Whether you are a tenured professor, Dean or President of a school, college or university, thought leadership is in your job description.
In today’s opinion-focused world, what exactly does thought leadership look like? Whose responsibility is it to drive the process—internal communications, marketing, PR, enrollment marketing or yours? No matter who is in control of generating compelling content that propels you and your college or university into the news, here are five axioms to consider:
Content with Context
Thought leaders need to be able to paint a picture for editors, producers and consumers by “framing” a topic or trend and putting it into context. In our work with colleges and universities around the country or with programs we’ve run for business and legal content experts, we emphasize the importance of preparing and sharing memorable content that creates newsworthy sound bites. Interviews are a platform for informing your audience and promoting your organization, program or research. Use the opportunity to propel your message into the public consciousness by understanding the media and their specific needs. Content today is rarely “one size fits all.” In fact, the more specific the content, the more important it is to pinpoint exactly the right media in which to place it. For instance, we worked with a professor from Northeastern University’s College of Engineering who spoke to the media about the use of nano-materials and their multi-purpose use, including plugging up potholes (eliminating the use of asphalt that’s considered an antiquated material that continuously needs to be replaced).
Sharp and Differing Opinions are Valuable
It’s one thing to want to be a thought leader, but what makes your content fresh, new, different, controversial or exciting? Understanding what has been written or broadcast on your topic is critical to finding the “white space” for coverage. Offering insightful commentary that goes against the grain or takes the conversation in a different direction is the ticket for generating media attention—no matter what the communications channel. Our client, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz School of Business, was positioned as a market expert for this story, featuring a local Pittsburgh paint manufacturer who was implementing a corporate brand relaunch.
One way to ensure that content experts are providing value is stay on top of relevant news and trends. Whether it is public policy, discoveries in nanoscience, curriculum design or the value of an MBA, the engine that drives thought leadership pivots on knowing what is being discussed by others in print, broadcast, podcasts, blogs and social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. By monitoring the issues and trends, the path to publication will be clear as you’ll be able to determine how to provide meaningful—and hopefully innovative information that connects to the current conversation.
Practice Makes Perfect
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect and this is certainly true when preparing for media interviews. Whether you are a seasoned speaker or a first time interviewee, practice is essential to success. Signing up for media training is the best way to prepare, but if that is not available, develop a list of questions you think the reporter will ask and practice the answers. Write down the messages you want to convey—making sure you are able to bridge from the question to your answers by finding ways to insert your content into the dialogue.
Become the Media
Securing media coverage is difficult, even when you’re following the tips outlined above. One way to circumvent traditional media is to establish one’s self as a media channel. Self-publishing can take many forms, whether it’s blogging, guest blogging on key media sites or through social networks. One of the more popular news and opinion sites we secure coverage for our clients is with the HuffingtonPost, as the case with Katz and William James College.
Also, it’s important to think like a journalist—what topics can I report on that are in the news that highlight my expertise? How can I share my content or explain an issue so that it makes an impact on my audience and attracts the media? Creating an editorial calendar that outlines stories and channels for distribution will push your expertise and opinions into the stream of your target audience. Search engines crave content, so the more you produce, the better your chance of moving up in search engine rankings. The added benefit—outbound publishing can lead to inbound media inquiries, influence student applicant decisions, drive policy, disrupt common thinking and of course, be a robust reputation and brand builder.
Personality Goes a Long Way
One last tip for any thought leader is to be authentic and let your expertise shine through. To ensure your content and countenance are remembered, come to interviews armed with data, razor sharp opinions and a dash of daring, which will propel you to become a thought leader favorite—and a trusted media source.