How thought leadership in PR can make companies money

As thought leadership is a central plank of many public relations strategies it, like PR in general, frequently has the challenge thrown at it of ‘can it make us money?’ The answer, it seem, is a very tangible and measurable yes. But let’s not forget the difficult to monetise value of an excellent reputation, either, which is a currency no organisation wants to do without.

Thought leadership in public relations

The question of thought leadership making money for an organisation is one of a number of topics which came up in a discussion I had with Craig Badings and Dr Liz Alexander, who recently published a compelling e-book entitled 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign. Written as a series of tweetable insights, it works both as an inspiration for thinking about effective communication, as well as a practical ‘how-to’ handbook.

Other topics which came up in our discussion were methodologies which can be used to measure the impact of thought leadership and the challenge of carving out a thought leadership ‘space’ in an area already occupied by a rival organisation.

Increasing revenue through the practice of thought leadership

Craig gives three examples from the ebook: Thought Leadership: How to differentiate your company and stand out from the crowd, written by Mignon van Halderen, Kym Kettler-Paddock and himself (you should check it out as it is a substantial piece of work with many useful case studies):

According to IBM, its Smarter Planet campaign achieved the following:

  • Clients’ preference for IBM increased by 5%-10%
  • Brand value increased by 20% (11.3 billion dollars)
  • Stock price increased by 64%.

GE’s Ecomagination campaign achieved the following:

  • From 2005-2010, GE earned $85 billion in revenue on Ecomagination products
  • Ecomagination sales are expected to grow two times faster than the rest of the company
  • 22 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 30 percent reduction in water use and $130 million in energy efficiency savings.

According to Unilever, it’s Dove Campaign for Real Beauty achieved the following:

  • Within two months of the launch, sales rose in the US by 600%
  • within six months of the campaign launch, Dove’s sales rose by 700% in Europe
  • The brand is estimated to have had an 11% increase in revenues in Q1 2005 as well as double digit growth in Q2 2005
  • As of 2010, Dove sales total more than €2.5 billion
  • Sales have grown by more than $1.5 billion in revenue within five years after the campaign’s launch.

Reputation, marketing and stakeholder engagement driven by thought leadership

Craig and Liz also outlined additional business-relevant tangible outcomes thought leadership provides:

  1. Deeper engagement with existing and new clients/customers and converting prospects into customers.
  1. Establishing a relationship with clients and prospects based on your insights into their issues or challenges, not your products or services. This enables very different conversations and clearly differentiates your brand from the competition.
  1. A significant lift to brand reputation as evidenced by the GE figures.
  1. Opening up marketing opportunities the company would otherwise never had had. For example, Booz & Co’s Global Innovation 1000 thought leadership campaign’s study is cited each year in nearly 200 publications around the globe, spanning 27 countries. It receives numerous invitations to write by-lined or guest articles in other publications. Their employees are invited to speak at innovation conferences around the world. Their employees are invited to join advisory boards of clients and innovation-related associations.
  1. And, finally, one that is often overlooked: equipping your own employees – especially your sales team and new business team – with rich, valuable data/information which leapfrogs them in terms of the conversations they can have with clients and prospects compared to the competition.

Measurement of thought leadership impact

I asked Craig and Liz what methodology they recommend to measure the impact of thought leadership on achieving new revenue or other business outcomes. They came up with a range of ideas on this topic. Clearly, you need to customise these approaches to your campaign, how it is being rolled out (e.g. online only?) and your budget.

“The critical first step is to define, very clearly and to have it written down, your objectives,” said Craig and Liz. “Based on the organisation’s specific objectives, measurement criteria could include the following:

  • Visits to the content webpage
  • Email click through rates
  • Video views
  • Attendance at webinars
  • Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook followers
  • The number of names who opt in to download e-books or white papers
  • Attendance at talks
  • Third party support (e.g., validation of your thought leadership by key influencers in the industry and/or research entities like think tanks etc.)
  • Media coverage across tier one (mainstream) and tier two media (trade)
  • Measurement of tone and the key messages
  • Speaking engagements
  • One-on-one client contact
  • New prospect engagement
  • Qualitative, researched client feedback – case studies and suchlike
  • Internal impact (i.e. how do employees view it, how do they use it, how useful it is in prompting conversations with clients?)
  • New business pipeline
  • Brand reputation (using research and then benchmarking tools)
  • Google rankings on agreed search terms
  • Klout score for your thought leadership champion.

