking has been done and the decisions have been made. Instead, introduce your PR people in the planning stages. Use their ideas to help shape the messaging and ensure you have a clear PR plan from the start.
State your purpose
Consider your objectives. What outcome are you trying to achieve with the campaign? Is it media coverage? Or perhaps it’s generating conversations and securing speaker platforms at key events. Agreeing the desired PR outcomes should always be the starting point when setting the strategy. From there, you can design your thought leadership campaign to ensure it delivers against your core objectives. For example, if media coverage is the goal, then be sure to design research in a way that maximises the chances of generating provocative findings that will resonate with journalists.
Choose the right research
Once you’ve agreed on the right topic, it’s important to consider which type of research is going to be most effective in achieving your PR goals. There’s often a temptation to plan a survey that will explore lots of different avenues in the hope of generating more headlines. We call these “fishing expeditions” – a non-specific search for information that’s usually lacking in purpose — and they’re invariably dangerous. Instead, limit yourself to a small number of focused hypotheses and build your research around those.
Rinse and repeat
If securing headlines and media coverage is the goal, then indexes and rankings are a great way to show how different groups – often distinct demographics or industry sectors – weigh up against each other. This form of data presentation can allow powerful research insights, which always garner attention. Similarly, pulse surveys are a great way to gauge sentiment on fast-moving events or issues. Repeated at regular intervals, these rapid-fire surveys (usually directed by a company at its employees) with a short turnaround can be developed into continuous tracker studies, following patterns or shifts in activity or sentiment on a topic or theme.
Launch and amplification
When it comes to creating content from the research, consider your audience. What works for trade media won’t necessarily work for national press. It’s easy to create a one-size-fits-all press release and send it out en masse. But, with a wealth of insight and information at your fingertips, as with all content, it’s crucial that you consider the context. Narrow your focus and identify which specific stats, quotes and headlines will resonate most with your target audience.
Also, bring any partners or other external contributors to the research on the journey with you. Consider whether any of your interviewees have a powerful PR machine behind them. If they do, encourage them to share the content through their own channels. Not only will it boost their own profile, it will almost certainly extend your reach.
Finally, when it comes to measuring the results, it’s important to be clear on what the success factors are. Think about tracking the outcomes beyond the traditional PR metrics such as media coverage and speaking opportunities. In our experience, anecdotal feedback – both internal and external – can be just as powerful. Get your most senior stakeholders and wider business leaders in a room together and talk about the effectiveness of the campaign. It may not be a traditional way to measure ROI, but, if they’re proud of what’s been achieved, you can consider the campaign a significant triumph.