Five lessons on writing thought leadership

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Gale Strategies

November 21, 2023 • 3 min read

Bylines are among Gale Strategies’ most potent tools to establish thought leadership, attract attention, and generate business leads for our clients. Sometimes we ghostwrite them from whole cloth to help clients develop messaging. Sometimes our clients write, and we edit them. Invariably, both sides learn more about the client’s business and their customers in the process.

Once published as so-called “earned content” – meaning that an editor has vetted them to assure credibility versus, say, “unearned content” like billboard space that a company might purchase for an advertisement – these bylines do more than directly engage readers who usually are potential customers or partners. They help hone sales messaging and provide content for social media campaigns, promotions, and other collateral that is necessary for the marketing campaigns that grow businesses.

Following the precepts that I’ve absorbed after years of writing for newspapers and magazines as a journalist and political campaigns and PR and marketing firms as a copywriter, bylines need snappy intros, solid statistics to support their claims or offer context for their discussion, and concrete examples, when possible, that illustrate or provide evidence for whatever point the client needs to make. They nearly always paraphrase or revisit themes that our clients have developed over time that have helped them secure their successes so far.

Based on past successes, the most compelling and impactful thought leadership that we’ve written tends to heed these five lessons as we write and revise it with the help of our client’s guidance.

  1. Who’s the audience? The more we know about your target audience, the better. If customers are a client’s audience, we want to know the ideal customers, their pain points, and how they might be trying to solve their problems (unsuccessfully) today. Other target audiences might include investors, industry stakeholders, regulators, and others.
  2. Espouse thought leadership, not self-promotion. The best publications don’t run advertorials as editorial fare. They want thought-provoking arguments. Executives can write about changes in their industry or new technologies that promise to change markets because they have knowledge and domain expertise. They can leverage that wisdom without overtly shilling their products.
  3. What’s the news? Disruptive ideas make readers think. So they are perfect for thought leadership bylines. What is the client doing that is new? What problem are they solving that has never been solved or even identified before? Alternatively, mainstream ideas and messaging that reflect received wisdom must be packaged in some new way to attract attention. Always avoid the fate of saying what everyone else is saying “but better.”
  4. Tell stories. Stories need settings, characters, plots, and conflicts. They need literary forms, like question and answer, compare and contrast, or persuasive or explanatory approaches. They also need métiers – print, video, or images, for instance. Is the writer trying to explain the hero’s journey from identifying to facing off against, and, lastly, solving a problem? Or are they warning others about inaction? Do they want to draw attention to their new solution in a competitive market? What story is the writer seeking to tell?
  5. Call for action. What’s the ideal state that lies at the end of the sequences of actions that begin when a client’s prospective customer reaches out for help? What’s the change that must occur in an industry for the best companies to survive a tough future? What technology is a must-have? What must regulators do differently? Speak plainly and issue a call to action.

When we follow these guidelines, we can target readers more closely, articulate thought leadership more vigorously, hook readers with better and timelier angles, craft more engaging stories, and convince more people to take the actions we’re calling for.

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