The idea behind thought leadership is, in a nutshell, to project your expertise with insightful opinion and useful commentary. It is a natural and effective form of marketing. But many feel that since it has been co-opted by that dastardly cabal, the PR industry, it has become tainted and meaningless.
One of the worst accusations levelled at thought leadership is that it is now sometimes ghost written. How can you be a leader if it’s not even your own voice, the reasoning goes.
This argument is well rehearsed in this marketing blog which argues that ghost writing is part of the problem, as such articles inevitably lack the credibility, expertise and personality which a true leader should provide.
John Hall says: “The term ‘thought leadership’ has been thrown around a lot lately, often tacked on to industry articles without any consideration as to whether the ideas presented are actually … well … leadership-worthy. Unfortunately, what should be thought-provoking posts have proven to be simply buzzword-laden pieces of content.”
I agree. But I think that often it is when the knowledgeable experts and executives are left to their own devices that the buzzword cramming happens. There are some very authentic but truly awful pieces of writing produced by well-meaning business owners and earnest professionals in this vein. Many others focus excessively on themselves as they desperately try to stand out.
Perhaps the latter is because of the term itself. ‘Thought leadership’ not only sounds pretentious, but it actually places the onus in the wrong place. Should you really be trying to be ‘leadership worthy’? Surely, as in other aspects of life, such a hairy-chested approach will only serve to make you seem like a puffed up prat who thinks the’re better than everyone else.
This blog from the Marketing Insider Group offers a better approach. It defines thought leadership as “a type of content marketing where you tap into the talent, experience, and passion inside your business, or from your community, to consistently answer the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience, on a particular topic.”
Here, a good ghost writer can really help, by asking those questions that everyone else wants answering. Often, experts themselves don’t realise just how much others don’t know. Their attempts at helpful comment will therefore go over their audience’s heads, or at the very least fail to address the really pressing issues.
Others genuinely don’t have the writing skills to produce a properly crafted article. Or more often they do, but they don’t have the time. After all, the kind of people who should be doing thought leadership are usually pretty busy.
A skilled ghost writer should be able to help with all these aspects. And they should be able to tailor their help to the strengths and weaknesses of the person they are ghosting for.
For example, if an entrepreneur is passionate, knowledgeable about their market and full of personality, then the writer’s role is to capture all that and get it across, just as a journalist would when writing up an interview or profile piece. When done well, such articles don’t just consist of answers to questions, however burning they may be: the author subtly weaves in enough background to paint a picture of the subject at the same time. Using these journalistic – as opposed to merely writing – skills, the same can be done through an opinion piece.
Others experts can lack personality, or at least don’t know how to project it. Here, the skilled ghost writer can focus away from that and ensure that it is their knowledge and insight that shines through. This is particularly effective when aimed at an industry beyond the opinion giver’s own sector.
The Communications Business are experts in thought leadership, and seek to “create and implement cutting-edge leadership influencer programmes which allow senior directors to take ‘ownership’ and set the agenda on strategic industry and business issues.” But this savvy PR agency usually targets its thought leadership at publications serving the industries which their clients serve, rather than the industries of the clients themselves.
In that situation, a ghost writer who also has knowledge of the sector for which he or she is writing can be of even more value. They will be able to help pick topics of interest, ask the questions on everyone’s lips, and ensure the article references suitable themes. The real commercial value of thought leadership surely lies in appearing knowledgeable to your potential clients, and in that respect, a writer with journalist skills can be useful.