The critical role of thought leadership in public relations

In this blog post, we will discuss thought leadership and its role in business, observing what it is, how to go about it, why using thought leadership in PR campaigns is essential. We will also explore the role of thought leadership in a PR strategy.

published: March 22, 2024
updated: June 26, 2024

We’ve all seen a familiar face pop up on TV, invited by the news channel to talk about a topic. That person is there for their in-depth knowledge of the subject and the contribution and insight they can offer (and, of course, to make good TV). This, in essence, is thought leadership.

When someone is a 'go-to' on a subject, they can become sought after in their industry, and beyond.

Thought leadership PR presents a uniquely valuable opportunity for business leaders to demonstrate expertise, build a trustworthy relationship with their audience, and gain new ones.

In short, it's one of the best tools a PR specialist can use. It requires planning, having genuine insight to share, and being consistent. But the rewards can be worth it, as you'll see.

What is thought leadership?

According to this definition from WGU, thought leadership is:

"..the expression of ideas that demonstrate you have expertise in a particular field, area, or topic".

Therefore, thought leaders are those who build credibility with their trusted knowledge and that may be 'in-demand' when it comes to their know-how in a certain field.

While often overlooked, thought leadership is a key component in marketing. When building your reputation as an expert in your field, consider leveraging your opinion as an individual or representative of a company to carry greater weight and boost your influence across the industry.

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Why thought leadership is important in public relations?

“ truly build your reputation you will have to establish yourself as a thought leader”.

(From ‘The PR Paradox’)

Reputation is paramount when it comes to building a successful brand. Sadly, this doesn’t happen overnight (if only). Establishing yourself as a thought leader is, therefore, a great way for any startup or scaleup to show just how knowledgeable they are, and a useful way to differentiate from rivals. But what else can it bring to the table?


Improved visibility

Whether via regular blogging, LinkedIn posts, podcasts, or industry reports, thought leadership can raise awareness of your brand among those in the industry, new customers, and the investor community, who will, in time, be listening and learning from what you have to say if you’re consistent and on point.

It may take time, but by consistently offering your insights, you’ll increase brand awareness and establish yourself as an industry leader with an audience.

It goes without saying that these could lead to investment opportunities down the line.


Increased sales

A thought leadership program can help startups and scaleups increase their sales and contribute to meaningful business growth.

According to research done by the Hinge Research Institute, C-suite executives are willing to pay the highest-profile leaders over 14 times more than a standard professional, further emphasizing the benefits of such a strategy.

Moreover, almost 60% of business decision-makers said authority figures could directly lead to closed-won deals and that it convinced them to buy a product or service they were not thinking about before. Developing thought leadership is a key component of building your brand, as it efficiently communicates your company’s expertise. Additionally, it makes it easier for prospects to identify your unique value proposition (UVP) and unique selling proposition (USP). And as a result, it increases your uniqueness, reliability, and authority.



It takes time to grow trust among your markets and niches. As a thought leader, you demonstrate what value your owned knowledge adds to the industry. You display that you understand what you’re talking about, applying your expertise to a particular topic.

When more people start turning to you for your insights and opinions, you become validated as a trustworthy source of information. In time, credibility is gained when people feel like you create added value for them through the information you supply the market with.


Greater opportunities

When you're a startup, getting your name out there can be quite a challenge, especially if your budget doesn't stretch to advertising (and even if it does, you may find this limiting to long-term success). It is people’s awareness of you that will bring you revenue. TL provides a great way to increase sales and opportunities.

Getting published or gaining traction with an opinion can significantly boost your profile and lead to speaking or published opportunities. These can provide access to broader networks from which to leverage for reach and increase sales.


Ups your PR game

A world of content opportunities awaits as you utilize podcasts, interviews, whitepapers, and blogs to showcase your expertise on a given topic. As a thought leader, your industry presence gathers increased attention from your audience as you differentiate yourself from competitors. By showcasing a unique perspective with a diverse portfolio of content and engagements, you position yourself as a leader, rather than a follower.

This can lead to interview invitations, guest speaking engagements, panel discussions, and more. It's even better if you can showcase your personal experiences and learnings and how they have made a difference or improved things. This adds a layer of authenticity and creates value for readers or followers.


