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Don’t like what the press says about your industry? It’s time to become a thought leader.

If you are tired of hearing opinions about how agriculture or energy businesses should operate that don’t align with your position, it is time to take the reins and shape the narrative as a thought leader.

This strategic approach positions your internal experts as external authorities in your industry. It means sharing unique insights and innovative ideas or sharing compelling industry knowledge.

Thought leaders earn trust and credibility, and they influence and guide customers, clients, partners, regulators or vendors in their space.

Elevating your communications strategy into a thought leadership position requires six key steps:

Identify where you have strong positions and unique expertise.

Agriculture and energy businesses face an onslaught of changes and regulations every day. From consumers to regulators, it may seem like everyone has an opinion on how your organization should run or what your products and services should look like.

If your team finds themselves reading daily news articles and saying, “I wish they knew and would have talked about X, Y or Z,” that’s a clue you could be ready for a thought leadership strategy.

The best indicator is if, behind closed doors, you have a leader who can combat every external notion with facts, anecdotes and a strategic approach to why your organization is on its path, you’re likely ready. These strongly held beliefs and foundational industry insights are perfect content for thought leadership strategies.

Get comfortable talking about more than product features and benefits.

Our team often receives press release drafts focused on the newest widget or service with no reference to why it matters to customers nor how it fits into the current marketplace.

To elevate your communications to thought leadership, you must clearly and consistently explain your why.

Bravely consider new content angles and opportunities.

One of the best ways to elevate your content to thought leadership status is by synthesizing complex data or ideas into simple, easy-to-understand anecdotes. If your customers or partners seem confused about an issue, explain your point of view with clear examples and a confident position.

Consider additional questions to elevate your content to thought leadership, such as:

• What does our organization believe about common issues facing our industry?

• Are there regulations we support or oppose for which we can offer important insights to help others make better decisions for our industry?

• What is happening in the news today that relates to how we think about the future of our industry?

• Are we moving in a direction that others might not understand?

Side note: Providing concise data, infographics or images to explain your position enhances your thought leadership position.

Back up your position with proprietary research.

If you don’t have the data or industrywide analytics to back up your position, consider investing in your own research. Consumer survey results create instant newsworthy angles for reporters looking for fresh ideas. Make sure you’re using statistically relevant methods and are transparent in your results to heighten your role as a trusted resource.

Get ready with message training.

Message training equips your experts with the skills and knowledge to effectively communicate with the media or antagonists.

When your opinion is leading the pack or truly unique, it can be hard to put your trust in a reporter to tell your story the way you want. This lack of control over the final message can be daunting. But with proper message training, your team can learn how to effectively communicate your position.

Specifically, preparing for media interviews creates focus in your messages and helps you remain calm and in control—even in the toughest interview situations.

Share and distribute your thought leadership.

Remember, thought leadership is a long-term strategy that can take months and years to create. Once you know what you want to talk about and why, there are a variety of mediums you can use to assert your position, including:

• Editorial board meetings.

• Letters to editors.

• Legislative outreach efforts.

• Media outreach and interviews.

• Speaking engagements.

• Trade/press events.

For complex issues, we often recommend white papers outlining multiple sides of an issue, providing clear direction, and showcasing your leadership as subject matter experts. These documents are typically five to seven pages and include charts and graphs and strong, data-backed footnotes.

These white papers can easily become the centerpiece for ongoing discussions on the local, regional and national levels, such as:

• Interviews with key reporters to discuss the findings and implications.

• Speeches and presentations at conferences.

• Amplification across all social media platforms.

• Create a presentation and other assets for members to use.

How do you know when you’re a thought leader?

Because building a thought leadership position can be a slow and arduous process, it’s important to keep your eye on the long-term prize(s). You are on the right track in your program when it’s easier to garner media attention and your experts are getting quoted. Industry peers may also take note of your position and reach out to seek counsel or offer support in your position.

Your social media and content may earn more followers, likes and shares. Measure your website traffic and keep tabs on your white paper downloads and views. As these key performance indicators start to ramp up, consider investing more deeply in speaking engagements or industry visibility.

Thought leadership is an important journey to differentiate your organization and stand your ground on issues and ideas critical to your success. Make a plan to share your team’s unique insights and innovative ideas and showcase your industry knowledge in a compelling and believable way.