Tower vs. Trenches
Building better, stronger and more engaging thought leadership
By Jessica Pasko, Director
Contributed content continues to be a valuable component of the PR arsenal. As media outlets grapple with staffing shortages and layoffs, more and more often, we see them looking for bylined articles and op-eds. And that’s a valuable opportunity for our clients to share their thought leadership.
But not all bylined pieces are created equal. A lot of the pieces we see out there seem to take a very distanced approach from the topic at hand and the audience the author is trying to reach. It’s almost as if the author is up in a proverbial tower, looking down at those below and commenting on what they could be doing better.
However, this kind of approach is harder for readers to engage with – and this is particularly true when it comes to business publications. Readers of these pubs want examples, anecdotes and knowledge that can only be gleaned from someone who has really been in the thick of things; in the trenches, if you will. Truly engaging thought leadership articles convey information as though speaking to peers.
What it comes down to is speaking from the tower or the trenches. And in almost all cases, we recommend our clients take the from-the-trenches approach for the greatest impact.
Establishing Credibility and Being Relatable
Editors — and their readers — are looking for articles that bring a unique viewpoint and perspective, while also being relatable. A great way to move toward accomplishing this is to use real-world examples, ideally from your own work and life experiences.
We also recommend the use of customer anecdotes, especially when you – the author – have a strong connection to them. If you’re a CEO, for example, think about relating a recent conversation you had with a client, or sharing some of the pitfalls you’ve experienced as a business leader and what you’ve learned from them.
The best pieces of this type establish you – the author – as an expert with a credible background that makes you believable. Sharing insights pulled from real-world examples is key because it provides proof – it shows that you aren’t just making things up or pontificating but rather, you’ve lived and are living this every day.
Building a Narrative
Using a more conversational voice helps a lot when it comes to engaging readers, Nobody wants to feel like they are being talked at when they are reading these types of articles. It should be more of an engagement, with anecdotes that make the reader relate and empathize. At essence, it’s storytelling. Don’t talk at your reader, but rather, talk with them (so to speak.) A good rule of thumb is to imagine how you might tell a close colleague or your best friend about something you’ve experienced in the workplace. Or how you might relate a technological problem you frequently see to the guests at your dinner table.
Key Attributes of Good Thought Leadership: Passion. Authenticity. Opinion.
Just because an article needs to be “vendor-neutral,” that doesn’t mean it has to be milquetoast. When we work with our clients on bylined articles, we’re typically focusing on specific technologies but it’s also about looking at the broader problems and business issues.
A good, well-constructed thought leadership piece raises your company’s visibility not because it advertises your products but because it establishes expertise and leads readers to look to you for advice. And ultimately, that will lead them to your products.
Having an opinion or stance goes a long way toward to accomplishing this. And that doesn’t have to mean taking a controversial or political stance. It can be as simple as starting out with declarative sentences that will really set the tone of your piece and encourage readers to read on.