Competitive advantage

Thought leadership creates a unique business avenue of service offerings that are not necessarily otherwise available. For example, a specialist advisory is difficult to come by in many niche tech sectors. As a thought leader in this industry, you hold the potential to differentiate yourself from the competition as the holder of valuable knowledge in an area.

In this case, authority can be used as a marketing tool to promote the expert market guidance or advisory services you can offer. This gives you an edge over other players in your market.

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How to become a thought leader

Every industry has thought leaders who offer new ideas and push conversations to better their industries. It's the dream of most PR professionals to get their clients seen this way. Many thought leaders are in enviable positions of authority, and some are almost considered brands themselves. Just think of Elon Musk or Bill Gates. But how do they do this?

Having real expertise

A thought leader is an expert in their field, both in knowing and setting the trends in their industry. They display a great deal of market knowledge, which they share with other experts in the field and their own followers. Thought leaders gain credibility through endorsements from other key parties in their industry. This status is built over time by offering consistent value and support to a community.

If you are in a data-rich industry with access to public or private data, then collecting the data and using it to show your expertise is one step to becoming an effective thought leader.

An example of one firm that uses data to position itself as an expert in an industry is uSwitch, a comparison service in the UK, which is regularly asked to send representatives to appear on television stations such as the BBC to discuss changes in pricing and regulation relating to the energy and broadband markets.

Providing value

Thought leaders have clear value to offer to their industry. This added value is conveyed through consistent communication. This can be provided through sharing insights, giving guidance, and showing support for those in their field. Their active engagement lets them stay on top of trends, discussion points, and key issues.

Thought leaders are passionate about improving their industry and continuously offer insights to support and engage with people.

A loyal following

Industry experts share their knowledge with others to better the future of their industry’s practices. This is how they build a loyal following and gain a reputable status in the industry, with credibility and clear value-adding insights.

Thought leaders address the needs of their field. Their followers come to value their insights and look to them for guidance. Adobe is an organisation that uses the power of listening to what customers have questions about and publishing answers. Their impressive blog is a go-to resource for everyone in the creative design industry.

Connection between the leader and the brand

There needs to be a connection between the leader and brand. It isn’t just a case of spouting off what you k ow. An individual's insights should match the brand's values and vision. Doing so reinforces the brand's identity and mission and showcases a consistent narrative—great for fostering genuine connections with your audience.

Once established, this trust can be powerful. In the age of social media where what people say is scrutinized, you can’t put a value on true authenticity. Authenticity fosters connections and brings credibility. Readers will more likely become true followers if they feel they’re hearing from a real person.

Being consistent

So, you’ve written one post that gained a lot of traction. This is good, but it is just the start of your journey. No one can build a strong thought leadership reputation on one contribution alone. You need to regularly communicate with followers.

This gives people the expectation that you have something to say.

You want to be in a position where people look forward to and seek your input. Irregular or minimal content will not help you become the thought leader you were destined to be.

It doesn't have to be just sharing yourself; engaging with others on their content can gradually increase visibility and help you become known.

How to integrate thought leadership into your PR strategy?

Hopefully, you’ve seen why a thought leadership strategy is a great thing.

Never pass promoting your company as thought leadership.

It just won’t wash with today’s audiences. This doesn’t mean you can’t discuss your products, but it needs to be closely related to your overarching message. To be a true thought leader means prioritizing your audience and bringing their needs to the fore of what you do. Here are some other useful pointers to think about:


Target audience

Aim to please, but don’t aim for everyone. Identifying your target's persona means your message will more likely impact them. As the old saying goes, you can't please everyone. Some take the 'kitchen sink approach'—and aim to cover all bases. While it's better to produce some content over none, it's creating a relevant experience for the audience that'll take your thought leadership up a notch, so be as specific as possible when trying to reach these personas.


Develop the content marketing plan

You need a solid content strategy to become a thought leader. Find out your target personas stomping ground, aka where they get information and what they read. Listen and lean in. Once you’ve got this, you can assess how they like to digest information. Podcast? Video? Don’t be afraid to repurpose any existing content to match this. This can be a great way to reach your audience. Don’t neglect the ‘softer’ content either. Infographics and tutorial videos can make content more compelling and understandable.

