Gini Dietrich

What If We Called Thought Leadership Something Else?

By: Gini Dietrich | June 18, 2019 | 
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What If We Called Thought Leadership Something Else_In our industry, there are buzzwords.

So. Many. Buzzwords.

We have so much corporate jargon to parse through every day, it gets tiring fast.

Admit it: we all hate corporate jargon. We all hate using corporate jargon. Why can’t we all talk to each other like real people? Seriously.

And how do we tell the difference between meaningless buzz and a phrase that might be genuinely useful?

That’s what we’re getting into today. Because today, we’re going to talk about thought leadership.

And no, thought leadership is not dead.

So sit tight, we’re going to provide insight on how to synergize the 30,000 foot view to maximize our authenticity.

Just kidding!

A Different Phrase for Thought Leaders

Buzzwords are like fashion trends—the favorite looks of this year’s autumn season are headed to the trash heap by the time spring rolls around.

Many of us can’t even look at the 80s or 90s hairstyles without cringing.

And so it goes with jargon.

There’s the hype, and it becomes the dominant theme of conferences and conversations for a while, and then there’s the fall, replete with sarcastic and cynical dismissals on social media.

Some of this is pretty normal—it’s easy to get tired of the hype train.

In the case of thought leadership, though, it gets tricky.

Because no matter how much you proclaim the happy end of thought leadership as a meaningless buzzword…

…thought leadership is an essential part of many communications plans.

Because when used correctly, thought leadership is exactly what it says on the tin.

For businesses, thought leaders are at the cutting edge of production or their services, changing industry expectations about what is even possible to accomplish, and helping others realize their full potential.

Essentially, thought leaders are industry experts. They’re leaders. They’re facilitators.

Should We Retire Thought Leadership?

Several months ago, we asked:

Is it time to retire the phrase thought leadership? If so, what replaces it?

It’s a problem with how thought leaders apply the title to themselves.

It’s like calling yourself smart. It rubs people the wrong way!

And, let’s be real, if you have to say it yourself… it’s only because nobody else would.

So how do we get thought leadership right?

How do we stop contributing to the buzzword cycle?

Traditionally, most public relations programs have included some sort of thought leadership component, putting the spotlight on the organization’s CEO and maybe a couple other key executives.

This approach is pretty narrow, and can backfire.

What happens when you lose your CEO or other thought leader as they leave your organization to do something else?

For big companies, these events often feed media frenzies as the entire existence of an organization is called into question.

So let’s talk about building up the thought leadership of your executive that avoids some of these pitfalls.

Expand Your Organization’s Media Training

Typically, only your CEO gets hands-on media training, or it’s a complete afterthought that only comes up in an emergency or when the company needs to secure a broadcast interview.

This is not enough.

Teach your C-suite how to speak on behalf of the company.

Teach them how to respond to tough criticism without tarnishing the brand.

This preparation is essential, because even if they never appear on broadcast television, they will have a clear understanding of how to interact with the media and how to represent their company in the public.

Broaden Your Corporate Blogger Pool

Your company blog is the perfect place to start.

Unlike an interview that relies on outside journalists, in your own blog you can craft the exact message you want and publish it under your executive’s byline.

This is important because many journalists begin their research with a quick web search—and what better way to offer your expertise than through your own blog?

You should include these regular blog posts into your PR content strategy—and think about pitching some of that content as contributions to other relevant and authoritative media sites.

Encourage Your Execs to Use Social Media

Some executives resist this, while others are all too happy to put their entire lives out there.

I think the key here is to find a happy medium between these two extremes.

And proper media training will help, as your executives will be better prepared to exist and engage on social in a way that strengthens your brand.

So What About Thought Leadership?

Now, back to buzzwords.

The easiest way to build thought leadership is to actually do it.

Don’t just lean on that phrase without having anything concrete to back it up.

When you’re building relationships with journalists and with other experts across your industry, backing up a public presence with thoughtful and insightful content through blogging, contributed content, and a social media presence is a winning strategy.

You don’t even need to use the phrase ‘thought leadership’ to succeed at thought leadership.

Show. Don’t tell. It’s a cliché, but there’s a reason it’s a classic.

And now the floor is yours. What is your take on thought leadership? What if we called it something else?

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She also has run, built, and grown an agency for the past 14 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.