A recent study conducted by my colleague Bob Buday with the AMCF and Research Now discovered something most content directors and CMOs probably intuited: Bad thought leadership content lowers the reader’s opinion of the firm that publishes it. That is, it makes potential clients disappear.
That’s not a good trick. Also not good is that fact that investing in unpromising thought leadership concepts costs editorial directors and CMOs like you money and time. It costs money because you’re paying content development experts (like the Bloom Group) to dig where there are no potatoes. While some content developers (like the Bloom Group) are very good and will work like the dickens with your experts to help them develop a strong point of view and good thought leadership, no one can find potatoes where there aren’t any. And it costs time because while your content development experts are burning billable hours working with your expert, searching for something that’s not there, they’re not working on something more promising that will help you publish sterling content to raise your firm’s profile.
How do you recognize an idea unlikely to bear thought leadership fruit when one of your subject matter experts brings it to you? That’s easy. Read Bob Buday’s seminal article “Competing on Thought Leadership: The Seven Hallmarks of Compelling Intellectual Capital,” here. Learn the hallmarks. Know them. Live them.
The next part is not so easy: Telling your subject matter experts that the idea they’ve brought you is not going to fly.
This can be awkward. After all, they’re experts. They’re rewarded for being knowledgeable in their spheres. They believe that what they know is important. And it very well may be. However, that doesn’t mean it will make a good article. They’re neither paid nor trained to assess their idea’s potential in that way. That’s your job, or at least part of it. So, sometimes, you’ve got to say no to them lest you begin wasting the aforementioned money and time. And you need to be able to say no without turning your experts off or discouraging them from bringing you more and better ideas.
Here are five things you can say:
- “That’s fascinating, and if you can come up with some client examples, we’ll have a super article.” Always try to avoid saying no directly. Always praise. Praise defuses defensiveness. And asking for real world examples – which are the soul of good thought leadership – will send your SME back to the drawing board where he or she will either find them (which could turn an empty idea into a rich one) or drop the whole thing to find something better.
- “Thank you. But tell me: How will this article help your business?” The broad purpose of publishing thought leadership content is to make your firm look like it knows what it’s doing, but it’s also to generate leads. If an idea doesn’t align with the services your firm offers, it’s worthless to you. It’s also worthless to your expert. Reminding your SMEs of that, gently, will often cause them to reconsider and, perhaps, come up with a more useful idea. And you won’t come off like a bad guy. You’ll sound like a partner and a friend.
- "Very interesting, but I’m wondering if your clients may not know this already.” You know (because you’ve memorized the Seven Hallmarks) that good thought leadership depends on novelty. Your SMEs, however, are proud of knowing the history and background of their areas in great detail. But they also respect their clients, know that they know a lot about their own businesses, and would be horrified at the thought of boring them. If they concede that the idea they’ve brought you is not novel, they will reconsider its worth, and leave your office feeling that you’ve saved them from making a mistake while they come up with an insight that is new and compelling.
- “This is a great survey. Fascinating. Perhaps we should just present it with charts and graphs.” Many surveys (all right, most surveys) are not particularly revelatory. But people like numbers, and they love charts and graphs. Your SME (who probably knows her survey doesn’t break new ground) will be relieved that her work won’t go for naught, and you won’t have to spend money and time torturing the survey to say something it doesn’t. And the next time she assays a survey, perhaps she will confer with you (or the Bloom Group) to devise questions people do not already know the answers to that will shed new light on a topic and be, yes, revelatory.
- “You know, I read this great article about developing compelling thought leadership content. Here, give it a read, then let’s talk more about your idea.” What great article? Why, “Competing on Thought Leadership,” of course. If your SME reads it, the chance that he or she will come back to you with a better concept will improve greatly. Then your expert content developer can begin helping to fashion the concept into compelling thought leadership and you, your firm, and your SME will benefit. As Martha Stewart might say, that’s a good thing.