How to do great thought leadership when you’re short on great ideas

Mar 6, 2018

Admit it, marketers: sometimes your authors your subject matter experts – come up empty.

Mercifully, it doesn’t happen regularly. But there are times when your authors actually don’t have any new and noteworthy ideas to support your big strategic marketing campaign. (It’s the opposite of the challenge faced often by marketers: authors who write a little too readily.)

Often the dearth of ideas is for the very understandable reason that publishing is not the authors’ primary, secondary, or even tertiary job; they just don’t have time to think things through. Maybe they don’t understand the intent of your campaign. Or perhaps they expect you, the marketing team, to come up with the big “aha.”

Whatever the reason for it, it turns out that there’s no there there. Yet you have a campaign to launch. The media are expecting something. The wheels are in motion. What now?

If your thought leadership is flat-lining, it’s time to call in the story doctors.

Story doctors can work with your subject matter experts to shape and create thought leadership content. These professional editor types are a rare breed. They most certainly are not just “writers.” They don’t take dictation. They don’t wait for the story to somehow emerge from between the lines.

Story doctors take action: they propose options, push for opinions, and iterate constructively with your authors until they have broken the ideas logjam, using many of the techniques they used as former senior editors. Here are the steps they take to get your thought leadership from “stalled” to “stellar”:

  • They soak up all the background info you can give them. And then they add their own due diligence, drawing from their own deep experience and layering on additional research.
  • They interview your authors. Even if your subject matter experts are coming up dry, a skilled story doctor will almost certainly be able to extract a lot of juice from them. They’ll most likely talk to more than one author.
  • They propose four or five story angles. With lots of raw material gleaned from your archives, your authors, and their own research, story doctors carefully craft four or five abstracts that come at the story from different angles. Each abstract comprises a snappy headline or title followed by three or four solid paragraphs.
  • They lead your authors along the decision path. Story doctors then host a conference call to walk you and your authors through the abstracts they’ve drafted. By presenting different possibilities, they enable the authors to quickly say what works and what doesn’t. Let’s say Stories A and D get dead air from your authors, so they’re out. But Story B generates a bit of buzz – and Story C really gets the conversation crackling. Now you’re getting somewhere.
  • They refine the story. That conference call has achieved several things. It has pushed the marketing agenda forward (and your authors see that). It has engaged the authors and rallied them around some new ideas. And it has given the story doctor what he or she needs to drill more deeply into Stories B and C, splitting those two sub-themes into another four or five abstracts.
  • They quickly get writing. On a second conference call, the story doctor soon finds out whether it’s Story B or C that gets the authors’ green light. That means the story angle has been nailed, so the story doctor can move on to creating a bullet-point outline. And with an outline underway, the once-empty story pipeline is starting to fill and the publication process has begun.

In aggregate, these steps need not take long.

A good rule of thumb is a couple of weeks from hiring a story doctor to giving him or her the go-ahead for the story outline. Even if your authors are excruciatingly busy, it should not take more than a month to get to “yes” on the direction for an outline.

So don’t despair the next time your authors are light on ideas. Don’t feel put upon if they’re looking to you to develop what ought to be their points of view. There is a way to break the logjam. The doctor is in.