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Four Roles Thought Leadership Writers Must Play

With the increase in thought leadership content production we’re now seeing across a range of industries, the demand for people who can do it is going up, too. That shouldn’t be a problem, surely, as all sorts of publications are shutting down for want of advertising money, or from the sheer fatigue of trying to make a buck with a dying business model. Consequently, there must be lots of desperate journalists looking for jobs. So why wouldn’t a thought leadership content director just hire one of these out-of-work scribes to produce her thought leadership?

In fact, they do, but it rarely turns out well.

Why?

Well, because only a small minority of them will ever be able to do it. We know this because we have been hiring and training writers for years. Only a few ever master the craft because there is much more to it than writing down what people say. If you are a writer aspiring to get paid for developing thought leadership content, here are four roles you will have to learn to play.

  1. Coach: The subject matter expert whose insights you will extract has likely never been through the process of writing this kind of content before. So you have to lead him. And before you can do that, you have to learn the process yourself. Ours is summarized in a schematic here.
  2. Developer: If you make an article entirely out of what an expert says to you in an interview, it will read like an interview, not a compelling solution to a problem with which a busy executive is grappling. To catch and hold that executive’s attention you may have to help your expert articulate the problem he’s addressing more clearly, expand on the details of his solution, and validate his assertions with data and examples. In other words, you need to help him develop his argument into a detailed outline that looks something like this. Only when that’s done (which usually is about 80% of the job), and your expert has agreed to it, can you write your article.
  3. Servant: If a journalist doesn’t like, agree with, or understand what an interviewee has to say, he can ignore it. He can even disparage it. (I have listened on the phone while a former journalist did that to a Bloom Group client. That was not good.) But when we develop thought leadership content, our job is to help the expert look good. That doesn’t mean pandering to him; as the developer, it’s your job to challenge him to make his story better. But whether you are internal or external to his company, that company is paying for your services. Your job is to help him, if you can, and tell him (politely) if you can’t.
  4. Partner: As you help the expert develop the content, so you develop a partnership that will converge on the same, agreed upon final product. You have to keep up with his thinking, and bring him along with yours as the article develops. To do this, you need to know his subject area well enough to discuss it intelligently, and be able to build a rapport. If you can do this (and everything else), you’ll have a happy client (or as one of ours told us last week, “Beyond happy!”), and a piece that will do both you and your client proud.  

All of these demands make the job of the thought leadership content developer akin to that of an analyst, consultant, and therapist, as well as that of a writer. Is it any wonder that only a few ever learn to do it well?