Are You Too Nervous To Be a Thought Leader?

"No comment" responses won't make you a thought leader.

nervous nellyYou’ll hear PR pros often say that it’s important for clients to be thought leaders. A lot of PRs even fancy themselves as thought leaders, quick to respond to journalists when they come knocking for comment on another how-to story about creating a solid pitch, targeting a certain market or launching a campaign. All of these things are important, and insightful comments are appreciated.

But ask a PR to use that thought leadership on big public relations topics that have news relevance and a good number of specialists will shrink away instantly, citing “clients” and “conflicts” and vague feelings about what’s “appropriate.” Here’s a chance to showcase your expertise in a way that actually connects to real-life scenarios that we’re all talking about in real time. But most of those chances are declined.

There is such a thing as being too cautious.

Let’s take Roger Goodell’s press conference from last Friday. It was an unmitigated disaster. You will be hard pressed to find anyone who will say otherwise. But ask PR firms how the presser could have been improved, what needed to be said, or how to make talking points more effective — even speaking generally — and you get a lot of “we’ll pass on that” and “we have no comment.” Unless it’s on “deep background” or some such nonsense.

Some clients are really weird and sensitive. And if you’re working with a member of an industry that’s under assault, focusing on the interests of the client would be the best business move. But we’ll venture an educated guess and say that a good portion of this hesitation is coming from nervous PRs who fear imagined disapproval from clients. As a result, firms sacrifice the opportunity to talk up their own smarts and capabilities.

Or perhaps there’s a fear of offending prospective clients? That future client of your fantasies that has a fist full of dollars that they were ready to toss at you until they did some research… and came across a great quote about how to improve a PR initiative? That actually that sounds like a good thing.

Admittedly, I’m coming from the POV of the person asking the question and getting the “no comment” response. The folks covering the PR and marketing beat understand that there are some things you can’t talk about. But some of these sensitivities and no comments come off as simply ridiculous. Particularly when we’re faced with an inbox of pitches for non-stories that firms are willing to spend 10 minutes talking about.

A “thought leader” is someone who pushes the discussion forward. A person or organization who sees where there are problems and offers suggestions, knowledge and solutions. It’s a positive thing that makes you and your firm seem attuned to what’s happening in the world and builds a positive reputation for your work. Don’t be so scared to toss in your two cents every now and again. You could find that there’s a much bigger return on that investment.

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