Thought leadership is one of the oldest – and most effective – practices in the books for PR and marketing programs but in recent years it seems to be wrapped in with the latest content marketing fad. “We need more thought leadership!” screams senior leadership. So, marketers and their content developers run off and produce oodles of generic content marketing pieces and then slap an executive’s name on it. While that’s fine for a company blog or resources page, it doesn’t pass the smell test for true thought leadership.
The basis of thought leadership includes developing meaningful ongoing content that reflects the thought leaders’ real and diverse opinions. The thought leader shouldn’t only address “how” a particular problem is solved but also “why” it needs to be solved. Above all, thought leadership pieces need to explore more than a thinly veiled attempt at self-promotional, benefits-statement content; they should clearly illustrate to their audience why they should care. Also thought leaders do not become established after just one or two published pieces or speaking gigs, but rather after a series of well-planned and well-thought campaigns — which often take months or years to build. Ultimately, the goal of building thought leaders is not only to help drive sales and awareness within the organization but to push the overall market forward.
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PR is traditionally categorized as earned media. Unlike advertising, there is no fee to share your thought leadership content, speak at a conference or win an award — you earn those opportunities based on merit. But the solid Sharpie lines between editorial and advertising have become dotted pencil lines. And while the trained eye can typically tell whether a placement falls in the paid category, many do not recognize the difference.
As a result, PR and marketing professionals have to be savvier about their marketing and editorial spend. News outlets are desperately in need of content to fuel their 24/7 news channels and, facing reduced editorial budgets, they are competing with self-publishing opportunities aplenty.
All this is not to say that paid opportunities are bad; in fact there are more sponsored opportunities than ever. Rather, in today’s dynamic media and marketing environment, companies that want to get aggressive about PR must also consider quality paid content opportunities as part of their budgets. Because today, most everybody looking to maintain market prominence has to pay to play in some way.
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Investment funding announcements can be a powerful and proactive way to demonstrate company momentum through media relations. Rather than waiting for a filing to hit regulatory websites, companies can get ahead of the news by optimally framing funding messages through a press release and media interviews.
Young & Associates recently managed a media relations campaign for client Terra Dotta’s growth capital investment from LNR Partners and generated an array of positive coverage from media outlets including Triangle Business Journal, WRAL Techwire, Fortune and EdSurge.
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Read our latest Spark newsletter for investment PR tips, analyst relations fundamentals, and when it makes sense to “pay to play” in PR. https://bit.ly/2XCIvYc
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Industry events provide an excellent forum for meeting with journalists who write about the target vertical markets you serve and building a strong rapport with valuable face-to-face meetings. Taking the time to contact journalists in advance is critical to fitting into their busy conference schedules, but well worth the time invested. B-to-B organizations that can include a client spokesperson in the on-site interview can make the conversation and potential stories really come to life.
Young & Associates recently coordinated media interviews for our microlearning platform client Axonify at ATD 2019 in DC as well as for our international education client Terra Dotta at NAFSA 2019, also in DC. Stay tuned for the resulting media coverage.
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It often looks like a fit of starts and stops – a press release here, a byline article there, perhaps a few media interviews at a conference, all followed by…silence. This haphazard PR approach is often symptomatic of stretched-thin marketing teams who are struggling to execute on a strategy that ticks all the proverbial boxes but doesn’t result in much to show for. What’s missing? Momentum.
Collective PR Planning Critical
The best PR programs produce collective results that reflect the efforts of a combination of ongoing tactics that drive meaningful results in support of business outcomes. This can be accomplished with a proactive media and analyst relations plan, including frequent communications touchpoints among team leaders to ensure the overall PR strategy is evolving with the business. However, this doesn’t just happen overnight – marketing teams and their PR leaders/agency must collectively plan for ongoing proactive media announcements and engage SMEs ahead of time to ensure proper timing.
Extend Marketing Campaign Activities Through PR
Additionally, if a marketing campaign is planned around a particular initiative – such as a compelling industry research report – the PR team should do more than just issue a press release about the results. Rather, they should pitch contributed articles with a deeper dive and unique analysis on the findings, write a blog post with actionable takeaways, evaluate upcoming conferences for a speaking slot on the research impacts, and develop a helpful infographic for media to use alongside possible story coverage.
