Thought leadership has consistently been identified as both a trend and a priority for B2B content marketing in general (See MarTech Advisor, LinkedIn and Edelman). Despite being on many agencies’ radars, thought leadership remains an under-used strategy for agency new business. We often incorporate thought leadership as part of our new business strategy for clients, and it has played an instrumental role in some of our biggest client success stories. To give one example, thought leadership helped a client land their biggest piece of new business ever in their 23-year history.
Take a look at this impressive list of reasons why agency leaders should invest in thought leadership. When agency leaders become known as thought leaders, the benefits extend to both the individual and the agency.
Benefits of thought leadership:
- Fuels PR (SocialMediaToday)
- Builds credibility and trust (SocialMediaToday)
- Builds brand awareness and affinity (Entrepreneur.com)
- Generates leads (American Marketing Association)
- Demonstrates expertise (American Marketing Association)
- Engages target audiences (American Marketing Association)
- Develops and nurtures relationships in a non-sales environment (American Marketing Association)
*Some of these benefits are attributed specifically to public speaking, a thought leadership tactic.
What does thought leadership look like in practice?
Here are some common examples of thought leadership tactics:
- Public speaking at conferences and industry events
- Writing (agency channels): blog, content offers
- Writing (external channels): guest posts, industry publications
- Podcast or videos
- Host an event of your own, or in collaboration with partners
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, there is a thought leadership tactic that can work for you. Regardless of your resources, with only minimal time required, you can incorporate thought leadership tactics into your agency’s growth strategy—even if it’s just one piece of content or one speaking event per quarter. You can even partner with a content specialist who can capture your ideas (the “thought leadership” part) and have them do the heavy lifting on the actual writing. The takeaway is that it is very manageable to make thought leadership tactics part of your new business mix.
How to design an impactful thought leadership program
Most sources say your first step should be to make a list of opportunities, but even before that, you should define your strategy and goals. You want your thought leadership efforts to be aligned with your new business strategy and overall business goals.
Before you start compiling lists, here are some foundational considerations:
- What are your most important goals? Lead generation? Media coverage? General awareness?
- What topics are you best suited to provide unique and/or niche expertise on? What can you talk or write about in a way that nobody else is?
- Even though your thought leadership will be educational and NOT self-promotional, you should consider how connected your target topic(s) are to the business your agency aspires to get more of. It defeats the purpose to build up expertise in a niche you would not do work in.
- Are there specific geographic regions and industry verticals that make sense to target?
What thought leadership tactics will you choose?
Will speaking be part of your thought leadership strategy? In most cases, the answer should be “yes.” Public speaking and writing for industry publications are two of our favorite thought leadership strategies because we know they get results when properly executed. I’ll include a bit more information about these two strategies below. Are the other tactics less effective? Not necessarily, but their impact is usually dependent on the size of the audience you’ve already established. Publishing a blog post and video series to your own website and social channels may have limited effectiveness if only a couple of hundred people are tuned in and listening. You can get greater exposure faster by tapping into other organizations’ networks, which is the case with public speaking and writing for industry publications.
Once you have your foundational questions answered, and after you’ve identified which thought leadership tactics are the best fit, THEN you start doing research and making lists.
Public speaking as thought leadership
For conferences and events, you can start compiling a spreadsheet of dates, locations, audience composition, and other key factors.
As you put together a conference spreadsheet, here are some more considerations:
- Which events are attended by the right people in the right roles from the right types of organizations that you want to connect with?
- Which events and organizations are the best match to meet your goals and make meaningful connections with attendees?
- What other speakers and organizations will be represented at this event?
- How many attendees do they expect?
- What topics have been covered in the past couple of years?
- Has there been media coverage?
- How strong of a match is this event for your agency?
- Which events and organizations are the best match based on your speaking experience, area(s) of expertise, location, and investment of time and resources?
Keep in mind that if you don’t have a strong speaker resume to start, it is more realistic to target smaller, regional events before aiming for the national conferences. Keep those “longer shot” events in your spreadsheet, but perhaps in a separate tab.
