In a hyper-competitive market, where a firm’s products and services are increasingly commoditised and many B2B organisations’ differences are outweighed by their similarities, organisations that can differentiate their thinking stand out as the best among the rest.
In order to do this effectively, firms must turn to the experts within their own businesses, be they senior executives, partners, consultants or academics. These spokespeople have the power to add significant value to marketing campaigns by bringing the content to life with a unique voice and adding credibility and influence.
Expert thought leadership is far more likely to capture the attention of the senior audiences you are targeting than a straight sales pitch, but relying on a spokesperson or figurehead doesn’t come without risk, as shown by the countless examples of CEO and executive PR fails.
With this in mind, it’s vital you take the time to nurture your employees into willing and highly effective spokespeople to avoid causing more harm than good. Here are my top tips for making this a reality:
While some executives may aspire to become the Brian Cox or Mary Portas of their industry, others will be less confident in the media spotlight.
Before carrying out any profile raising activity, gauge what experts want to get out of PR activity and why they’re interested in being spokespeople for the firm.
Those looking to become go-to experts, regularly quoted in the media (even on controversial topics), will require more comprehensive support in building their profile, including the full range of press office activities (media training, news hijacking and relationship building with high profile journalists).
Others may be keen to have a voice on more specific issues in their industry, but in a way that is targeted and controlled. They are more likely to seek support with drafting bylines and media briefings rather than quick-fire responses to breaking news stories.
There are two key benefits of being a spokesperson: reputation (both in terms of the expert’s own profile and the organisation as a whole) and revenue. When employees question what is in it for them, come prepared with evidence of where guru-building activity has delivered tangible results.
Our global marketing campaign to promote the Arcadis Sustainable Cities Index generated €52 in pipeline opportunities. This sends a compelling message to potential spokespeople on how their involvement in campaigns can drive business growth.
Demonstrating the value of being a spokesperson is a two-way process. Seek regular feedback from your employees on how any profile-raising activity is driving reputation and revenue outcomes. Has it led to new leads, invitations to speak at industry events and/or positive anecdotal comments from influencers?
Set realistic expectations from the outset. Ensure experts are aware that profile building requires sustained effort over time in order to truly reap the rewards.
Even though it takes a while for employees to gain thought leader status, if they have given up their time to support a PR campaign they will expect fast results. Communication is key, as well as setting expectations that results might not happen overnight.
Demonstrate your immediate value by working closely with spokespeople to extract news angles from their insights and opinions, and by coaching them on what is or is not a strong news story - this is where you are the expert.
Develop and share a plan of action with your experts, showing how you will take their points of view to the media. Whilst you should never take your eye off high profile national media opportunities, generating some quicker wins in trade magazines via opinion articles and feature opportunities will ensure spokespeople do not lose interest early on.
Naturally, your employees will be more reluctant to comment on controversial topics in the media or via untested channels. It can seem like a minefield when experts run the risk of upsetting clients or generally landing their organisation in hot water.
While there is a constant need to tread carefully, sometimes there is commercial value in expressing your organisation’s voice on these trickier topics.
To take Brexit as an example, if no competitors are commenting on the implications for your industry, it provides an opportunity for your firm to be the first to answer clients’ concerns – helping you achieve that go-to expert status.
When briefing spokespeople on navigating controversial topics in the media, ensure they are well prepared to handle difficult questions and that key messages strike a balance between being bold and reckless.
Some topics may be completely out-of-bounds due to legal restrictions, client sensitivities or non-disclosure agreements, so ensure your spokespeople are aware of what is and isn’t safe ground.
Transforming talented employees into media stars will not come overnight, but the good news is that the expertise necessary to fuel your marketing efforts already exists in their minds – you just need to unlock it.