Sharon Robustelli, founder and CEO of TEN3 Public Relations, discusses why thought leadership and executive visibility should be a standalone service. Sharon explains why companies should utilize the service to effectively communicate change. Sharon also talks about why companies are shifting away from having one company spokesperson and highlighting multiple members of the C-suite instead.
DOUG: Welcome to our Thought leadership program. And we’re going to be talking thought leadership, because, Sharon, your take is that thought leadership and executive visibility should really be a standalone service.
SHARON: Absolutely. I am really amazed that so few agencies have thought about this as a standalone service, at least in my experience in agency life, because it is an offering that can benefit a number of companies at various levels within their history. So for us, it’s absolutely a standalone service. And what we find is that there are a number of companies that come to us who aren’t in a position or don’t fully yet need a full marketing communications program, but they do need to be able to share their point of view, show why they’re different than the competition and often a thought leadership program on its own is the way to do that.
DOUG: You’ve touched on this, but how do you know if the thought Leadership Program, Executive Visibility program is the right fit? When is it a right fit? When maybe isn’t it a right fit?
SHARON: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things that we look at generally, and one is if a company is in sort of a parity industry, where it’s difficult to distinguish one company from another. For example, if you look at the staffing industry, it’s hard to know one executive recruiting firm from the other. So one thing that they can leverage is their leadership, and that’s a way to connect that company to their specific target audience in a way that distinguishes them from from the competition and gives them a point of distinction where people can recognize, oh, this company has a point of view, this leader has a point of view that I agree with. I think I can learn something from them and then maybe that can be one way to do it. Another way is if you’re in a certain stage in your company. For us, we look at milestones. So are you about to hit a significant revenue goal? Are you on the verge of a fundraising round? Are you looking to achieve another business goal that makes sense? So a milestone like that is another thing that could determine if someone is good for an executive visibility or thought leadership program. If you’re in an industry that lends itself naturally to thought leadership, think about research companies. They are identifying trends. They are looking at trends in business trends in pop culture. They have a number of studies that they’ve completed that can lend itself to someone being able to share that. Another thing, too, is that a number of research companies have developed proprietary tools, measuring tools, and so why not be able to talk about that and use that in a way that’s going to meet the needs of your very specific audience? It may not be a B to C need, but in terms of B to B, it’s a way to meet a very specific targeted audience. So those would be two examples of how we would determine if someone’s a good fit for a thought leadership program.
DOUG: What if the person at the helm of the organization might not be the best from either personality or comfort level with being out there? How important is it that they actually have to be out there and what are some ways you work around that, if it’s sort of a challenging person or personality in that role?
SHARON: Yeah, we have come up against that and I would say there’s two things that we do. One would be to focus on written communication for someone who may not be comfortable in front of the camera, may not be the best actual spokesperson for their business. But bylined articles is an excellent way to be able to share our point of view, we work with our clients directly to create those so they’re not on the hook to be a master writer. But if it’s something along the lines of you working with that person to make sure that their point of view comes across, written communication across social media is an excellent way to do it. And also in their key trade publications and business publications.
DOUG: And we have seen a time of accelerated change since the start of the pandemic.
SHARON: Absolutely. Absolutely. So it’s really important for people to hear directly from the companies leadership how they’re changing to meet those needs that we now are being so prevalent, and also to not have only the younger startups be the ones that are focusing on change. Companies put a lot a lot of revenue behind internal programs and when the time is right, it’s really a good idea to get your leadership to talk about that so that people really understand that, hey, just because they’re a large company, it doesn’t mean that they’re not changing with the times, it doesn’t mean that they’re not innovating. So it’s a great way to really let people continue to have that affinity for your company and your brand.
DOUG: You’ve been speaking a good bit about startups, companies on their way up. What about for companies that have been around for a while, the Fortune 140, fortune 250, you’ve been consulting and giving some advice. What sort of a guidance you’re giving larger companies about the importance of executive visibility?
SHARON: One of the things that we deal with with larger companies, more mature companies that have been around and have kind of that name value like household brands or names, is to really talk about how you are recognizing and changing with the times, how you are understanding what consumer needs are and how they’re shifting. And that’s one way to to really get out there if you are a more mature company or a larger company, because often those companies are ones where people feel that they know who they are, they know what they stand for. But this is a time where in a time of change and flux. So if you’re doing a lot of internal programs and you’re working on, let’s say, your diversity initiatives, then it’s really important to have someone within your company, your leadership, talk about what you’re doing, because people would love to know that a brand that they’ve supported over years or generations even is actually paying attention to their needs and changing and shifting to meet those needs.
DOUG: How do you measure if a campaign is successful and is driving results in impact?
SHARON: Yeah, I would say in addition to the standard kind of PR metrics such as impressions and social engagement, thought leadership programs can be measured often based on direct impact on the business. For example, did you attract new business, new clients? And they will literally say to our clients, we really love reading your blog, we really loved the recent articles you wrote on LinkedIn or I read about you in our trade publication. So often it can be directly related to the work that we do. Another example is, are you attracting new team members? Again, it’s when you’re getting your point of view out there and you’re distinguishing yourself from your competitors and you’re showing that you have an eye not only on your business and the bottom line, but what’s happening in the industry. You’re able to attract both business as well as team members. And we all know how difficult that is in this environment to attract staff and to keep them. So those are two metrics that we’re happy to say we’ve been able to see really move the needle for our clients.
DOUG: You know, one trend we’ve been both seeing and pushing ourselves, is encouraging clients when they do the satellite media tours, which is a core part of our business, to feature a company expert, company spokesperson as opposed to a third party. And that’s something that’s definitely gaining in popularity. Given your experience, are there other trends you are seeing in thought leadership and executive visibility that you could maybe share to give insights to the people watching?
SHARON: Absolutely. I would say yes, we still have and are seeing there’s the single charismatic leader being put front and center to share their point of view. But we are in terms of trends, we’re seeing a move maybe not away from that, but expanding on that. And that would be companies leaning on their entire C-suite to become advocates for their brand, because what that does is that gives us additional verticals potentially that we can target. So, which also hits on my next point, which is diversity across all touchpoints is going to continue to be in trend. So, for example, if perhaps your CEO is not a woman but someone else in your C-suite, your COO or CMO, is, that is another vertical that you can address and you can now reach women in leadership and you can now look at some of the other factors that influence women in business. So I would say leaning on your entire C-suite is going to be a trend that will continue.
DOUG: Any final thoughts you’d like to leave the audience with?
SHARON: Yeah, thanks so much for asking that. I would say that everyone has an asset within their company that they may not be leveraging. And I would just say, look at the people within your organization as your first asset, your first leveragable asset. So if you’re a startup and you’re still building that business, think about how your leadership can be out there talking about what you’re doing, sharing those wins that you’re having while you’re continuing to build that business. Because often people wait until they have what they consider a measure of success or until they’ve reached a certain milestone. But as you’re working toward that, think about how you can be communicating that story. People love to follow a journey. So think about how you can be doing that and building your business at the same time.
DOUG: Great advice and thanks so much for participating in the show. It’s been great to talk to you.
SHARON: Thanks so much, Doug. It was great speaking with you as well.