“Depending on the tools you use for measurement,” continued Craig and Liz, “You can start becoming quite sophisticated in your measurement of things like: the segment of clients and prospects that respond best to your thought leadership content and why; seasonal impact; impact depending on the day and the time of day.

“The beauty of almost all of this is that it can be done automatically.”

Entering a competitive space with thought leadership

In Craig and Liz’s book, they mention undertaking research to ensure the thought leadership space an organisation might seek to inhabit is not already dominated by a competitor. Are there occasions, I asked them, when there is a benefit to seeking ‘dual occupancy’ of a thought leadership ‘space’ for a newcomer?

“Yes; there is something called the ‘long tail’, the concept introduced by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine (and formerly The Economist) to describe the shift away from a few mass markets to a much larger number of niche opportunities/markets,” asserted Craig and Liz.

“A good example of this would be innovation. The innovation space is pretty much owned by Booz & Co with their Global Innovation 1000 study which they have been conducting for seven years.

“However, innovation is a very broad topic and within that there may well be a niche market that a company or brand could own (e.g. the long tail). For example, a company specialising in manufacturing might find a niche they could own in manufacturing innovation or a plastics company may come up with a plastics innovation thought leadership platform. Moves are already underway on this niche with the Think Beyond Plastic innovation competition.

Have you implemented a thought leadership campaign and evaluated its effectiveness? What did you find? Were you able to determine a link to financial outcomes?

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Public relations in Africa’s public sector: a quest for professionalism

Public Relations practice in Africa has come of age, occupying the core of relationship management between public departments and the general public they cater to. Whether the PR ‘face’ is up to the task is an entirely different issue altogether.  Different, pertinent and somewhat worrying, public relations at the heart of Africa’s public sector is still saddled with peculiarities, most of which are neither complimentary nor flattering.

Is the face of PR a mask or the real thing?

The majority of Africa’s 55 countries have active public sectors which provide basic government services to their sovereign citizenries. With a representation cutting across board, it is not uncommon anymore to find a dedicated public relations unit or department in, say, a law enforcement parastatal like the police. This is definitely a welcome departure from the one-man-battalion, ‘official spokesperson’ that obtained decades ago.

This is a guest post from Adedamola Jayeola (@drjayePR), a public relations professional who writes from the University Of Cape Coast, Ghana. If you find this post of value, please go to the PR blog homepage and share it through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn – or make a comment at the end of the post. Thanks in advance!

Finally, the general public has a ‘face’ to Government, one they can forward queries to and demand answers from or, depending on the scenario, throw flowers at or pellet with eggs,..

Public relations departmental structure

Whoever said bureaucracy was “a tool for converting energy into solid waste” was not being economical with the truth. Most public sector PR units, labelled as “Public Affairs/Communication Offices” are modelled as ‘Service Bureaus’, and I do not mean that in a theatrical way.

The scenario is one where a single department is broken down into several clone units which are basically replicas of each other. It is therefore not unusual to have a ‘Public Affairs Department’ with offices/units like ‘Public Relations’, ‘Protocol’, ‘Media Relations’, ‘Community Affairs’, ‘Alumni Relations’, etc. all existing separately without cohesion or synergy.

In most cases, the majority of these clones are autonomous and work with different budgets. What you get is a replication of duties and the duplication of responsibilities.

Welcome to the ‘Bureau’!

Operational challenges in African PR

With a background as described above, problems are in regular occurrence. Discrepancies revolving around the utilisation of resources, all traceable to a lack of coordination are quite the order of the day. More often than not, very important and essential issues are ignored while much ado is paid to the trifling and unnecessary.

It is heartbreaking to still witness a lot of communication and public relations officers, purportedly ‘doing stakeholder management’, either go incommunicado in times of crises or emerge to chant the “No Comment” phrase, in an age where Google is providing comments by the second and is busy telling the world what you had for breakfast.

Content management and online communication

Online content and information management faces considerable hitches as there is still no synchrony between content managers and the IT units. Most online content managers have no administrative access to department websites and ‘submit’ information to be uploaded.

This also spills into offline content where not enough review and editing is undertaken before information is released. It becomes embarrassing to find spelling and grammatical errors in a government parastatal’s official gazette or on a website that is not up to date.