Tips and resources to build public speaking expertise
- Network heavily with other speakers and thought leaders in your industry, both on social media, and in-person.
- Post relevant content and engage in discussions about it on social media.
- Commit to staying up-to-date on the latest research and trends related to your area(s) of expertise.
- Invest in bettering your presentations skills. Take some acting courses, hire a coach, join Toastmasters, or take courses with the National Speakers Association to become a Certified Speaking Professional.
- Market yourself as a speaker. Add a page to your website, update your LinkedIn profile to make your areas of expertise and speaking experience clear and SEO-friendly. Post videos of your speaking events or webinars; let people see you in action.
- The AMA has additional public speaking tips worth checking out here.
- According to Karl Sakas, most speaking pitches are “pretty terrible.” That’s great news for you because it should be easy to stand out. Read his tips for how to write a speaker pitch that does just that here.
Articles as thought leadership
For articles, after covering foundational considerations, you can then make a list of target publications, track the URLs of their submissions requirement pages, any submission deadlines, who their audiences are, and notes about what types of content they accept.
Influence & Co. surveyed 153 editors to learn more about what type of content they are looking for from contributors (NeilPatel.com). Make note of the top five reasons they declined to use guest content:
- Promotional content (48%)
- Unoriginal insights (20%)
- Not a good audience fit (11%)
- Not professionally edited (10%)
- No data/research (8%)
Before you submit an article for publication...
If you are going to submit an article to a publication, do your homework first. It makes no sense to spend hours writing an article but then waste the opportunity because you didn’t spend another few hours carefully fine-tuning it.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Why is this topic relevant now?
- What can you bring to this topic that is new and can’t be found elsewhere?
- What original examples, data, and research do you have to contribute to this topic?
- Why should their readers trust your opinion on this topic? What qualifies you as knowledgeable?
- Is your perspective biased? If so, do you need to address it?
- Could your opinion be considered controversial? If so, is it backed up with evidence to support it?
- Are your cited sources reputable?
- How does this topic fit in with your agency’s thought leadership strategy?
- How does this topic fit in with the publication’s guidelines and published content?
- What do you hope to gain by publishing this article? How will you use it?
- Is there an action you hope readers will take after they read this article? How is that communicated (in a non-promotional way)?
- Who specifically are you speaking to in this article? Why should they care?
- Does your article meet all of the publication’s stated contributor guidelines?
- Is the tone of your writing consistent with other articles they publish?
- Have you had your article professionally edited and fact-checked?
The ROI on thought leadership is excellent
If you aren’t already investing in thought leadership to grow your agency, why not? The lifetime value of a published article in a venue like Forbes, AdAge, AdWeek, Entrepreneur.com, or Harvard Business Review is great. It says something about the caliber of your agency’s leadership and expertise, long after the content starts to become dated and loses some of its relevance. An article can be re-purposed as social media content across your social channels. It can be referenced in e-Newsletters and presentations; it can be the core talking point for a lead generation or lead nurturing email. One well-written article can reap dividends. And a collection of strong articles is proof that your perspective is worth publishing—so says every editor that gave your submissions the green light.
For speaking events, you can generate multiple emails both pre and post-event, provided they are going out to people for whom the event is relevant (and not your entire list). A single speaking engagement can generate multiple social posts. You can turn content from your presentation into a blog post, a podcast, or video, just to name a few ideas. It’s also possible to use speaking topics and related content as talking points for a lead generation or lead nurturing email, so long as it is relevant to the recipient. These are all tactics that we’ve used successfully and know they work for generating agency new business. How can you use these ideas to grow your agency?
Don't miss our next post!
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Image credits: thought leadership for agencies © iStockphoto/filadendron; thought leadership strategy © iStockphoto/SetsukoN; public speaking for agency leaders © iStockphoto/filadendron; submitting articles for thought leadership © iStockphoto/Eoneren.