Why Thought Leadership Is for Agencies, Too

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Len Stein
Len Stein



thought-leadershipLet’s start with simple definitions.

Advertising produces paid media.

Public relations produces earned media – the result of convincing journalists to write, or film, a positive story about you, your agency, client, campaign, brand, or issues, and publishing it on their content platform. Whether you manage a startup or an international agency, frequent, positive press coverage is key to enhancing a firm’s thought leadership reputation, providing content for marketing campaigns, positively impacting SEO, and delivering leads.

Earned media appears in the editorial sections of publications, on- or offline, where stories and columns transfer the credibility of the news organization (medium) to the content source (you). And, earned media can take many forms, from bylined columns to social media and blog posts, campaign news, case histories, photos, videos, etc.

As newspaper and magazine readership plummets and the Internet becomes our major source of news, we find far fewer journalists working today than 20 years ago. So instead of “beating the bushes” and investigating stories the old-fashioned way, many journalists rely heavily upon industry sources to feed them information and ideas. In a 24/7 news cycle, reporters must churn out stories faster than ever, while many no longer have budgets or the time to travel.

Meanwhile owned media (your blog) has a much lesser impact than publicity where others sing your praises. And, happily for the PR profession, a recent Nielsen study, commissioned by inPowered, on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process (no different from B2B decision-making) concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.

So now that you are, hopefully, convinced that public relations can deliver valuable media coverage, third-party credibility, and positive word of mouth, how does an ad agency get in the thought leadership game?

Managing One’s Media Destiny

But, you ask, besides announcing account wins (and loses), new campaigns, personnel moves, awards, and office redesigns, what’s an agency have to say? Actually, a lot if approached properly. To effectively manage an agency’s media destiny and become recognized as thought leaders, senior executives, beginning with the CEO and CCO, must champion the communications outreach process and address issues of interest to the industry, the media, clients, and prospects.

Successful agency media relations campaigns can deliver frequent, positive press coverage, especially in the form of byline columns, and with a lesser investment in time than one might expect. To begin, the CEO should recruit a spokesperson team composed of senior executives in key practice disciplines -- creative, technology, account management, planning/buying, research, etc. -- that reflects the agency’s strengths. The CEO should call the group together to brainstorm topics, mined from the core of the agency’s philosophy and mission (issues), for each member to own and develop into columns. Focus on topical industry issues that represent your agency’s point of view, offer insights or how-to business solutions, provide competitive analysis, creative solutions, and research findings.

Developing Issues for Columns

Developing topic issues need not be an onerous task, but it does require a minimum investment on the part of each member of the spokesperson team. Rather than invest time and effort to research and write a complete column, instead pen a 250-word abstract, including a statement of the situation or challenge, an overview of the spokesperson’s perspective, and suggested solution steps. With the issue abstract in hand, the agency’s PR person or outside PR consultant can approach the editors of appropriate publications that cover the issue (i.e., online design, interactive marketing, content management, personalization, database strategies, analytics technology, planning, strategy, etc.) and offer to develop the concept into an exclusive column.

Not to overload any member of the spokesperson team (let’s assume three), in rolling out an issues content campaign offer one column topic every two weeks via personalized email to target media. Calendared in this manner, each spokesperson is tasked with the doable assignment of developing one column every six weeks. Topic issues are distributed via personalized emailed, carrying links to the executive’s bio, website URLs, and additional informational links, as required. Repeating the brainstorming and issue development process monthly will ensure the continuation of the program.

Topic issue briefs break through the clutter of the hundreds of news releases editors receive daily, effectively introducing timely subjects and the experts who wish to address them. Once an editor has requested a column of so many words and presented a deadline, one can expect a well-written column to be quickly scheduled for publication, sometimes as early as the following day or week.

The issues approach provides a foundation for a consistent media outreach campaign that will quickly demonstrate your agency’s expertise and embed your spokespeople in journalists' Rolodexes.

Topics: Leadership

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