How to Launch an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign

Tom Popomaronis

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Most entrepreneurs and executives approach thought leadership as if they are playing a game leap-frog—jumping from publication to publication, blog to social, taking any and all opportunities that present themselves regardless of topic, outlet, or timing. We reach for the stars and try to get the biggest and best outlets to publish their work immediately. But the final impact of this approach has proven to be quite low—it is a scattershot strategy and your work will fail to make an impact.

In order to build an effective thought leadership campaign, we first need to establish credibility in our area of expertise. Think about it: Why would anyone read and trust advice from an unknown source with unknown credentials?

The job of effecting change becomes harder without credibility. Without audience trust, even a mainstream publication cannot provide much value. Without a clear and purposeful strategy, we find ourselves screaming into the wind.

Instead, start small and build up your thought leadership brand. Utilize a blog, social platform, or newsletter to begin building credentials with your peers and a small group of followers who are interested in your specific niche. Over time other publication opportunities will open up in trade publications, niche media outlets, and, eventually, more mainstream outlets. Every step of the way, you will assemble a core audience who trusts your leadership. Utilizing this slow and steady approach allows a momentum-build of influence that will propel you forward as a leader of your industry.

In order to have power, we need a strong foundation to stand on. One cannot make an impact from shaky ground. The laws of physics are at play here – with a strong base, something sturdy can be built. Take the time to build a strong foundation that establishes expertise and helps you become a credible source of thought leadership.

How to Build a Successful Thought Leadership Program

So, what would this look like in practice? There are three simple steps every leader should take when building a thought leadership program.

1. Identify what position you occupy in the public’s mind today.

Conduct research and polling to determine how you are currently viewed as opposed to how you’d like to be viewed in the future. Are you considered an authority on any subjects or are you still unknown? If, for example, you’d like to be known as a startup expert but polling shows you are not yet thought of in that lane, then you know you need to focus on building credibility through thought-leadership on topics relevant to start-ups. Identifying your current position gives you a starting point from which to launch your thought leadership program.

“Begin building credentials with your peers and a small group of followers who are interested in your specific niche.”

2. Clearly define the positioning you want to adopt in your thought leadership.

Leverage the information you learned in step one to select how you’d like to be known by the public. Be precise – claiming you want to be known as a “progressive leader” or “dynamic executive” is too vague and does not give you a strong foundation to stand on. Instead, use detailed statements such as, “I want to be positioned as a disrupter of the startup HR process,” or “as a leader of technology strategies for startups.” The more specific you get the easier it will be to carve out a lane for yourself in the public eye.

3. Align all of your thought leadership programming to your position.

Once you’ve defined the position you’d like to adopt going forward, align all programs to focus on relevant topics. This includes all messaging, public relations, speaking opportunities, columns, and authorship. Do not confuse your audience by speaking on any and all topics through a misguided attempt at “exposure.” Pull from the depths of your knowledge base and pour all of your energy into establishing yourself as an expert in your specific lane.

So what’s next? Take a look at, How To Implement a Successful Thought Leadership Strategy in 2022 for a sequential roll-out strategy.

Successful thought leadership campaigns require patience, personal discipline to stay in one’s lane, and a clearly marked roadmap. Just like we would not rush to build a house with a shoddily constructed foundation, neither do we rush to scattershot uncoordinated messages to an undefined audience. There are people who need what you have to offer – it’s merely a matter of finding them, identifying what they want, and staying consistent in your message.

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Tom Popomaronis is Executive Vice President of Innovation at Massive Alliance, a global executive branding agency. Tom co-founded Massive's Executive Leadership Branding program – which transforms world-class executives into contributing authors at leading publications.

Interested in expanding your own thought leadership footprint? Apply to contribute to Strixus – an exclusive community of visionary leaders.

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Tom Popomaronis is a senior digital executive, currently serving as EVP of Innovation at Massive Alliance. He has published over 700 articles under his bylines at CNBC, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc. Magazine, and Forbes.

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