A PR thought leader must be part explorer, advocate and activist – a curious mix that can be a terrific boost to your career.
One of the skills you – the leader – need is the ability to spot trends likely to affect your organisation and team. This applies to all leaders but specially to PR leaders.
Communications, communities and institutions are changing at lighting speed and unless we anticipate the future we can easily find ourselves marooned in present practice with outdated skills and talking to audiences that have long moved on.
Feeling the future
Thought leadership is about preparing your career, your team and your organisation for the future. It involves assessing what is likely to happen next in your professional or industrial environment. Unlike managers who operate in the here and now, thought leaders explore what is likely to happen two to three years hence.
Your ability to forecast must be coupled with the ability to articulate the impact of change, develop a response and negotiate a way ahead. It requires negotiation because you are thinking and planning way out in front of others so you must be able to persuade them – including fellow leaders – to accommodate the future by shifting the way things are done.
Thought leadership without action is prophesy. A PR thought leader must be part explorer, advocate and activist. That curious mix can provide a terrific boost to our careers. It shows our bosses we know what is trending in issues critical to them which makes us invaluable when they make decisions.
Yet thought leadership is also a responsibility. Communicators are charged to see competitors and issues do not outrun our organisations in the marketplace of opinions. And if we manage a team of PR professionals we have a duty to anticipate and provide the training and development they will need for what we will ask of them in coming months and years.
Step #1 – still yourself
In our frantically busy lives it takes discipline to be a thought leader – to create time to look forward, sense and then actively research likely disruptions. You need to devote conscious effort to track internal developments, attend to industry news, monitor traditional and social media and seek the company of inspirational thinkers. All of which produces a state of awareness through which we develop an intuitive feel for what might happen next.
Spotting a relevant trend is never an exact science yet the more you indulge in forecasting the more comfortable you become.
Step #2 – add perspective
After deeming a trend is important we need to contextualise its likely influence on organisation and our people. Even though it may be well into the future what might it mean – now and then – for our calendar, programs or operations? Will the impact be beneficial or harmful? Will it derail existing arrangements or be revolutionary enough to compel a new frame of reference?
Step #3 – weaponise trends
You weaponise trends by developing the content and skills to implement them. This means setting aside time, money and mental effort to gather fresh data, acquire new knowledge, upgrade existing information, improve technical skills or be re-educated and retrained in different directions.
You implement a trend using your newly created or improved skills and knowledge through strategies such as media relations, marketing, social media, advertising, client and stakeholder relations, lobbying etc. Or perhaps through entirely new approaches. And, as in other PR activities you must measure and adjust your efforts to reach the desired state.
Thought leadership is not a task for those interested only in immediate returns. You can’t be a thought leader one day and abandon the role the next. It is an ongoing processes of picking trends, assessing impacts and weaponising for change that takes months even years to bring shifts in PR practice.