Here at Abel Communications, we have long engaged in delivering successful Thought Leadership programs for clients, whereby industry experts become recognized leaders in their field through writing, speaking, media opportunities, and awards. Truth be told, I have never loved the term, “Thought Leader,” but no one around here has come up with anything better! So what is a “Thought Leader” and how do you become one?

How about if we make a little deal? I’ll provide a step-by-step overview of how to run a successful Thought Leadership program and maybe you can help me come up with a new way to describe them. (Subject Matter Expert (SME) is off the table, by the way, it’s kind of the same jargonny thing). 

The first thing you need is a person who is actually an expert. Someone with experience and credentials. I’ll tell an old story to bring the process to life. Years ago, we worked with an actuarial services firm that provided guidance to its clients on how to best manage healthcare expenses. Riveting work, right? Well maybe not, but quite important and very impactful to the bottom line. There was this guy, Rob, at the firm, who like most actuaries worked in relative anonymity because he was, after all, an actuary.

Ah, but then an interesting thing happened. We started working with Rob around the time that the Affordable Care Act became law, and this had a major impact on how businesses were required to provide healthcare for employees. It was, and still is, a big deal, and Rob quickly became an expert in understanding the nuances of the legislation.

With our help and planning, this scenario immediately transformed Rob from a behind-the-scenes guy to a potential front-of-camera guy. We knew there would be a strong appetite from the business press and community for Rob’s expertise, we just had to get him ready. Here’s what we did, and still do for the experts we work with: 

  1. Updated Rob’s bio and headshot into a nice, one-page summary: We took professional photos, and re-wrote Rob’s professional summary to reflect his expertise in this niche topic. Tip: never skimp on great photos and write short, punchy bios. 
  2. Provided media and presentation training: Rob had never had any experience being interviewed; so we provided a workshop and follow-up “reps” in the form of practice interviews and video playback. Just like an NFL team’s film room, but for dorks. Tip: not every interview will be with 60 Minutes. Start with the company blog and go from there.
  3. Began posting guidance on his LinkedIn profile: A great way to get started in building a reputation as an expert is to provide guidance and help on LinkedIn. A key point here is helping, not “look at me” type stuff. Tip: if you are starting a post with, “I am excited to share…” you are probably not helping.
  4. Built a media list of relevant outlets and contacts: We scoured our databases and built a target list of reporters who were covering the new healthcare legislation and its implications. We made these reporters aware of Rob as a resource who could help them. Tip: Like with the LinkedIn posts, the emphasis here was, is and always will be received best when your expert is providing guidance or insight, aka helping.
  5. And lastly, we regularly interviewed Rob: Around here, we like to say to our Thought Leadership clients, “you talk, we write.” These experts just need to spend about a half hour with us and from that discussion, we build out blog posts, media pitches, awards nominations, and op-eds. Tip: a great PR firm or marketer can make a big impact with a little, focused input from an expert. But a necessary key is their active participation in the process.

So, what happened with Rob? He ended up being quoted in dozens of stories about changes to the healthcare landscape; he became a part of a regular, ongoing panel in his local business journal, answering questions from readers about his area of expertise; his clients and prospects noticed all this helping he was doing; and he earned their ongoing trust and new referrals. 

Over the years we’ve gotten even better at this process. Helping people like Rob help others so that they, in turn, succeed at deeper and more rewarding levels is one of the wonderful outcomes of a successful Thought Leadership program. Rob had long been an expert in his field, but the program made him a Thought Leader … until we come up with a better name. 

Got someone on your team who deserves the spotlight? Drop me a line at and let’s talk! 

Or follow this link to learn more about our custom Thought Leadership offering.