The best executives become synonymous with their brands, and earn the status of respected industry thought leaders. Think Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Reed Hastings, and Elon Musk. These thought leaders spread their—and their company’s—point of view in countless interviews and speaking engagements across the globe. It’s every PR pro’s dream to have a bona fide influencer in-house and spend their time deflecting press requests, instead of pitching endlessly for them.
While some executives may come into your organization with their own built-in following and a knack for courting the press, that’s more the exception than the rule. For most of us, we need to put together a PR strategy to build their thought leadership profile, and help them become an attractive source for the media. While we don’t have enough room here to do a deep dive into the topic, there are a few key activities you’ll want to focus on.
As the first step, you need to evaluate the topics your executive is most interested in and experienced with talking about, and how they fight in with your current PR strategy. While it can be tempting to take all the opportunities you can get, contributed content and media coverage doesn’t link back to your organization’s purpose and business goals is fluff.
Once you’ve identified the target topics, flesh out talking points with messaging that relates to your value proposition without being self-promotional. Go over the messaging points with the executive, then schedule a 1:1 media training session for them where they’ll get grilled on those talking points. With the feedback from that session in mind, work with them to refine their delivery of the messages until they become comfortable with the subject matter, and no longer feel scripted.
After you’ve determined the right topical fit for them, you’re ready to dive into the following influence-building tactics:
These small steps will help your executives start building their public profile as a subject matter expert.
Despite the communications team’s best efforts, not all executives are cut out to be thought leaders. Despite the careful crafting of talking points and hands-on media training, things like this happen:
Luckily, these sorts of examples are outliers. Most of your executives aren’t going to have significant liabilities—like being a serial sexual harasser or an alcoholic—you have to work around. At most, you’ll just have to temper their enthusiasm and expectations. Building a profile as an industry thought leader takes time. But with the proper planning and support, you can get your executive team on the road to being your biggest PR assets.