Thought Leadership: 100 Years of PR Can’t Be Wrong

by Scott Baradell | Public Relations

thought leadership

This is the final post in a four-part series on using PR to drive your inbound marketing strategy. (You can catch up on parts 12, and 3 here.) Today, we’re discussing the importance of thought leadership for PR professionals and marketers. 

Thought leadership is like electricity. It can power many things, from social to search to PR. It’s an old concept, and very few of the people who use it fully understand it.

Most marketers have heard of thought leadership. They know it’s good to publish a blog post or be interviewed by the press. Why it’s good, or how it fits into a larger strategy, can seem more like magic than science.

Thought leadership magnetizes your brand and turns it into a pedestal. It draws in potential customers and raises your credibility. By associating your brand with an industry or topic, it expands awareness and builds trust.

Powerful trends in online media have brought thought leadership to the forefront of marketing. With all the hype, you’d think it was a hot, new PR technique. Really, it’s old enough to be the Internet’s granddaddy.

Smoke a Freedom Torch

Thought leadership predates computers altogether. As a marketing technique, it goes back nearly 100 years. None other than Edward Bernays harnessed its power to help clients.

In the 1920s, it was taboo for American women to smoke in public. The reason had nothing to do with public health and everything to do with sexism. Women could even be arrested if caught puffing on the street.

The parent company of Lucky Strike cigarettes, American Tobacco, realized this cut into sales. It hired Bernays to help sway public opinion in the other direction.

Bernays hired models to smoke Lucky Strikes in the New York Easter parade. He told the press that the women would light “torches of freedom.” The event earned widespread news coverage and positioned the brand as a thought leader on women’s rights.

Leading the Search Results Page

Thought leadership evolved in later decades. Eventually, journalists’ rolodexes were filled with “dial-a-quote” thought leaders who could comment on a story at a moment’s notice.

Thought leadership is a powerful technique. That’s why one of our first tasks for new clients is to identify their experts. We narrow their topics and build them into well-known spokespeople in their industries.

In the past, this earned interviews in the press, speaking engagements,
 and other types of offline exposure. Today, it achieves those goals and also raises a brand’s reputation online.

Thought leaders have their bylines appear next to articles in Google search. Their content gets shared in social networks. Gradually, their name becomes one of the first to pop up when people discuss a topic.

Think Before You Lead

Online media brought another change to thought leadership.

Before blogs and Facebook, PR reps pushed their messages through filters at newspapers, radio stations, and other outlets. Editors sift through pitches to separate the gems from the junk. They ensure the outlet’s content is high-quality.

Reps still work with editors, but brands are also publishing their own material online. They do it within their own outlets, such as their website or YouTube channel. This allows brands to inject themselves into the conversation at will.

Here’s what inexperienced marketers tend to forget: the gatekeepers of the traditional media serve an important role.

Give Your Brand a Filter

Editors ensure the content they publish is consistent and of high quality. They keep the material free of ham-fisted marketing. They filter the garbage and keep the audience engaged.

When newbies dabble in thought leadership, they tend to lack good filters. They lack experience and publish bad material. They don’t have a focused strategy.

Thought leadership is only new to those who are new to PR. Companies continue to associate themselves with issues and trends to raise their reputations – and they’ve been doing it a long, long time.

Conclusion

We use these PR tactics every day at Idea Grove to gain coverage for our clients. We can honestly say that an inbound marketing strategy without PR just doesn’t make sense.

As the traditional news media has declined over the past decade, many observers assumed the PR profession would struggle as well. The naysayers doomed PR to an early grave. But guess what: PR has a long and healthy life ahead. It is vital to helping businesses compete in the world of content creation and inbound marketing.

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