Let’s do a video! What should it be about?
We need a new website! What design do we like?
Let’s write an article for Harvard Business Review! What’s the topic?

If this sounds familiar, stop your work now. Sure, these are all terrific opportunities to build thought leadership – of your brand and its experts. But you are asking the wrong questions. You are wasting time and money. And you are ignoring the fundamentals of effective PR strategy. While it is appealing to jump right to the fun, exciting marketing and communications tactics, strategic thought leadership first requires – you guessed it – a clear, solid strategy.

Thought leadership communications can be a powerful way to rise above the noise and get heard by those who matter most to your business. But if you want to be successful, you must be deliberate and calculated. You must first determine your big idea, your voice – your thought leadership brand – and the key elements that will drive victory.

An effective thought leadership program as part of your brand’s PR strategy is realistic, easy to understand and practical to implement. It also makes communications and marketing tactics easier to develop and execute.

Ask these six questions to build thought leadership into your PR strategy.

  1. What do we stand for? Ask this question first and repeatedly. You might start with your mission: Why are you in business? What is your vision? What challenges are we trying to solve in the world? The answer should be aspirational and as simple as you can make it. Imagine and define what or who you want to be when you grow up.
  2. Who cares? Who are the people and communities who will drive your mission forward, help you meet your goals or benefit from what you stand for? Which of these audiences are most important? Which will still be there – and be important – in the future?
  3. What do I have to say (that’s different)? This question helps take what you stand for and translate it into your big idea, your message. But it does more than that. By focusing on what’s different about what you or your organization has to say, you ensure you are positioning yourself effectively among other voices and competitors in your space.
  4. What does my audience want to hear? Of course, you can’t expect to simply “build it and they will come.” For your big idea to resonate, it needs to be expressed within the context of what your audience cares about. By asking this question, you can develop supporting stories that will gain traction and interest among potential buyers and influencers.
    For your big idea to resonate, it needs to be expressed within the context of what your audience cares about.Click To Tweet
  5. Where are they hanging out? By assessing what platforms or communication channels are used most by your audience and how they like to engage and receive information, you will have a solid litmus test for determining whether specific tactics or opportunities make sense for your thought leadership strategy.
  6. What do I want them to do about it? What results do you seek from your thought leadership communications? It’s one thing to say you want to get your ideas “out there,” but chances are you want to do more than generate awareness. To ensure your efforts ultimately create demand for your organization or your products and services, consider how you want to define engagement on the part of your audience so you can design your tactics with the aim of spurring such action.

Some of these questions may feel difficult to answer at first, but push yourself and your leaders to go through this thoughtful process. When any or all of these elements are ignored, your thought leadership brand may drift aimlessly, customers or audiences will determine your brand for you, and ultimately, your investment in thought leadership communications won’t deliver a strong return.

On the flip side, once you have each of these six elements, your thought leadership plan – the creative approach and tactics – will come easily. This time, when you or your team feels like throwing spaghetti on the wall, it’s much more likely to stick!

pr strategy
For more than 15 years, Jen Zottola has helped bring clients’ stories to life – through media opportunities, digital and marketing content, executive presentations, employee communications and more. Fusing creativity with strategy, she crafts compelling, award-winning copy proven to reach and resonate with the right audiences in the most impactful ways. As editorial director, Jen collaborates with clients and account teams to provide counsel on messaging and voice, as well as writing and editing support. Her creativity isn’t reserved only for writing; Jen also gets a kick out of party- and event planning.