Posts Taged thought-leadership-2

Thought Leadership the Hard Way

guy who likes thought leadership

A lot of PR pros are eager to tell you how easy it is to be a thought leader: “3 Simple Ways to Become a Thought Leader in 15 Minutes or Less,” “How to Become a Thought Leader in a Month or Less,” and “You Can Be A Thought Leader: The Secret To Being Inspiring.”

They’re wrong. Becoming (and being) a thought leader is not simple, it takes more than a couple weeks, and there’s no one single secret. Thought leadership requires time, patience, and hard work. A.wordsmith specializes in thought leadership, but we don’t make thought leaders. They have to shape, develop and nurture their own abilities. We just help them figure out how they can become one. We help thinkers lead and leaders think.

Helping thinkers lead

old book

Some of the world’s greatest minds remain in the shadows. Emily Dickinson is remembered as one of the greatest American poets of all time, but she was virtually invisible during her lifetime. A noted introvert, she published only 10 poems until her sister discovered nearly 1,800 compositions in the years after her death. Dickinson was a known introvert and by all accounts preferred to dazzle us gradually, but not all great thinkers are so eager to wait for posthumous celebrity. Unfortunately however, genius doesn’t always come with a great PR plan.

So how does one go from thinker to thought leader? Leaders need to communicate and influence followers. To grow, thought leaders-to-be have to focus on their audience. Who are they trying to influence? How can those people be reached? Are they reading newspapers, attending conferences or listening to podcasts? Once an audience has been established, we prompt the client through expressing their message. Knowing a story, telling a story, and sharing a story are all different things, requiring unique strategies and skills.

Helping leaders think


On the other hand, sometimes people in leadership positions make mistakes with their message. Elizabeth Holmes founded the medical testing service Theranos in 2003. The company’s technology was said to have the “potential to change health care for millions of Americans.” She became a media darling and curated an image as a startup genius and thought leader, complete with black turtlenecks and speeches at the Clinton Global Initiative. In 2016, after a scandalous investigation into the company’s allegedly unethical methods and communications, she was banned by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from owning or operating a lab.

Holmes is clearly a brilliant woman with a knack for leadership, but she took what could have still been an influential position and made mistake after unethical mistake. With the appropriate communications support, could she have kept to the straight and narrow and still used that advantage to gain the respect of the Silicon Valley elite?

Though most aren’t under federal investigation, many of our clients come to us from prominent or leadership positions – startup founders, industry experts, CEOs. They have a soapbox, and perhaps even a mouthpiece, but they’re not sure exactly how to translate their experience and expertise into thought leadership. Our team prompts them through that process, interviewing, researching, identifying the stories that these leaders didn’t even realize they had.


Leaders who aren’t thinking and thinkers who aren’t leading are doing themselves a disservice. In this increasingly connected world, telling an impactful story and reaching an audience is both easier and harder than ever. It takes only three things: thought, leadership, and hard work.


A version of this post was published on

What Thought Leadership is Not

thought leadership

Thought leadership” is often considered a buzzword in the marketing and PR world – little more than a spruced up advertisement for a company. However, if your content marketing pieces fit this description, then you’re not doing thought leadership. Thought leadership can be a strong, useful addition to a content marketing program and goes well beyond stuffing a reused blog full of keywords and hoping a Forbes editor will run it.

To understand what good thought leadership looks like, it can be beneficial to know what bad content looks like. Here’s what thought leadership is not:

Thought Leadership is Not Link Building

The main goal of thought leadership is not boosting your SEO program. That’s not to say these two programs can’t work together – they certainly can. A well-written thought leadership piece placed in a publication important to your business’ audience might also include a link to your website in your author bio. This is a great bonus and can help your company’s SEO results, but this should be considered a plus, not the end goal. Editors are not looking for opportunities to publish links to businesses’ websites, they’re looking to partner with thought leaders who can provide useful, actionable insights for their readers. Draft and pitch your thought leadership ideas with this at the forefront of your mind, and you will have more success in placing your content.

content writing

Thought Leadership is Not About You

Since editors want content that is relevant for their readers, it’s important to remember that this also means your thought leadership content isn’t about you. While it seems counter intuitive to say that a program designed to position yourself as a thought leader is not about you, this concept is the foundation of well-written pieces. Your content can and certainly should involve things you’ve learned and how you’ve built your personal expertise, but you should frame your articles with your readers in mind. What is useful to them? How can you help them on this topic? Your purpose isn’t to highlight your accomplishments and boost your ego. Focusing on your readers first makes an article more relevant, useful, and likely to be published.

Thought Leadership is Not a Chance to Talk About Your Company and Products

It all comes back to your readers – thought leadership isn’t about your company or products, either. While this type of content ultimately boosts your brand image, it isn’t advertising. Many publications outright prohibit contributed pieces that mention the author’s products and business in the text, and will remove links back to your site. Thought leadership requires brainstorming and planning to come up with topics that don’t focus on your products and services. The key is that the topics will be mildly related to, but not centered on what your brand does. It’s also possible for thought leadership pieces to be completely unrelated to the products your company sells. Think of topics your audience is interested in and that you can talk about without using your own products as a case study or solution.

