Tag Archives: Meghan Brown

Crash the Keynote!

And other advice on how to maximize thought leadership when it comes to speaking opportunities.

This blog post is the second installment in a 4-part series that will cover multiple steps on the path to becoming a thought leader. Read our first piece, which focused on writing for thought leadership, here.

Hit me with your best shot.
I mean it! Go ahead, name your dream speaking slot for 2019. Ready, set (here are my favorite responses to…) GO:

Client: The CEO is dying to snag the keynote at MWC Barcelona.
Me: We can do it!  Let’s check out how your latest case studies align with this year’s tracks.
Client: We need to get started on the HIMSS 2019 call for proposals (aka call for dissertations).
Me: Awesome, good thing you’ve already got some killer  white papers/case studies to pull from.
Client (my personal favorite): The team seems all about the three letters C-E-S, yet we’re an entirely B2B business, help!
Me: It’s not (always) out of the question. Let’s find an approach that still adds value.

Landing thought leadership-enabling speaking opportunities might be one of the most challenging  aspects of my job, but somehow it’s also one of my favorite parts. In all fairness, this may be partially because I have a competitive – and still very journalistic – spirit. The concept of good content winning is not only “alive” when it comes to thought leadership – it’s critical.  I love that!

But, I think the part that I really love is that the challenge is one that makes us all better marketers and PR practitioners. In an industry that’s often criticized for jargon and “marketing speak,” the boilerplate approach will never win. It’s refreshing, right?

Plus, let’s be real: When David – the truly groundbreaking innovator – takes on the “Goliath” of the industry and has an opportunity to disseminate that knowledge to the masses, not only do we all win; we all want front row seats. In the agency world, securing that speaking slot is considered a good day!

(Quick plug: if you’re looking to learn more about how to actually land a thought leadership speaking opportunity – vs. how to gain thought leadership via speaking opportunities – check out my colleague,  Kathleen See’s blog post that features five things you should know about securing a speaking opportunity).

The fact of the matter is, challenges exist. It doesn’t matter what industry your brand is in, how big/small the company is; whether the company is an early stage startup, or a heritage brand in the space, the reality is that brand recognition doesn’t buy thought leadership, the speaker earns it.

You can slice and dice this a million ways, but here are four factors I see as fundamental, if you’re trying to achieve thought leadership through speaking opportunities:

Crash the Keynote
If you have any interest in speaking at next year’s event, you better not miss this year’s keynote. Don’t just take note of his/her on-stage presence, note the content; what got them up there? Was it unique research that they published with an analyst partner? Did they let the spokesperson from a partner company take most of the airtime? Whatever it is, identify the structure and their storyline and remember it, as it will help to remember what success looks like.

Pick the Right Pursuits
Yes, you’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy. The idea of wasting time writing an abstract for an event you don’t want to attend is painful; the idea of you speaking at an event you don’t see value in is excruciating. So, let’s pick the right pursuits.

Does this mean that you should only take gigs at the biggest and most expensive events? No way. Does it mean you need a Rolodex of sales leads after every speaking engagement? Sounds great but good luck! That can’t be the expectation when you’re pursuing thought leadership.

In fact, you’d be lucky if you accomplished one of those goals – for every event – within the same year, and doing so without paying a hefty price tag to be a part of them is next to impossible, but if you find a way to nail it all, please do let us know. However, in the meantime, you can identify what events will add value – not just to your company and salesforce, but to you as a thought leader.

This is as simple as looking at your job description.

Are you the CMO of a company that uses analytics software to help retail companies with franchise networks better understand and improve the online reputation of their business by improving customer service? NRF is a great long term goal (and a good one!), but in the meantime, get your feet wet at all of the marketing events you can find.

What about the CIO? Does your company help improve some aspect of corporate infrastructure and therefore target IT professionals? Engaging with the IT audience in some capacity – even if you simply host a meetup – should definitely be on your to-do list long before you even dream about taking on a proposal to secure the keynote slot at Interop, Spiceworld or RSA.

Practice not only makes perfect, it makes perfect sense. However, practicing to an empty room, or a room of professionals that don’t help you grow, doesn’t make sense. So, when attempting to pick the right pursuits, evaluate the opportunity based on this simple rubric which requires you to check all of the boxes that align with accurate statements about the event you’re considering:
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 More than 45 percent of the event attendees will gain value from what I plan to discuss
There’s a 65 percent chance that I will meet at least two people who I have networks I could benefit from, if I pursue and secure this opportunity
At least 10 percent of the audience could be characterized as early adopters of my target customer segments, or channel partners who influence the early adopters of that audience

If you can check at least two of the above “boxes,” pursue it. If you don’t, take a pass.

