By Deborah Burgess, Senior Account Director, Good Relations
At our latest Thought Leadership Project event last week we welcomed Asa Bennett, Brexit commissioning editor at the Telegraph, and Allan Williams, Head of Press and Communications at the British Chambers of Commerce, to discuss how a point of view can engage business. Here are five things we learned:
1. Have a strong point of view, but don’t feel the need to be extreme. Controversy is often perceived as an essential ingredient for thought leadership, but our panellists (and we) disagree. It may be the chosen method of Michael O’Leary, but you can have a compelling point of view without being controversial.
2. Don’t be afraid of the middle ground. Whilst controversial views may seem like the way to cut through in a crowd, our panellists agreed there is a vital place for a reliable voice of reason. Providing structured, well researched and informative commentary is more valuable in the long-term. Accenture has made a name for themselves as the source of reliable insight, and are thought of as leaders in their field, without courting controversy.
3. Don’t join in the debate just for the sake of it. You need to make sure you know what you want to say, and who you want to say it to. Our panellists acknowledged it can be tempting to worry about a lull in coverage, but it’s important not to enter the debate just for the sake of it. Journalists, and comment editors in particular, are sent a raft of content every day, but it’s the ones expressed by people with skin in the game that make it to print. It goes back to our first learning - the need to be authentic.
4. Think before you speak, or you might find yourself a political football. The timely example of Paul Polman finding himself on the Today Programme on the morning of our event was discussed. During the interview, Paul was trying to convince listeners that Unilever’s decision to move to the Netherlands was not because of Brexit. However, having aligned itself with the Remain camp with the warning that Unilever would “be negatively impacted if the UK were to leave the EU”, this proved a tough task. The lesson here is simple: even if your business isn’t of the size of Unilever, it can pay to be measured in your messaging and keep your powder dry around issues where you might need to change direction.
5. Don’t forget the Government is run by adults. Some were concerned calling on the Government for policy change might hurt their reputation in the long term. But others in our audience had a more positive experience and found working with the Government delivered real dividends. Balancing criticism with positive suggestions is crucial to maintaining the balance between making a leading contribution to debate and making enemies in high places. This applies equally to suppliers: you don’t always need to be totally aligned on your worldview to do business together.
By the end of the session a clear POV had formed amongst our audience ... that their organisations needed one and quickly!