Who should you attribute your thought leadership to? You or your business?

Whenever prospective thought leaders are looking to devise a thought leadership campaign, one of the first questions they may ask internally is “who should take “credit” for the thought leadership: the thought leader or the organization?”

In practice, this is a question about the byline or attribution of the piece.

The person to whom a piece of writing is bylined is presented to the world as the authoring party, irrespective of whether or not he or she actually wrote the text. This person will be responsible for defending any arguments advanced in the thought leadership and may be required to participate in debates that arise from its creation with other industry experts.

Deciding whether an internal team member should serve as the organization’s spokesperson or whether a piece should be bylined collectively, to an organization, is therefore more of a strategic decision than it might at first appear. 

Of course, it is possible for some thought leadership to be attributed to an individual and the rest to a team. But consistency is key. Whatever option is chosen, the decision about which spokesperson to use should be undertaken carefully and in coordination with any overarching PR strategies that the organization may have in place.

This piece outlines three factors that those preparing thought leadership campaigns may wish to consider when choosing how to attribute each piece in the campaign (or all of them).


Is Personal Branding A Consideration?

When planning thought leadership attribution, many organizations will weigh up the relative strength of their prospective spokespersons’ personal brands with the reputation of the organization. In many cases, this will be the deciding factor about who to attribute thought leadership to.

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Thought leadership marketing is undertaken by organizations ranging from pre-seed funded startups through to major international corporations with hundreds of employees dedicated to the effort.

Likewise, those who might wish to present themselves as thought leaders may be relatively unknown startup employees whose fame does not extend beyond the office. Or they might be seasoned businesspeople with well-established professional images that they can leverage. If the latter, those individuals may be hesitant about the idea of lending their byline to the publishing effort. But it may be in the business’s definite interests to have them do so.

As a rule of thumb, if the personal brand of the potential thought leader greatly exceeds that of the organization, then it may make more sense to attribute much of the thought leadership campaign to an individual — or a group of them — rather than the organization as a collective. The downfall of this approach is that as soon as those people leave the organization, so do their reputations. 

If the authoring party of a thought leadership campaign is the founder of a startup, however, then that person may expect to stay close to the organization for the foreseeable future. In cases such as these, presenting a founder or a co-founder as a thought leader might be a strategically sound decision.

Summary:

Consider the relative strengths of the brand of the business and that of the individuals to whom the thought leadership might be attributed. Consider also which is likely to have more staying power.


How Personal Is The Narrative Being Woven?

Another question to consider is to what extent the narrative of the thought leadership could be described as “personal.”

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Thought leadership often leverages statistics, case studies, or data insights in order to extrapolate observations about the future of an industry.

But often personal anecdotes and narratives are required in order to get hard information across in a more palatable fashion. A mixture of hard reasoning and human observations is an effective and engaging way of presenting arguments that is widely used by orators.

An organization’s story, for instance, might be tightly wrapped up with the reason why the founder started the company (its background narrative).

Consider, for instance, the case of Facebook, which famously grew out of its founder’s dorm project. For such organizations, it would often make sense that the initial thought leadership be authored by the founder or co-founder. The founder can cite entertaining anecdotes from the company’s formative days to explain why it came into existence and its overall purpose.

Once organizations grow and mature, however, they often find that their thought leadership matures from the reason for the company’s existence — and its mission — through to more nuanced commentary around certain issues, such as its strategic product vision. Once this evolution has taken place, thought leadership can become less centered around a person. In these cases, a change of approach may be warranted. 

Summary
Consider the extent to which the thought leadership is going to rely upon personal anecdote and stories to make its point. Thought leadership that is framed more personally may have to be attributed to an individual — or a group of them.


Will The Thought Leadership Need To Be White Labelled?

Thought leadership and content marketing remain distinctive pursuits. But in the interest of streamlining operations, small marketing teams often need to make more profit out of less work. 

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In large international organizations with subsidiaries, a core library of thought leadership writing may need to be respun and rewritten for local media markets. In cases like these, attributing thought leadership collectively — to the organization — tends to make more sense than tying it to any one individual. If thought leadership assets are going to have to be “shared” among different teams, then it’s often better that no one individual can lay claim to the work.

By contrast, if an organization doesn’t envision a need to create derivative works of an original piece of thought leadership, then attribution to a specific executive may be more logical.

Summary:

Ask whether the thought leadership will have to be bled into derivative works. If that is the case, then it may make more strategic sense to attribute it collectively.


Pick Your Spokespersons Wisely

Public relations (PR) strategies often lay out careful guidelines around which individuals are authorized to represent the company and across which media formats.

That same level of attention to detail should go into the important consideration of how to attribute thought leadership writing. The selection should be made carefully and guidelines followed consistently across distribution channels. The three factors above can help determine the most appropriate course of action. 

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