26 Jan 2010
This is the first in what will be a series of interviews with thought leaders from around the globe and from different walks of life and industries.
In this one I ask five thought leadership related questions of Craig Pearce, a PR practitioner who has an interesting blog on all things PR. You can visit his blog at http://craigpearce.info/
1. Craig you are in the process, and a successful one at that, of positioning yourself as a thought leader in the PR industry – are there some tips you can give to aspiring thought leaders in other industries?
I am not so convinced I am in the process of positioning myself as a thought leader for one main reason: I think it is rare for me to put forward original thinking. Most of my discussions on public relations and marketing – my area of, um, expertise… – are based on ideas that have been promulgated by academics like James Grunig or that I have learnt off my peers.
There are occasions, certainly, where I have articulated notions that you don’t seem to hear too much of, such as when I wrote that marketing should report to public relations, social media belongs to public relations and PR is not media relations. But that might be more to do with one of the attributes that I do believe characterises thought leaders: bravery.
There are some that might say this is more like stupidity, or career suicide, but after a year in which I was retrenched and felt forced, to a large degree, to enhance awareness of my skills and knowledge, I have no regrets.
But you need to have some sort of point of difference. It doesn’t have to be huge, but there needs to be a point of view you are putting forward. In the best case scenario, this point of view adds value to those who you want to interact with or position yourself favourably with.
An inherent dimension of learning off others is that it may well be that even if your stakeholders recognise you are no genius, if you are making the effort to reflect on original thinking or issues, and occasionally shine a perceptive light on this thinking or issue, maybe that’s enough.
Certainly, there are lots of watchers and critics in this world: those of us that are actually contributing, or going beyond the bounds of what is absolutely necessary are in the minority. Because of that, we’re of some value.
For a thought leader to be positioned as a thought leader they need to engage in two essential activities: think and articulate that thinking.
Whilst I don’t claim to be an intellectual or a great original thinker, I do at least put the grunt in. The posts on my Public relations and managing reputation blog are not something I quickly reel off. It takes a considerable amount of time to get them to a point where I am (relatively) happy with them. It is not a walk in the park.
A third stream to this is going to the trouble of bringing your thinking to people’s attention. In the context of a blog, this includes SEO and using networks like Twitter, LinkedIn etc.
I think having a problem solving, aspirational attitude and/or approach is a good one to have. Being fixated with the negative is all too easy. I leave that to the media. Another dimension of attitude (and the bravery mentioned earlier) is that it is good to disagree with others, it is good to challenge the orthodoxy and taken-as-read assumptions, which are all too often arrived at in a lazy, undisciplined manner.
This will not always make you friends, but I have plenty of friends. And I don’t expect them to agree with me all the time, either.
One approach to thought leadership is looking at it from a strategic, or SWOT-centric perspective. Look at the information/topics out there and the approaches existing thought leaders are taking. Then a ‘strategic approach’ can be taken to the generation of a thought leadership platform or program.
And there is nothing wrong with this, but it does sound a bit contrived, doesn’t it? If the platform is not sincere, if it doesn’t add value, then it won’t get cut through. I don’t think the importance of passion to all this can be underestimated.
2. What do perceive as the key benefits of a thought leadership position for an individual?
Creating that point of difference between yourself and all the other hens in the chook yard is the main one.
What does that mean? Career opportunities, helping your organisation stand out from the crowd to win new and bigger business, enhanced self-esteem and peer recognition are some benefits.
The snowball effect of learning even more from those wiser than you is another positive, as is the constant challenge you feel in needing to come up with new topics. This brings with it a sense of ‘edge’ that I enjoy.
3. In a previous life you were heavily immersed in the corporate world. What are some of the barriers that stand in the way of corporations becoming thought leaders and what would your advice be to overcome these?
I think of the world’s leading public relations academic, Professor James Grunig, and his notions of two-way symmetrical communication in this context. Organisations, to be effective in their ‘management’ of stakeholder relationships need to recognise that they may need to change to meet stakeholder needs and wants. And they may need to give their stakeholders information they want if they are to satisfy them.
Essentially, organisations should open themselves up more, share their expertise and not be so control-centred. They need to realise that there are profoundly important issues at play here, including the survival of the planet and the future of the human race.
Corporates rule the world, not governments, and most of them should be taking a much broader socially-centric (not shareholder-centric) view of the world and behaving in this manner, too. Public relations can help them do this.
Until they get real in this context their thought leadership is all about product and financial bottom lines. Yes, this pays our bills as PR folk but it doesn’t do much for the soul.
4. What is the key differentiating factor between a thought leader and others in their industry?
Well, one key differentiating factor is that they care about what they are talking about. In fact, they are probably passionate about it. I certainly am in my field.
If you are passionate and you are constantly making a contribution, I think you can be forgiven a lot. You are putting yourself at risk by challenging orthodoxies (and if you don’t ever challenge orthodoxies then I don’t think you are a thought leader). It is hard to pull that off without being passionate about it. You might get away with it for a while, but people will see through you in the end.
Not only are thought leaders passionate about their topic, they are often passionate about helping others, whether it is their peers, customers, the community etc
5. Thought leadership and innovation – do the two necessarily go hand in hand?
The easy answer is yes, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case.
As I implied earlier, the distillation and/or crystallisation of ideas/thoughts into a form that is useful for stakeholders is an important criteria that I don’t think should be underestimated.
Innovation – first and/or best of species – certainly helps kick thought leadership along, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Customisation of this innovation in a relevant way to stakeholders is also important.
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