By Claire Smith, Senior Account Manager 

“A thought leader is recognised by peers, customers and industry experts as someone who deeply understands the business they are in, the needs of their customers and the broader marketplace in which they operate. They have distinctively original ideas, unique points of view and new insights.”

This is the definition of thought leadership coined by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of magazine Strategy & Business in 1994. It was used to describe interview subjects for the magazine who had contributed new thoughts to business.

Traditionally, there weren’t a huge number of people who could genuinely be described as thought leaders, but Google has changed this. Now anyone can browse the internet and find out all they need to know on a particular subject. The advent of websites, blogs and social media channels has also made it easier for aspiring thought leaders to self-publish, share and promote their content. Wait no longer for editors of distinguished journals, industry publications or newspapers to come knocking!

Marketing and communication practitioners consider thought leadership to be a tool for positioning a company, raising profile and generating leads and interest from clients and potential clients. Show me a genuinely engaging and passionate thought leader with unique and interesting ideas to share, and I’ll show you a marketing manager who is very happy with the results from his/her business’ latest campaign. The bottom line is people want to talk to thought leaders and the businesses they represent.

So have you got what it takes? Thought leaders communicate their valuable knowledge and thinking to motivate others and help them solve problems or uncover opportunities. They are passionately invested in their chosen niche topic and demonstrate this through the content they develop and conversations they inspire.

Creating thought leadership material, whether it is a blog, speech, editorial, opinion article or whitepaper, is a powerful way to promote yourself and your business. But be warned, if the reader smells a sales pitch, you’ve lost them and your credibility.

Recently the Write Away team read a book called ‘Think, Write, Grow’, as part of the company book club program. Written by corporate communication consultant and former Australian Financial Review journalist Grant Butler, a key focus of the book is on identifying if you have the attributes, skills or resources to become a thought leader. It also provides advice on how to master the creation of thought leadership material.

One insight that really stood out was that not every business or individual is a thought leader – naturally-born or otherwise. Going back to Kurtzman’s definition this really shouldn’t be a surprise, but it may still be a sobering realisation for those with aspirations. So before you get carried away with the idea, consider if you or your business is genuine thought leadership material.

• Would you consider yourself an expert in your field?
• Are you passionate about your field of expertise?
• Are you willing to challenge the status quo? Will your ideas result in change or improvement?
• Have you the time and energy to put into sharing your knowledge with others?
• Do you know how to approach writing high-impact material such as blogs, speeches and opinion articles?
• Are you a capable communicator? Are you willing to and confident enough to communicate with others publically or within your organisation?

There’s nothing better for PR than working with true thought leaders; those who can add real value to not only their own company but also to the industry.