6 Foundational Strategies for Building Thought Leadership

The value in elevating a brand’s thought leadership position can be significant. We’ve implemented thought leadership campaigns that build brand, help increase stock prices, make a company more attractive for sale, support a company’s plan to go public and build sales leads. It is a long-term goal that requires strategic planning and commitment from brands and their key experts.

No matter the industry or the experts you are promoting as thought leaders, there are foundational strategies that every brand must consider to help establish a successful thought leadership program.

  1. Identify your goals and what success looks like. In order to determine if the campaign was a success, document measurable goals. From a return on investment prospective, the impact needs to be viewed holistically – looking at all the activities collectively – rather than tracking if one speaking event, one award or one bylined feature article will provide an immediate return on investment.
  2. Define your expertise. It is important to define your expertise as its highly possible depending on how large your organization is that you might have multiple areas of expertise. Maybe it’s an expertise in a specific technology or a specific vertical market. Maybe it’s an expertise when working with a specific type of customer. What specifically is your brand and employees experts in, and what credibility does the brand or employees already have to support that?
  3. Identify your experts and create biographies. You don’t have to limit your experts to your CEO or spokesperson. In fact, they may not be the best contacts to put forward for a variety of reasons from their true subject expertise to availability. Consider who in the company is really an expert, well-spoken and willing to respond quickly to media or provide fodder for trending industry topics on social media. Look beyond your C-suite. Business unit leaders, product developers, engineers and product managers can make for excellent thought leaders. Also, the good news is you don’t have to limit the number of experts who are part of your thought leadership campaign. A variety of experts who can talk on different topics is beneficial to increasing exposure through speaking opportunities, media coverage, podcasts and more.
  4. Establish a speakers bureau. Speaking at key industry events can help elevate your brand and experts. Identify the most relevant industry trade shows, conferences, summits, etc. that reach your target audiences and develop a database of call for speaker/papers opportunities. It’s important to note that many shows select speakers months in advance. Also, be diligent about checking show websites, signing up for alerts and meeting deadlines. As far as speaking topics and abstracts, develop a few that you can use and customize to target different shows. Non-promotional topics that work well include case studies, industry trends, industry forecasts/projections and tips.
  5. Develop an earned media strategy. Media are hungry for quality experts. Identify your top media targets – including podcasts – and make an introduction with your experts. This can be as simple as sending your experts’ biographies or a more engaging discussion like deskside meetings. Determine the best type of content – pitches, bylined feature articles, op-ed pieces, etc. – that is of interest to media and develop a plan for creating and pitching that type of content.
  6. Maximize social media. You can certainly elevate your expert on your brand’s social media channels. If he or she is already on social media and active or is interested in being active on social, that really can help to support and grow the campaign with his or her contacts. At a minimum, ensure the expert’s LinkedIn profile is up to date as many media and contacts selecting speakers will review his or her profile. It’s an added bonus if the expert can continue to post content that helps position them as a thought leader, including LinkedIn blogs, promoting their speaking engagements, linking to bylined articles and more.

We have helped many brands establish thought leadership throughout the agency’s 34-year history. Have a question or need advice?! Reach out to me at jennifer@sweeney.agency as I love a good question or challenge.

Jennifer Manocchio


After starting her career with Edelman in Chicago, Jennifer joined Sweeney and quickly established herself as an exceptional industry innovator. In 2004, she opened Sweeney’s first full-service office outside of Cleveland and quickly rose through the ranks to become agency president. Jen leads by example and without fear. She has been critical to agency growth throughout the past decade and continues to lead the agency into the future.