There are many benefits associated with being a thought leader – a person or individual that is well known and seen as a trusted expert on a particular topic.

According to Forbes, “It is, without question, one of the most effective and efficient ways to generate new business from new clients as well as from existing clients. Thought leaders are also able to bring in higher-quality talent to their organizations as well as upgrade the capabilities of the talent within their organizations.”

Some examples of thought leaders are Steve Jobs in the technology world and Nelson Mandela in the political and diplomatic world.

Of course, I have to mention my favorite thought leaders: Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour for fashion and Andy Cohen, TV personality and celebrity blogger, for pop culture and reality TV.

For companies looking to reap some of these benefits, building a thought leadership network comprised of internal experts is a great place to start. However, once companies choose which individuals they would like to be a part of the network, they might not know how to go about preparing these individuals for the role of a thought leader, which can entail anything from speaking with media for stories to presenting on a particular topic at a tradeshow.

From my experience in developing thought leadership programs as a part of the PR strategy for a number of our clients at lotus823, below are some tips for both companies and thought leaders.

Develop talking points for each executive.

Thought leaders are typically asked to serve as a spokesperson on behalf of a company based on the knowledge they hold. However, for the internal marketing team or agency pitching these thought leaders, it can be difficult to narrow down what each thought leader can discuss, particularly if the thought leader is somewhat of a veteran in the industry.

As such, it is important for the marketing team or in our case, a PR and digital marketing agency, and the thought leader to talk about each thought leader’s area of expertise and what he or she can specifically touch on. With that information, the internal marketing team or agency can draft short, concise focus points. This will help in determining appropriate opportunities for thought leaders and garnering interest from media.

Schedule media trainings for thought leaders.

Regardless of being chosen as a thought leader or not, speaking in front of others can be worrisome. Many people suffer from “foot-in-mouth-syndrome” and people, myself in particular, often blurt out things that they should not. When you are serving as a thought leader on behalf of a company, anything you say is seen as a representation of that company. If you mention in passing to a reporter or someone at a tradeshow that you think a specific industry is antiquated, that thought can be positioned as a belief that your entire company has. This may only be your opinion, but when representing a company, you must be careful with your words.

To help avoid such situations, it is always a good idea to make sure every thought leader is media trained. Media trainings typically consist of mock interviews and practice scenarios where thought leaders will learn how to handle difficult questions while still getting their point across. When it comes to media interviews, nothing is “off the record”, so it’s crucial to properly train thought leaders to ensure they are comfortable in speaking with media. This will also help avoid the scenarios mentioned above.

Appropriately prepare thought leaders.

For most companies, thought leaders have their own job responsibilities in addition to serving as a company spokesperson. Thus, they are very busy people that are used to deadlines, but usually not media deadlines. Media live and breathe by their deadlines, so it’s extremely important that they understand the urgency of opportunities when training thought leaders. If their commentary is not submitted to a reporter in a timely fashion, they can miss out on the chance to be quoted in the piece, in turn missing out on increased notoriety for the company.

Prior to any media outreach, it’s necessary that the internal marketing team or agency understand the thought leader’s time restraints and the thought leader is aware of the requirements on their time. Without discussing this, thought leaders can become irritated and may eventually request to no longer be used for opportunities.

Integrate other forms of media.

So far, I have focused on traditional media outreach. However, in today’s digital age, a necessary part of establishing someone as a thought leader is through social media. Each company thought leader should have his or her own social media profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. The thought leader should be active and consistent on these profiles. He or she should be sharing company and industry news. It’s also recommended that he or she participate within these communities by communicating with their followers.

By expanding a thought leader’s presence, they become more approachable and well known. For example, each member of the lotus823 team has his or her own social media profiles and mini bios at the bottom of our blog posts. This helps to establish each of us as experts in our field, since we share industry-relevant articles on social media, and gives our followers a bit more information on us as individuals.

Does your company have a thought leadership program in place? What should companies do to prepare their executives for the role of a thought leader? Let us know what you think!

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