Thought Leadership is Not Copying and Pasting Your Blog Posts

Your blog can be a great starting point for topic ideas for articles. However, you can’t just take a pre-written blog and try to pitch it to an editor as a thought leadership piece. Many publications don’t want material that’s been published elsewhere, blogs included. Your blog posts will also probably need some reworking to become less advertorial and more reader focused. You can write about the same topic or a similar one, but make sure it’s tailored to your audience and the publication you want to see it in.

Good Thought Leadership Is…

Knowing what thought leadership is not provides a jumping off point to a good program. A good thought leadership article is not easy or quick to put together. It will require some research, brainstorming, and drafting. It will require a constant focus on your reader, and putting your own brand in the background. It will also require some patience – you’re probably not going to be published in Forbes right away. But focusing on quality content can lead you to opportunities with publications your readers know and respect, and eventually lead to a stronger brand image overall.

How are you a thought leader? Answer these 6 questions to find out.

If you are reading this you likely already understand the value of thought leadership products. A thought leadership product is anything – written, video, multi-media – produced to help inform an audience on something you do really well. These products are especially critical for service organizations that rely on the smarts and unique capabilities of its people to distinguish itself from the competition. And these are the kinds of products that A.wordsmith is really, really good at creating.

As developers of thought leadership content for our clients we are often faced with the daunting task of distilling the fragmented, but brilliant, thinking of our clients into easy-to-read, easy-to-understand thought leadership content.

To do that, we get on the phone or sit down with our subject matter expert, the SME. We typically have an hour or less. The SME is a senior-level, sometimes C-suite level, individual, with limited time and patience. Add to that the fact that we often come into these discovery sessions with only a rudimentary understanding of the topic – often just enough to be dangerous.

So how do we approach a critical SME interview given these challenges? We formulate really smart questions.

To get there, let’s go back to the importance of story.


This week my colleague Allison and I attended PRSA’s annual Communicators Conference in Portland. The speakers were excellent – everyone from Mike Riley Research to representatives from Edelman breaking down this year’s Trust Barometer – but my favorite session came from consultant Andrew Robinson of Eugene, Oregon. He advocated for the power of a single story in employee engagement, and outlined the basic elements of a captivating company story.

Andrew’s story elements interestingly aligned almost directly with the initial questions we ask during a thought leadership discovery session. The output of these discovery sessions are ultimately stories, powerfully effective in everything from driving sales to employee engagement. And powerfully relevant — just as Lemonade is to the Beyhive and “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” is to my kindergartener — in sparking a conversation and prompting action from the audience you most want to engage.

Beyoncé's latest thought leadership product was a multi-media blend of poetry, music and photography. (source:

As developers of thought leadership content these questions guide our process. For organizations struggling with what their thought leadership focus should be, these questions can help pinpoint your greatest opportunities to share and engage.

6 Thought Leadership Questions

Story Element: Villain

Interview Question #1: What are your client’s pain points?

Story Element: Hero

Interview Question #2: How are you specially equipped to solve those problems?

Story Element: Backstory

Interview Question #3: What are the external – market, industry, etc. – exacerbating this problem?

Story Element: Plot

Interview Question #4: What is the common turning point for your clients, the moment that they decide to turn to you for help?

Story Element: Crisis

Interview Question #5: What does it look like when you attack this problem? What is your unique process?

Story Element: Resolution

Interview Question #6: What are the proof points that what you do works?

For more information check out some of our thought leadership work.

Topping the Search Engines in 2015

medium_5267464508The term “search engine optimization” can be scary to businesses of any size. With up to 64 percent of website traffic coming from search engines, it’s also critical.

Monday’s article by Forbes’ Jason DeMers highlights the top trends for search engine optimization in 2015. So what’s the biggest take away for your business?

Specialization in technical elements of search engine optimization is fading. Instead, content and social media participation are playing an even bigger role in your company’s presence in search engines. This could mean trouble for companies that aren’t focusing on these kinds of marketing.

“Businesses that continue to focus on SEO without having a strong content plan in place will fail, and will need to shift their focus to the creation and distribution of high-quality content in order to achieve significant search engine visibility,” writes DeMers.

A recent study by Contently shows that 56 percent of companies surveyed admit to content marketing making up only a quarter or less of their 2015 marketing budgets.

There are many benefits to providing content for consumers. Putting a face and interactive personality on your company with the use of social media. Providing thoughtful videos and articles showcasing your employees’ expertise. Creating entertaining multimedia to hook in new clients. These can all help to expand your business.

With the news that content and social media will be a big driver of traffic to your website, your company should feel compelled to get in the content marketing game.

photo credit: MoneyBlogNewz via photopin cc