A story of thought leadership done right

May 30, 2017

Sometimes a thought leadership project goes so utterly right that we have to pinch ourselves to make sure we’re not dreaming.

That may sound harsh, but the fact is there are many ways in which white papers and articles can go off the rails. But in the case of the article I’m talking about, everyone turned out happy:

  • the end customer (the editor of the journal in which the article ran) because the article brought a fresh perspective to a topic the journal’s readers care about
  • the authors, because they got the support they needed to express their ideas and shape their story – in double-quick time
  • the marketer, because it was such a smooth writing process and the article distinguished her company on a key industry issue
  • our writer, because he was able to collaborate with the authors and push their ideas to the next level

Quick snapshot of the article in question: it was a bylined piece for a prominent journal for insurance executives. Here’s what made it such a model of how to do thought leadership right:

  • There was one clear idea from the get-go. The two authors knew exactly what they wanted to say from Day One. They were in complete agreement. Although their “big idea” was just that – they were taking a position on something that wasn’t yet happening – it was argued from a position of great experience. There was no data from a research study, but there was plenty of logic to support each of the authors’ main points about the value of the intra-industry collaboration. Moreover ,the marketing manager understood and supported the idea too.
  • The topic was timely. The authors picked a compelling theme: things are changing so fast that there is a real opportunity for first-mover advantage. They saw a chance to lay out an idea that they considered significant enough to open the door for conversations with clients and prospects further down the road. The journal editor’s enthusiastic response to the story pitch was further proof that the idea was indeedtimely and thought-provoking.
  • The focus was narrow. The authors weren’t trying to write an anthology of every possible big idea affecting the insurance sector. They had one carefully considered idea on one topical theme. They weren’t tempted to wander into adjacent ideas territory. They didn’t fall into the trap of thinking that if two pages make you look smart, five pages will make you look a whole lot smarter.
  • The author team was agile. There were two authors on the article; they sought input from one of the firm’s other experts. Roles and responsibilities were clear: the authors had full decision rights on the content; the additional expert had “advisory only” input; the marketer effectively created demand by finding a suitable journal and successfully pitching the idea; she then drove the hiring of a writer and managed the final stages of article submission. Collectively, this team nailed the editorial process; there were none of those “who’s on first” snafus and no duplication of workstreams.
  • Everyone hit their deadlines. Meeting deadlines is a fundamental of a writer’s job. For senior partners who have more to do than create content, not so much. In this case, the authors were prompt and thorough with their feedback to the writer’s drafts. They made themselves available and they were fully engaged throughout. OK, so there was a looming and very real external deadline, and the marketer was very proactive, but that doesn’t stop many big-dog authors from pushing their hapless marketer to wrangle extensions to deadlines.
  •  The writer had direct contact with the authors. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we’ve had more than a few situations where the authors are AWOL, leaving the conveying of their big ideas to a junior report. Not good! Chances are the big guys or gals haven’t properly communicated their ideas to those lieutenants, and they’re not available to respond to the necessary pressure-testing by the writer. In this case, though, our writer got plenty of air time with these authors, and the speed and efficiency of the story’s execution proved that was the right way to do it.
  •  The authors instinctively knew why “story doctors” are more valuable than typical “writers.” Some senior subject-matter experts think their ideas are sacrosanct; they resist ideas from writers whose talents they believe are a dime a dozen. Not so in this case. The writer – a story doctor, actually – was viewed as a true thought partner. He had the latitude to bring in plenty of valuable ideas about article structure as well as content, and the authors accepted many of those ideas.

So what’s the big takeaway here? Trust the process. In this case, everyone did just that – they trusted, and followed, the editorial process we led them through. And they ended up with a shining example of thought leadership at its finest. No drama. No dream!