Every marketing and communications strategy requires some alignment with the business, but thought leadership needs more than mere alignment. It requires a deep relationship between marketer/communicators and subject-matter experts. That relationship is so close that it could almost be called symbiosis: close, frequent, and mutual interaction throughout the entire lifecycle.
That requirement can seem off-putting to many potential thought leaders. It’s easy to put yourself in those reluctant shoes. Thought leaders typically want to focus on their priorities: running the business, growing the business, creating and expanding new products, driving innovation forward, and more. The prospect of frequent, high-touch dialogue outside of their priorities raises real concerns of distraction. As a result, it creates resistance.
Three Forms of Resistance
In my experience, the three most common objections are
- Lack of time
- Lack of support
- Lack of readiness
Here’s how to cut through each of them without causing disruption and overload for top executives and innovators.
Lack of time
When a thought leader says they don’t have time, they are usually expressing a concern that they will have to commit to extensive writing and revision of a thought leadership point of view. They imagine the heavy lifting of writing an extensive whitepaper, or long, sometimes even fruitless conversations with a writer who doesn’t understand fundamental concepts and issues.
Once thought leaders realize that the time commitment can be minimal, they are much more likely to embrace being an active thought leader. Thought leaders need a partner who can take even a short “brain-dump” conversation or a single email with a few bullet points and turn it into a robust content program, with long-form content, short-form content, infographics, and social media that capture and expand on their thinking. They need a partner they can trust to understand the relevance of what they are saying, to distill the most meaningful insights, and to push ideas over the line of conventional wisdom. They need a partner who can deliver on that trust by providing first drafts that require only minimal review and revision.
Trusted partnership changes the dynamic from a costly use of time to a high-value, high-yield investment of minimal input from the thought leader.
Lack of support
When a thought leader says that they are worried about support, they are really saying that they are worried about being put out on a limb. Perhaps it’s a media interview where they don’t feel well-oriented towards what journalists might ask. Perhaps it’s a speaking opportunity where the steep preparation work and concerns about speaking to an audience seem intimidating. Oftentimes, they have also had exactly that experience of feeling ill-prepared or in the hot seat during opportunities that were arranged by media relations resources.
A clear picture of exactly what is needed to prepare and what support they will have will help them overcome their anticipated concerns. Thought leaders should always have a crystal clear picture of what they are being asked to do, and in turn, a very clear sense of what their key messages will be, what questions could be asked, and what is the underlying purpose of a high-visibility situation. They need a partner who can coach them through the specifics and provide them with all of the talking points and presentation materials they might need to succeed. Beyond that, this coaching must be specific, rather than generalities about staying on message.
The right partner equips them with a complete game-plan and the necessary collateral so that they feel prepared and supported.
Lack of readiness
When a thought leader talks about not being ready, it’s important to probe a bit further to understand the concern. They may be telling you they just don’t know what to expect, or it might be a different concern about confidence. Many thought leaders don’t actually see themselves as thought leaders. They live the day-to-day of what they do, and they don’t see it as insightful, differentiated, or worth communicating.
To overcome this objection, first, understand which of the above situations is the truth. Give thought leaders an exact map of the process that takes their thinking and crystalizes it into communications that merit being disseminated into the world. Then make sure they understand exactly how they will receive support and coaching in both the what (i.e., messaging) and the how (i.e., delivery). Show them exactly how their thinking belongs in the overall conversation within their industry around their specific expertise, and how their thinking helps them achieve three goals: building a personal brand, driving results for the company, and advancing the state of their field of expertise.
A partner who can meet thought leaders where they are and help them develop a sense of readiness will relax this common objection.
Working with potential thought leaders to overcome these forces of resistance helps convert their potential into actual energy and impact. With a combination of internal resources or specialized though leadership consultants who can create the necessary symbiosis, it becomes possible to clear through the perceived obstacles and help thought leadership break through.