Know when you’re the right fit for the opportunity (and know how to fit into the opportunity when you know the right fit)
If you’re looking to be perceived as a thought leader, you know that there are some stories that are best told by your customer or partner. In those situations, let them lead the charge. And if you want some tips on how to get their buy-in, check out this blog for tips on how to make that happen.

Another consideration: an organization that issues a “call for papers/proposals” often allows for some creativity as it relates to “format of proposed presentation.” Don’t gloss over this question, seriously.

Here are two examples of how you might leverage that opportunity to build your thought leadership even when you know you aren’t the right fit, but you know someone who is:
NO FOLD ICON 15x15 If you’ve been effective in building strong analyst relationships in your industry, consider having him/her moderate a panel of 2-3 customers + you (or a member of your exec team); while s/he interviews the group, your customers can speak to how they’ve leveraged a specific technology to improve their business/services/bottom line, etc., while you weigh-in on the information they brought to the table that enabled the success. It’s a win/win.
If your company leverages a partner network – whether it’s a group of technology partners, channel partners, or otherwise – submit on behalf of their appropriate spokesperson, while also helping to shape their content. For example, you might introduce them, and note that they’ve provided excellent customer service to your audience, by leveraging key educational and case study materials before they get up and speak about how your technology is enabling business opportunities for your (shared) customers

Start Pumping Up Your Profile, Yesterday.
There are a handful of associations tied to the best, brightest and biggest events in the business and technology space(s) that recently did something smart, but not necessarily groundbreaking (sorry, CEA), but somehow it still surprised applicants: they started requiring that speakers – who are interested in speaking at their top-notch and highly respected event – provide more than just a speaker history/bio (gasp!).

They’ve also asked for personal Twitter handles, LinkedIn profiles and more. They’ve even asked for submitters to confirm post frequency, and to share links to the speaker’s blog and/or links to the last few articles s/he has written for mainstream media publications. We’ve also seen an increasing number of requests for video clips from past speaking engagements that we’ve recommended our clients create a speaking “reel” for, or at least keep a living list of links that they can pull up and copy over as needed. Again, smart (and completely warranted), but not groundbreaking.

This is exciting and scary all at the same time because suddenly, thought leadership comes down to the “leader” not just the company’s leadership, and it’s no coincidence that in the weeks leading up to these deadlines we see a sudden influx in inbound client prospects who are hoping we can help them establish the “leader” part. While this is absolutely something we can do, it takes at least a little bit of time to do it effectively.
he exciting part: it no longer takes the MWC/HIMSS/CES gig to gain thought leadership status in today’s world, the thought leader controls his/her own destiny. In fact, David can win that keynote spot, despite competing with Goliath.
The scary part: if you’re staring at the submission form and thinking “I don’t even know if this executive has a Twitter account,” it’s too late (for that specific event, that is).

The good news is that all thought leader prospects face an even playing field, and with the right content strategy, it’s absolutely possible, and if you take a pragmatic approach to thought leadership brand building, it’s even predictable.

Stay tuned for our next installment, and in the meantime, make sure to subscribe and check out our other blogs!

By Meghan Brown  


Thinking (and Writing) Like a Thought Leader

This blog post marks the start of a 4-part series that will cover multiple steps on the path to becoming a thought leader.

Let’s be honest: we (marketers, communicators, PR practitioners) are all contributors to the next chapter of our industry’s evolving story. We’ve got a constantly shifting media landscape as the backdrop, and amidst all of the excitement and uncertainty, one thing remains consistent: rock-solid writing skills are a critical cornerstone in architecting any successful communications initiative.

With this (plus a bit of bias, due to my journalistic roots), I’ve opted to kick-off  this series with a focus on getting writing – for thought leadership purposes – right.

There’s been a paradigm shift around the concept of “thought leadership” – have you noticed? I sure have. Until recently, the idea of  having “thought leadership” readily accepted as a program objective was something I’d often only get to imagine about and hope for prior to a kickoff meeting with a new client.

In that hypothetical meeting with a new client, the hurdles of resistance and doubt I was trying to clear – by persuading an experienced marketing director that the effort required to source, write and seek approval on a 1,200-word contributed article was worth a placement that never mentioned their brand – were rooted in very valid uncertainties and completely warranted.

Here’s why: longform, written content – drafted on behalf of an executive spokesperson – is a labor of love, to say the least. That resistance I used to get from clients is understandable even before you consider the process that follows. Let’s be honest: internal edits and approvals can sometimes be equally – if not more – rigorous than editorial review

Here’s the good news
I’ve been able to scale back all that hoping and wishing. Mostly because 
nearly every marketing, communications and PR professional I’ve encountered recently will agree that this notion of “thought leadership” no longer requires quotation marks. In fact it’s no longer perceived as “just a notion,” either – it’s been elevated in priority and seen as a critical element of any solid external communications campaign

With the average blog now requiring more than three hours to write, it’s critical that we root thought leadership platforms in tactics that are executable, and those that rank high in terms of impact, visibility and efficacy. Click To Tweet

Ironically, the bad news sounds a lot like the good news: “since nearly every marketing, communications and PR professional I’ve encountered agrees…[that this is a] critical element of any solid communications campaign,” these thought leadership opportunities have become a bit more challenging to navigate, and – to some degree – more difficult to attach value to. While there are seemingly a TON of editorial opportunities to which our innovative clients can contribute their expertise; the cloudiness around when, where and how we can get the most value out of contributed thought leadership content has increased at the same rate.

