Guest Blog: Thought Leadership

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A leader's voice carries. It carries weight, and sometimes it carries across time and space in ways that defy both the laws of physics and rational thought. A well-planned and carefully executed thought leadership program strategically fills the void that can fuel the old whispering game of telephone.

At its best, thought leadership informs, moves and motivates others. It reinforces brand positioning by extending through the voice of its leader clear and compelling messages about a company's values and direction, industry trends and management insights. A genuine, human perspective cuts through the chaos of a crowded communications marketplace.

Although developing a thought leadership strategy isn't difficult, success requires sustained commitment. A few bits of advice to consider:

  • Define objectives and audience

Articulate your primary goals, key audiences and core messages. These elements are essential touchstones for creating a plan, refining it and gaging success.

  • Plan meticulously, but be flexible

Develop a grid detailing primary audiences, specific messaging, timing and vehicles (such as company-wide newsletter, Rotary speech or LinkedIn post). The plan should be mindful of customer needs, company dates and external milestones (think: back-to-school buying, travel and wedding season, New Year's Day, quarterly earnings reports). Circulate the draft grid to key insiders to gain perspectives and buy-in. Adapt, as needed.

  • Start small, start internal

One simple first step is a bi-weekly email to all employees. Beginning with internal audiences tells associates you care about them and that they're critical to the company's success. A regularized channel of communication from the top provides ballast during dynamic times. It also establishes an authentic foundation for broader, external messaging to follow.

  • Minimize effort, maximize returns

Take the bi-weekly e-mail: How about occasionally reshaping it as a letter to the editor? Perhaps it becomes the pitch for a national speaking opportunity. To make the most of every effort, think cross-use of messaging (leadership meetings, external events and digital platforms such as Facebook, Huffington Post and professional association websites).

Of course, what is said is the point. Thought leadership messaging must be sufficiently compelling to make readers want more, and it must be part of a company's larger marketing and communications strategy.

Because the composite picture ought to be a rounded view of the leader, messages should be broad-ranging. One might focus on the purpose behind a new company-wide training effort. Another might be a higher-order perspective on why the company is closed to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Thoughts on becoming a grandfather. Reflections on innovation after reading the new book about the Wright brothers. It's all purposeful in constructing a three-dimensional understanding of a leader.

One caution: Be judicious about what messages are conveyed by the leader. Operational news is not thought leadership. Every mass e-mail, Tweet and speech either builds or diminishes a leader. It's a chit, and the central question before hitting send is this: Does spending it strengthen the leader's profile?

Melinda Church is Vice President for Advancement Integration and Communications at The Ohio State University. She may be reached at 614-312-4389