Social media and web 2.0

For what is fast becoming the ‘unannounced’ best practice for the profession, social media integration is still quite low at this level. ‘Social media engagement’ would then mean having a chat with old friends and former school mates on Facebook and uploading fancy pictures during work hours, even when client/customer requests or service demands, albeit on the same platform, are left pending and often ignored.

The unit director is probably the only one with a LinkedIn profile which was created a decade ago for him by the guys in the IT department on a budget of 200 dollars for a non-premium account. In 2013, where news breaks on social media some 72 hours before it gets on print, media monitoring is being done via a stuffy print library, on a radio with a huge ball tuner and a large TV set that will pass as e-waste.

Twitter? Don’t even go there.

PR projects

Projects, especially events, suffer poor coordination and those contracted to management companies are not well supervised by the in-house team. Units with well manned events/ceremonial teams are confidently corrupt and would argue for an inflated budget. In some cases, the PR department is expected to automatically key-in to ‘committee arrangements’ they were never even briefed about.

What could be tougher than trying to fulfil unknown objectives? Expecting a work breakdown structure or a post-event analysis/assessment report is an exercise in futility. You see, it is all about the party, not the day after.

The call to action for best practice public relations in Africa

All the same, for someone with a private sector bias, maybe I am just downplaying the might of the all powerful Public Service ‘drudge-bug’ which could have well bitten the profession in the neck. Or it could just be true that, aside from these 55 states (UN figure), these same peculiarities draw similarities internationally. There are more possibilities one must not overlook. However there is but one universal truth, which is that activity is still not a synonym for productivity.

For public relations in Africa’s public sector to be done right:

  • the focus must shift from ‘clocking in’ to putting some soul in the job
  • PR departments and professionals must incite a collective responsibility and start ‘owning’ their careers to stop ‘living’ the job
  • It has to start meaning more than a meal ticket, raises and bonuses, holiday entitlements, estacode or retirement benefits.

In getting the job done the conscience question must be answered. The piper must muster more confidence even if it is for a suggestion of the tune to be played.

Social media is definitely making press agency more irrelevant, beckoning all and sundry to reality, literarily. In a bid to solve unemployment, African Governments must be careful not to start cloning responsibilities just because it is ‘the public sector’.

More justified and accountable funding for PR departments should be provided. Project management methodologies should be adopted to ensure finesse is applied to projects.

Only then can we start proving we are up to the task.

African Governments must realise that public relations professionals are not bodyguards, personal assistants, pimps or escorts (yes, you read that right).

PR professionals are perception managers, issues and crises managers, brand strategists and communicators, stakeholder and project managers. Hopefully, cross-continental industry associations like the African Public Relations Association (APRA) can begin to exert enough influence to ensure professionalism is entrenched across the board.

According to the report from the ePractice Workshop of the European Commission Information Society and Media (Public Services 2.0) held in Brussels, 2009, “Governments are now faced with a challenge to their previously uncontested power. They must manage changing relationships with an increasingly demanding public, better able than ever before to voice views, concerns and wants”.

In order to meet these challenges, Africa’s public relations practitioners in the public sector must brace themselves and heed the call for professionalism and global relevance.

Adedamola Jayeola (@drjayePR), a public relations professional, writes from the University Of Cape Coast, Ghana. If you would like to write a guest post for this blog, email

By the way, if you found this post of value, please go to the PR blog homepage and share it through Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Thanks in advance!

Excellent new book on thought leadership for winning business

Thought leadership is a strategic approach to business communication which helps organisations positively position and differentiate themselves, in the process creating and enhancing relationships with key stakeholders. It contributes to excellent organisational reputation and the achieving of organisational objectives, including selling products and services.

It is one of the first approaches public relations professionals should consider as part of their communication arsenal. And as anyone who is inquisitive about public relations and/or is committed to continual professional development will tell you, the musings of experienced corporate communicator Craig Badings on his Thought Leadership blog are required and compelling reading.

Craig and Dr Liz Alexander have just published a fascinating, thought provoking and eminently practical e-book entitled 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign, which as the title implies contains a series of tweetable insights into the practice of thought leadership.

The e-book also provides additional perspective and context to assist in applying thought leadership as well as referencing a range of resources to help kick your brain into gear, increase the potency of your thinking on the discipline and help achieve the best results possible.