It's important to consider your objectives. You need a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Agreeing on a desired outcome should be the first thing your people do when planning a thought leadership strategy What does this look like? Is it coverage in certain publications? Is it public speaking engagements? From here, evaluate any current activities. Use the information gained to focus on objectives and then who your target audience should be.

Determine your thought leaders. You need to be strategic here. Consider your goals and people’s areas of expertise and if they possess any special credentials or unique experience. If you want to hit your audiences with tech proficiency leadership, maybe get your CTO to do the honors. Some other things to think about: Can they regularly contribute? Is what you want to say plausible for who is saying it? Also, what is their level of writing? Review their Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Create detailed biographies in line with your goals identified earlier, and ensure the content matches the style of the leader you wish to amplify

Another important component is attracting organic traffic with SEO strategies. You want people to read it after all. Consider ways to do this while still creating high-quality content.


Get started with an editorial calendar

This is where you begin your attack plan. Create an editorial calendar that details the above content marketing strategy and who and where you want to reach people. This becomes your blueprint for your thought leadership strategy, ensuring everything is well thought out and planned. It breaks down tasks and projects and provides key dates.


Engage with the community and stakeholders

Active participation in relevant communities, online forums, and industry events can boost your visibility and credibility as a thought leader. Encourage your thought leaders to engage in meaningful conversations, answer questions, and share insights on platforms where your target audience is active. This direct engagement can reinforce your brand's position as an industry leader.


Leverage partnerships and collaborations

Collaborating with other thought leaders, industry influencers, and organizations can amplify your reach and lend additional credibility to your message. Look for opportunities to co-create content, participate in joint webinars, or contribute to industry reports. These partnerships can provide new platforms for your thought leaders to share their expertise.


Continuous learning and adaptation

The market and industry trends are constantly evolving, so it's crucial for your thought leaders to stay informed and adapt their content and messaging accordingly. Encourage continuous learning and flexibility in your strategy to ensure your thought leadership remains relevant and impactful.


Integration with overall marketing and PR efforts

Ensure that your thought leadership strategy is not siloed but integrated with your broader marketing and PR efforts. Align messages across all channels to reinforce your brand's narrative and thought leadership position. This cohesive approach can enhance brand consistency and impact.


Measure impact

This can be difficult. What is it you measure exactly? You may have had many views, but this isn’t necessarily proof of your thought leadership prowess. It is far better to look at what you were aiming to what you got. For example, if you were pushing for speaking opportunities and got invites. Similarly, high social media engagement and increased followers could be evidence of your voice being heard. A real measurement of success though would be these followers reposting your thoughts or linking to your sitet. Tracking backlinks via SEMrush gives you an idea of how much your content or ideas are valued by others. Also, make note of branded queries. This is when people look for your brand’s name or product in Google. Correlate this to your thought leadership strategy and your aims.

What is our approach as a thought leadership PR agency?

Thought leadership aims to place key execs and leaders in the limelight and can be a very effective way to promote a company. By positioning a company and its execs as leaders, you not only raise positive exposure, but it can directly lead to increased demand and company growth. Investing in a thought leadership PR agency means you can create a strategy from start to finish. It also means they can reach out for you for public speaking engagements and to place your opinion pieces.

Having a PR agency in your corner can make all the difference to gaining coverage.

Don’t forget, its important to be genuine in your efforts and not be afraid to go against the grain of opinion. PRLab adopts an innovative approach to public relations that emphasizes the integration of thought leadership within PR campaigns.

We recognize the power of thought leadership in establishing brand authority and credibility in the market. By strategically positioning clients as experts in their respective fields, PRLab crafts compelling narratives that resonate with target audiences and media alike. Our method involves a deep understanding of industry trends, challenges, and opportunities, enabling them to create content that not only informs but also inspires action. This content is then skillfully woven into PR campaigns, ensuring that every communication piece, from press releases to social media posts, reflects the client's thought leadership. Through this approach, PRLab not only amplifies our clients' voices but also elevates their stature in the industry, making them go-to sources for insights, commentary, and innovation.

March 22, 2024
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