Q&A: Defining “Thought Leadership”: Key Tips from a Healthcare Media Editor

By Dodge Communications (not verified) on May 12th, 2016

When asking our clients “What are your primary goals for this public relations engagement?” 99 percent of the time we will hear “to increase thought leadership among key stakeholders.” But what does the term “thought leadership” really mean?

If you ask your colleagues and peers what thought leadership means to their organization, it is likely you’ll get a variety of answers, all stemming back to the idea of getting executives’ voices out to showcase industry credibility. But there is so much more to it than that. And, as the demand for thought leadership grows, the competition for readers’ attention only escalates. For example, in contributed content alone, Forbes.com dished up 7,000 to 8,000 posts per month. So how do you cut through the clutter and build a meaningful thought leadership presence?

To delve into this topic further and to shed some light on what thought leadership content is from a media perspective, we spoke with Jason Free, executive managing editor of Health IT Leaders and News:

Dodge: Coming from the media perspective, what do you think the term “thought leadership” means?

Free: It seems to me that thought leadership is a preoccupation of many organizations, without a clear strategy, and overtime this term has been generalized and simplified. Companies focus on the fact that they need to get their voice out, and oftentimes end up throwing their ideas against the wall, rather than listening to industry peers, facts, or even their clients. Too many times I have found vendors come to an interview with thoughts already lined up, without letting facts change their opinions.

True thought leaders consider all relevant industry information, including insights from competitors, feedback from clients, industry research, ongoing news coverage and more. It is necessary to keep an open mind and an ongoing dialogue to consider a variety of industry perspectives and pain points. This is especially important in healthcare, where the industry continues to evolve and change.

Dodge: What are key thought leadership pitfalls to avoid?

Free: Thought leadership should not be an elevator pitch that never changes. Companies need to continually revise thoughts – especially in healthcare, as the industry is constantly in flux. Thought leaders need to be flexible: Continually revise your thoughts. Show how you progressed and got to that new thought. Recall the lessons learned along the way. Detail why your perspective changed.

Thought leaders don’t just spring forth with an idea – it takes time to build a reputation as a trusted source of information. Build out clear opinions and strong insights so that your readers can relate to your challenges, your perspectives and your views.

Dodge: If you could give 5 tips for building a strong thought leadership presence, what would they be?

Free: Ask yourself “so what?” Clearly define why your opinion or content matters. You can do this by asking questions like: “What is the problem we’re trying to address?” or “How does this information help my customer?” Nobody wants to listen to somebody lecturing on a soapbox, but they will take advice from someone who has their best interest in mind.

Keep it non-advertorial. Convey the problem to your audience in the right way. Present pain points and varying perspectives in the beginning, before diving into your solution. You will lose your reader immediately if they think it is an advertisement. Many companies don’t see the immediate value of this because they don’t see their name in bold, but if you do this right, there is a longer lasting impact on the reader.

Integrate your marketing and communications. Ensure all thought leadership content is an integrated part of your overall communications and marketing plan. All corporate content, including advertisements, webinars, social media, PR content, website collateral and sales materials should all address the same industry pain points to hone in on your expertise in that area.

Evolve your message. Always think one step ahead and consider how you can build an ongoing series versus a one-off piece.  To stay on top of an ever-changing healthcare industry, ideas should constantly be evolving. Persistently pursue new angles and perspectives, while tying back to a succinct point.

Don’t forget other thought leaders. Recognize others who are doing things well, and lead your readers to relevant information from reputable sources. There is no single source of industry information, and by collaborating with other leaders, you can ensure the most comprehensive and educated approach to thought leadership.

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