Deciding Who Makes Thought Leadership Happen

Aug 13, 2019

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When you’re starting a thought-leadership piece, who’s on first?

Recently, this space touched on what ought to happen before thought leadership happens. Specifically, I talked about the value of the content brief for scoping out the main elements of any intended piece of thought leadership.

But whose job is it to fill in that content brief? Whose job to communicate it to the person assigning the writing or editing project? Who conveys it to the writer or editor?

These are not trivial questions. Unless there is clarity about roles and responsibilities from Day One, things go wrong. “Isn’t someone else taking care of it?” Maybe. Maybe not. Important tasks may not happen. Duplication may happen. Things are everybody’s job – and nobody’s. Projects drag out. Costs soar.

Here at Ergo Editorial, we are under no illusions that what we do is a top priority for time-pressed expert authors. However, they’re also the ones who want to publish their ideas. So their client-facing and other priorities are no excuse for not holding strategic content projects to the same levels of process rigor as the client’s own big client jobs.

So here’s my thumbnail guide to who should do what to get things pointed in the right direction:

Design, development, and dissemination of the content brief: Hello marketing group, please step forward. The content brief is an across-the-company document, and one for the ages, so it will almost certainly be the work of a team. The team should have good input from writers, since they’re the ones who have to work with the results of the content brief.

Origination of the big idea:  That’s almost always the author-expert. In rare cases, it’s the marketing leader or knowledge expert or research lead who’ll articulate the idea. By the way, this is a stop-and-think moment right here, in case the author-expert considers himself to be god’s gift to writing. Yes, many, many authors are highly articulate, but that doesn’t mean that hitting the keyboard is the best use of their time or talents. Unless they love working nights and weekends, that is.

Vetting the idea:  Usually this is the marketer’s job – and it starts when they send the content brief to the authors. I said it earlier this year, but I’ll say it again: marketers must do a much better job of vetting the strategic content that their organizations put out.

But let’s assume the idea is a great one.  Then it’s onward to…

Selecting a writer: That’s the marketing pro’s job, almost always. All marketers worth their salt should have a roster of writers whose expertise they know. Above all, Mr. or Ms. Marketer should pick a writer who will truly pressure-test the author’s ideas to strengthen the argument of the intended article. Oh, and Marketing must ensure that the writer is under NDA.

Hosting the kick-off call: Again, this one is for the marketer, putting writer and author together for the first time. Two important points to make: (1) before the call, the marketer needs to send – or ask the author to send – pertinent background material for the writer’s pre-read; and (2) the call should start with a few minutes’ discussion about editorial process before diving into the content. It’s all about setting expectations, especially for those newer authors who think that a deep thought leadership piece can be knocked out overnight.

Establishing good governance: Following on from the previous point, it is imperative to know who’s doing what while the project is off and running. There should be one corresponding author – one who speaks for the author team, who has the ongoing dialog with the writer, who is responsible for the factual accuracy of the piece, who has the authority to get things done, such as clearing client approvals.

Managing the editorial flow: Nominally, it’s the marketer’s job to keep the train on the track, but in reality, the best writers are exemplary project managers, not only meeting their own deadlines but chasing – nicely – the authors to meet theirs too, and constantly keeping the marketer in the loop.

I could get even more granular about the editorial process, but we all have lives to live. You get the idea.

By the way, nothing is absolute here. Responsibility for this or that editorial step does not lie solely with those I’ve just described. If there is to be one watchword for success, it should be “collaboration,” or perhaps “communication,” or “proactive.”

Really, it’s not that different from finding success with almost any project, come to think of it.