The trail of momentum created by cohesive PR plans and initiatives significantly helps elevate an organization’s brand, as well as creates stronger buzz around specific marketing campaigns – which ultimately help drive more sales.
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Awards programs offer growing and established companies additional credibility among employees, clients, prospects and thought leaders. No matter your size or industry, there is likely an award your company is eligible to submit for. But not all awards programs are the same. Some require a fee, employee surveys, lengthy essays or case study references, while others ask only for basic company information. Here are a few factors to consider in setting an awards program strategy.
Set a Budget
Paying a fee to participate in an award program has become fairly standard. Don’t let it deter you. Evaluate the field of relevant awards over the upcoming budget year and consider the relevance and impact, submission criteria, prestige and price.
To Survey Employees or Not
“Best workplace” awards typically require a bit of leg work, which can pay off with thoughtful effort. Often managed by the HR department due to recruiting implications, these awards often require a certain percentage of employees to complete a survey. When looking at the potential roster of awards, consider how many will require your employees’ time as well as how likely your employees are to comply and give the company good marks.
Competing for General Business Awards
There are select organizations whose business model revolves strictly around award programs and events. Don’t discount these opportunities as they can help jumpstart an awards program and often don’t require lengthy submissions.
One thing awards programs will force a company to examine is how comfortable they are with certain confidential info, e.g., employee numbers, revenue growth. Clarify what information will remain confidential. Often it is percentages that are published versus raw numbers.
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Check out the March 2019 issue of the Y&A Spark for insights into Successful Awards Program Strategies, Maintaining Brand Dignity and More https://buff.ly/2WkRxJt
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While PR initiatives often generate valuable market presence and thought leadership for organizations, they are often siloed from other marketing activities. To drive more value from PR and marketing activities alike, teams can more closely collaborate through shared strategies and metrics. Following are some tips to get started.
Integrate Campaigns – If your company is making a major marketing push around a particular industry trend or issue, use it as an opportunity to extend your voice and message across PR channels too. For example, offer byline articles that reinforce thought leadership points shared on a recent webinar or at a recent conference speaking engagement.
Align Metrics – Marketing activities, particularly demand generation initiatives, are expected to drive qualified leads and sales lift. PR activities support this goal by elevating a company’s market visibility, brand recognition and thought leadership. Take marketing metrics up a notch by tracking PR-related impacts such as website traffic spikes due to press releases and media mentions, as well as offering refreshed website content on those days—such as an actionable blog post.
Cross Promote Customers – Securing customers to speak favorably about your products or services is one of the most effective sales vehicles. However, marketing and PR teams sometimes spar over customer requests to avoid asking too much of them. Instead, teams can increase their ROI by working together to involve customers in one interaction that can be used for multiple opportunities, e.g., case study, Q&A email campaign, award submission.
This article originally appeared in an issue of The Spark newsletter.
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While some marketing programs put “thought leadership” into a catch-all category including thinly-veiled marketing articles, effective thought leadership programs go beyond self-serving topics or “how-to” articles and instead highlight new trends and strategic guidance on addressing buyers’ critical pain points. Following are some tips for forging or re-imagining a strong thought leadership program:
Go Beyond the Basics
Your target buyers already know the foundational elements of your industry, so repeating this information is the quickest way to invite them to tune out. Instead, demonstrate your depth on industry challenges or new trends that have real impacts on their day-to-day operations and bottom line.
Offer Contrarian Viewpoints
It goes without saying that there is often general consensus on major industry shifts, especially when backed up by research. However, there is always room for different perspectives on how best to address these developments or if new or different methodologies could help take the industry forward more quickly.
Address Nuanced Problems
As the evolution of industry issues tends to shift over time, discuss the particular angles that are currently impacting the industry. Reference relevant market examples and offer real-world guidance so customers and prospects know that your business understands how to address their current needs.
*This post originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Spark newsletter.
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