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    14 May 2013

    Job_Ad_Newspaper-250x221By Craig Badings and Dr Liz Alexander. (This piece first appeared in Human Capital, an Australian HR magazine)

    A leading magazine publisher is recruiting for a Senior Editor, Thought Leadership Asia. A global law firm has posted a position for a Thought Leadership and Client Publications Manager.  A professional services firm is looking for a Thought Leadership Manager.

     Exciting positions but something is fundamentally wrong with each one of these adverts.  

     Job ads targeting positions such as those listed above reveal how little most of these organizations really understand about thought leadership and how they’re selling themselves and the position short. 

    The term “thought leader,” once reserved for influential academics and visionary leaders such as Charles Handy, C.K. Prahalad, and Stan Shih (Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Acer Group), is now showing up in a wide range of job postings. In the majority of cases this is not only misleading but serves to further dilute and undermine the concept of thought leadership.

    Why? Because most ads that mention thought leadership in the job titles are offering little more than glorified editorial or content marketing positions.


    Don’t confuse content with thought leadership

    Despite the fact that many companies like to think of themselves as “thought leaders,” few really are.

    But before we dissect some of the job descriptions we found in a wide variety of adverts, let us address what we mean by thought leadership:

    Thought leaders advance the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, commercially relevant, research-backed, new points of view.  They engage in ‘blue ocean strategy’ thinking on behalf of themselves and their clients, as opposed to simply churningout product-focused, brand-centric white papers or curated content that shares or mimics others’ ideas.”

    Don’t mistake thought leadership for sharing or “curating” other people’s viewpoints or simply having your own strong opinions about a topic. And it’s certainly not about pumping out regular content.  If what you are producing doesn’t deliver new insights that influence your target audience to change the way they think, feel, or behave about an issue, then it isn’t thought leadership.

    Here’s the problem

    Let’s take a closer look at this ad for a Thought Leadership Manager that we discovered recently:

    “The successful candidate will have a great track record of content development and managing multi-channel campaigns, ideally in a professional services environment or large corporation. Experience or understanding of thought leadership is desirable, ideally relating to the financial services sector.”

    So experience or understanding of thought leadership—for someone with the job title of Thought Leadership Manager– is merely desirable? That’s like saying you’re prepared to hire an engineer who may not be fully cognizant of the principles of engineering. Who would do that?

    Companies serious about finding someone to drive their thought leadership approach need to elevate it to a strategic level and ensure candidates have the insight and knowledge to plan, build and evaluate a true thought leadership position.


    Some thought leadership ads are starting to get it right

    It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Despite many poor thought leadership job adverts out there, a few organizations are on the right track. Here’s the best (edited) example we’ve discovered to date for a Director of Thought Leadership.

    Job description:

    Responsible for managing all public relations and thought leadership activities for X company, including creating the thought leadership plan, managing the company’s public relations agency program deliverables, coordinating editorial interviews with executives, coordinating news release approvals, placing executive speakers as part of the Corporate Executive Speakers Bureau program and creating their presentations, creating customer case studies, and both organizing and executing online webinars and live, multi-speaker seminar events.
    Consults with Corporate and Business Unit Marketing leadership to ensure activities support overall corporate communications objectives and associated initiatives. Works with partners in Corporate Marketing, as well as business unit leaders and subject matter experts to support the company’s over-arching brand and image goals, both internally and externally.


    • Ensures alignment with broader Corporate Marketing thought leadership program, coordinates with corporate marketing and X teammates, business unit leaders, legal/compliance and subject matter experts, and both internal and external vendors to create a comprehensive PR and thought leadership plan. Plan components will span all of the necessary elements from coverage analysis and thought leadership messaging development and media outreach through executive speaker topics and venues, webinar and seminar topics and participants, and the maintenance of a calendar of all activities and events.
    • Understands and monitors coverage of industry issues and key thought leadership themes, and X’s comparative share of voice.
    • Identifies new industry issues and thought leadership themes for which X may need to develop and communicate a position.
    • Secures strategically effective speaking engagements for executives and ensures that they have everything they need to perform effectively.
    • Manages all planning, coordination, budget and logistical elements of both on-line and in-person thought leadership events, including digital webinars as well as seminars for clients and prospects that typically feature analyst, client and company speakers.
    • Works with Advertising & Branding leader to incorporate company’s branding philosophy in all thought leadership events.
    • Prepares ROI evaluations of our participation in various thought leadership events, and measures and reports on the effectiveness and impact of activities through scorecard.

    This advert is far more strategic.  With ten mentions of the term no one could mistake this for a purely content creation, marketing, or PR role. Indeed, it’s clear that company X understands that thought leadership needs to be an integrated part of the entire organization, embedded within the culture, and not just another marketing, communications or public relations “add-on”.

    There are, however, two critical pieces missing:

    1. Emphasis on a proven ability to drive an overarching thought leadership strategy, and
    2. The ability to oversee the kind of research that provides clients and customers with evidence that the thought leadership approach is credible and viable.

    Without research, this company runs the risk of becoming just another organization that’s offering opinions. Whether they’re successful at “walking the talk”, however, is a different story.


    A point of clarity for thought leadership job ads

    Just because your company regularly publishes white papers, editorials, opinion pieces, research projects, conference papers and the like doesn’t mean you’re a thought leader.

    Thought leadership is about differentiating yourself in the minds of your target audience by providing them with fresh insights that solve an issue or challenge that impacts their lives—insights they would not have seen or thought of themselves.  In other words, thought leadership serves to illuminate and solve a client or customer’s unmet needs.

    The concept is far from faddish.  It’s been around for over 15 years and is a growing discipline recognised by many organisations as the way to truly elevate their brands above the considerable noise currently confusing the marketplace.

    The number of positions in this field and affiliated support roles will grow.  It will be in the best interests of everyone responsible for creating these thought leadership positions to get their job descriptions right.  If not, they run the risk of attracting the wrong people and contributing to the erosion of a concept that, when done well, engenders trust, engagement and loyalty in an era when all three are becoming harder to elicit from increasingly sceptical clients and customers.


    Craig Badings is a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications.  He is the co-author of #THOUGHT LEADERSHIP Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign.  He published his first book on thought leadership in 2009:Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadershipJoin him on twitter @thoughtstrategy and on LinkedIn.



    1. […] under many ruses and many names — sponsored content, native advertising, brand voice, thought leadership, content marketing, even brand journalism — advertisers are conspiring with desperate publishers […]

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