Such is the depth of information in this e-book, a single post discussing it will not do it justice, but some of the many aspects I found interesting are highlighted below.

The culture of thought leadership

Like CSR, thought leadership needs to be built-in, not bolt-on. As thought leadership is about providing perspectives and insights different (i.e. leading the way) to competitors, it makes sense for content/platforms to reflect the innovation and point of difference an organisation offers.

It will be difficult for organisations that do not behave in an innovative manner to think outside the square, or to at the very least seek to expand the boundaries of the square, which is essentially what thought leadership entails.

Conversely, the tail wagging the dog is a well known means of instigating change! If it takes a communication program to help galvanise an organisation into behaving differently, perhaps by seeing the impact a thought leadership campaign or approach can have, then why not!

Too often organisations (and public relations practitioners for that matter) rely on a crisis to help change organisational culture and behaviour. Why rely on bad news or bad things happening to motivate organisational evolution?

As Craig and Liz point out, thought leadership takes bravery to instigate as it sometimes means sticking your neck out, challenging orthodoxies. In pure business action, Henry Ford did it; Richard Branson did and does it; Dick Smith did and does it – and look at them.

Preparation and thinking for thought leadership

Craig and Liz hit on one of the biggest bugbears of the practice of public relations when they point out allowing time to think (and by extension, prepare) is a critically important element of thought leadership. Too often communication programs are undertaken without sufficient thought being put into them.

Whether it is the fault of the organisation/client or the PR practitioner, this is a risk-laden approach. And especially so with thought leadership.

Here are some steps to thought leadership that take time to get right:

  • Understanding what thought leadership positions competitors inhabit
  • Determining what the most productive thought leadership platforms are your organisation can inhabit
  • Identifying thought leadership business objectives and putting in place mechanisms to measure the impact of the campaign
  • Deciding – is this a campaign (e.g. does it have a limited lifespan) or is this a way of life (e.g. is the thought leadership program so embedded into, and driven by, organisational culture its intent is to continue and evolve on an ongoing basis?).

Listening in thought leadership public relations

It’s interesting the term ‘public relations’ doesn’t appear in the e-book narrative itself. Yet thought leadership is clearly a PR 101 strategic approach.

Why are Craig and Liz shy about flagging this? I bet it’s so as not to marginalise thought leadership in a perceived PR ‘ghetto’. This is somewhat of a shame as it’s reflective of a malaise within PR not to shout out the business relevance and potency of the discipline, but such is life.

Certainly, I can’t see how any other business discipline can lay claim to managing the approach effectively. Not marketing, that’s for sure.

One reason why PR is the only business discipline to practice thought leadership is because, as Craig and Liz imply, listening is an important aspect of not just thought leadership, but any communication strategy. This is to help understand the needs, wants and issues of stakeholders, then to help identify opportunities and threats relevant to stakeholder relationship enhancing.

(Or I guess we could call it stakeholder relations, which as I’ve written previously is simply a self-hating term for PR that we as practitioners have Harry Pottered up out of our shame in working in PR…or so it seems.)

One manifestation of listening is undertaking market research, and whilst there are inexpensive means of undertaking market research, other approaches include media and internet scanning, conversations with key stakeholders (including influencers over target audiences) and undertaking internal reviews with employees to gather intelligence from them as to what turns organisational stakeholders on…and off.

The fear of thought leadership

A fair criticism of thought leadership is it gives up organisational intellectual property other organisations can leverage to position themselves favourably. The IP can also give potential clients a resource for free that otherwise they would have paid for.

These comments are both true, so thought must clearly be given to the specific thought leadership platforms and what aspects of the platforms organisations will give up information on.

It is vital to remember that in an internet age it is increasingly expected organisations will give up information for free (an inbound marketing approach). This is partially because it has been proven the viral impact of sharing useful information positively impacts on organisational reputation and business results.

These results are equally relevant to the B2C and B2B environments, as well as a third paradigm I like to call B2Community.  This third paradigm is relevant in communicating with target audiences who are not necessarily going to buy a product or service. Examples are ratepayers in a local government area, or residents near large parklands or close to schools.

I have merely dipped a toe into the water of 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign and plan on returning to it in the future. What did you think about aspects of thought leadership and its salient issues discussed in this post? Can you give examples of effective and failed thought leadership programs? Do you have any insights and recommendations to share?

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