With the average blog now requiring more than three hours to write, it’s critical that we root thought leadership platforms in tactics that are executable, and those that rank high in terms of impact, visibility and efficacy.

If all of this is ringing a bell, keep reading for tips on: putting pen to paper, understanding how and where your wisdom may be best spent and how to make the most of a thought leadership placement once the headline hits:

Teach vs. Preach and Show vs. Tell (or Sell)
Think of your contributed article as an opportunity to have an engaging, compelling and thought-provoking conversation with a target buyer – not dissimilar from the one you might have at a networking event or during a panel discussion. You probably wouldn’t use those opportunities to drop a series of not-so-subtle hints about how great your company’s products/services are; nor would you immediately follow a handshake with a hard sell; so, don’t do it here either.

Plus, the article you worked so hard to write and shepherd through the internal approval process  will never see the light of day if an editor reviews it and catches on (and, believe me, they will). If the creativity well feels a bit dry, look to recent events, industry trends/research and pain points in your industry as opportunities to elevate thought leadership. By tailoring our experts’ insights to timely topics – such as GDPR, DACA, the U.S. government’s Billion Dollar Climate Report and the Retail Apocalypse – our team has effectively raised the thought leadership profile of clients in every domain we work within.

Resist the Urge to be Redundant
At core, remember that the  most compelling thought leadership articles are rooted in authentic and often contrarian points of view supported by data or noteworthy experience, and present a new perspective that adds to the industry conversation. Your exec spokesperson may be a seasoned security expert, or a notable networking guru, but the overdone angle of “top X security/network threats to the enterprise” is – for lack of a different term – completely overdone. Daring to be different will pay off in dividends when it comes to landing a valuable thought leadership opportunity. Take a provocative standpoint by picking a fight with a giant entity – such as AWS – and call out the pain points the masses face due to a gap that has yet to be spotlighted by mainstream media. Drafting customer bylines – that effectively tell a unique and differentiated story – is another way to stand out from the crowd, in a good way.

Find the next entry in this series here: Crash the Keynote!

“Pay-to-Play” Has Its Place
I used to be quick to dismiss any editorial that had a price tag attached as “illegitimate,” because there was a time when that wasn’t a necessary part of achieving thought leadership in the technology arena. Things have changed, and there are plenty of low cost, high value editorial  opportunities available through a number of well-respected media properties. Think of it this way: you’re not paying for the opportunity to publish, you’re paying for the opportunity to communicate to an in-demand audience that’s inundated with messages from companies like yours daily; this is your chance to stand out. In addition to the opportunity to reach a key audience, a recurring contributor opportunity – like the Forbes Technology Council – is a great way to guarantee a steady stream of content over an extended period of time.

Merchandising, Maximizing and Marketing Your Thought Leadership Win
Assuming one of the above – or one of your own – tips landed you a homerun thought leadership placement, it’ll be time to make the most of your hard-earned placement! As you do so, keep the following two objectives and strategies in mind:

Continue to elevate your thought leader’s profile to new heights
To continue to augment his/her profile, you’ll want to rely on your tried and true communications tactics: social sharing; bite-sized summaries in newsletters on the website and via internal platforms (i.e. Slack). However, a less traditional tactic that I’ve found to be effective – and a good reason to engage on positive marketing results with the sales team – is a quarterly coverage memo summarizing top wins that they can point to in order to further validate your organizational and executive thought leadership in the industry. A standalone summary may even be justified depending on what content was placed, and where.

Make the most of the already approved and compelling content you’ve created
To maximize the value of the content itself, consider condensing it into a teaser or summary format that can be repurposed as a longform LinkedIn post or a blog post that directs readers to the full text if they’re interested in reading more. Many outlets – such as eWeek – also accept contributed content in the form of a slideshow. If the contributed piece would play well in that format (i.e. a “listicle” concept), re-work the copy to ensure it’s differentiated, and pair it with some strong imagery to further the value of your already-placed piece.

Hopefully these tips have been helpful, and feel free to share additional insights you have advice or tactics that have proven especially helpful for you or your team.

Looking ahead, we’ll continue to explore opportunities for enhancing thought leadership via other program tactics, such as speaking opportunities and strategic leadership awards, social influence, key positions on boards and committees, as well as policy-driven positioning.  

By Meghan Brown