The Role of Thought Leadership as PR Evolves  

By Lori Russo, President, Stanton Communications

In the flood of “What’s New” and “What’s Next in 2023” articles, professionals in the field of public relations can find ample inspiration for the communication programs they will lead this year. Among the emerging trends are increased reliability on owned content, more aggressive expansion of outreach beyond traditional media, greater emphasis on social consciousness, and a shift toward quality over quantity. All excellent and worthy concepts to consider.

Common to all of these, but not explicitly so, is thought leadership. Without skilled subject matter experts to inform owned content, provide insights to audiences through new and emerging media, appropriately address social issues, and earn the quality coverage every client demands, even the most creative programs can fall short of expectations.   

When a reporter reached out recently asking for our thoughts on the future of thought leadership, we provided the following responses. Though she chose to pivot her story, we feel this Q&A will add value to conversations happening in every PR team right now as we enter a new year.

Why is thought leadership still important in 2023? 

Thought leadership is always important, and we don’t expect that to change next year or in the next 10 years. With declining trust in media as an unbiased source of information and brands becoming their own news platforms, there is a real opportunity to establish a position of authority on various subjects, and there will be an appetite for it. That may not always be true in what we typically consider top-tier mainstream media, but in many cases, niche media or hyper-focused online communities can have a meaningful impact on a brand’s positioning. That kind of exposure can also lead to more widespread coverage. As we know beat reporters pay close attention to what is written or talked about in the trades and can use that information to determine what to cover and who are the best sources.     

What are your top tips for thought leadership? 

We’ve always found that thought leadership efforts are most successful when they are collaborations between communicators and experts. We, as PR professionals, are skilled in the art of translating complex ideas into understandable language. Thought leaders are skilled in their own areas of expertise and are not necessarily writers. When we combine our respective strengths, that’s where the magic happens. We typically interview experts the way a journalist would, asking lots of questions to get into the weeds of the subject and to understand how it fits into a bigger picture. We take that insight and use our talent for storytelling to craft a compelling piece. In our experience, this is much more effective than asking a product developer or an engineer to write 900 words. 

Another tip is to take advantage of the speed and scale of LinkedIn. Often when we are positioning thought leaders for opportunities, we must rely upon acceptance from an editor or a conference organizer, and the lead time can be months. LinkedIn is an owned channel where experts can write as often and as much as they want on their own or with our help, reach the right people, and have their content amplified by others. We’ve been doing a lot of work with executives and other experts who don’t have the time to contribute to bylines or do a lot of public speaking, but they can find time to post on LinkedIn. PR teams can assist with guidance on effectively using Creator Mode to ensure the greatest reach and effectiveness.  

Are you using thought leadership strategies for your clients this year? Why or why not? 

Yes, always. As an agency supporting a broad range of clients across industries and regions around the world, thought leadership is a pillar of our work. A client may not always have hard news that will elevate their profile in the market, but they consistently have perspectives that are of value to others in their sectors and in the broader business community. It’s our job to amplify their voices however we can. 

How do you plan to incorporate thought leadership into your 2023 public relations plans? 

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