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Building Thought Leadership: A CEO’s Roadmap To Industry Influence

Illustration of conversation bubbles. [Dom Guzman]

By Renee Sieli 

One of the most effective ways to generate brand awareness is for an organization’s executive team, particularly the CEO or founder, to establish a thought leadership profile.

A thought leader is someone who has established a profile for offering industry insight, unique perspectives and advice. Thought leaders cement expertise in the public domain, which positively reflects on the individual and the brand they represent.

Building a thought leadership profile can prove beneficial for fueling business objectives, regardless of organization size.

The recipe for success requires a mix of frequency, unique perspective and channel distribution to create a lasting impact.

The key tenets to establishing an impactful and sustainable thought leadership profile include the following.

Define your thought leadership expertise

Renee Sieli, founder of ERPR Group
Renee Sieli, founder of ERPR Group

A solid thought leadership profile is founded on sharing expertise. Shared expertise must be free from promotional content and focus on tangible, industry-specific knowledge, job function or trend. Of critical importance, the content must offer a more unique perspective than information already in the public domain. If you’ve never raised venture capital funding, you should not offer advice on fundraising.

An endless array of topics can fuel a thought leadership profile. Offering insight into hiring practices, operational expansion, global workforce management and pitching investors are all examples of desirable topics. Alternatively, industry trends, technology predictions and economic barometers represent more business-focused content for fueling a thought leadership profile and achieving  industry influence.

Tailor your content

Regardless of topic, the expertise must be focused. Take any frequent guest on CNBC — they focus on a specific area of expertise and adapt their commentary based on the news of the day. A Bank of America analyst does not discuss the bank itself, but instead provides ongoing market insight, perhaps focusing specifically on equities.

By defining a core area of expertise, they emerge as a valued resource and build a profile closely aligned with that subject.

Identify engagement channels

Where you share content is equally important as the content itself. Options such as social media and blogs may also aid in building a public profile, along with media coverage.

Media coverage, a key aspect of fueling a thought leadership profile, should be a core component of any strategy. In addition to interviews, CEOs should write op-eds and frequently contribute bylines to build familiarity.

Alternatives to consider include speaking on industry event panels and engaging with nontraditional media sources, such as YouTube.

Commit to frequency

The most successful thought leaders provide consistent expertise on a chosen topic. Thus, prioritizing frequency is essential. To achieve industry influence, one must remain regularly associated with a topic and therefore their commitment to consistently sharing expertise is necessary to build a recognized thought leadership profile.

Exact frequency is variable, which, for some, means daily posts. However, that approach only works if you have valuable content to frequently share.

Most CEOs benefit from a weekly or bi-weekly schedule of content distribution, which may include a combination of blogs, events, media appearances, articles or social posts. The optimal approach to establishing frequency is to evaluate the time you can dedicate to developing high-caliber content, and the volume of content you have to offer. If you have limited time and limited content, you may benefit from a less frequent schedule.

Ultimately, it’s a long road to building a thought leadership profile — but a reachable and fulfilling destination with the right strategy in place.

Renee Sieli is the founder of ERPR Group, a boutique PR firm specializing in media relations. She has worked with startups and Fortune 500 companies to build their media profiles, and has worked with both founders and executives to establish a thought leadership profile.

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