The 10 Commandments of Smart Executive Thought Leadership

Thought leadership will take center stage in 2016.

Smart brands will continue to expand their content offerings to all members of the executive team, not just the CEO. From the Head of Sales to General Counsel, each executive can be branded as an expert, creating bylined content for publication that impresses current and potential clients.

While a smart executive thought leadership campaign is a proven way to distinguish your company from the competition, all pieces are not created equal.

There are smart ways to go about thought leadership and not-so-smart ways. You'd be surprised by how often business leaders fail to take the right approach.

Here are the 10 Commandments of executive thought leadership. Defy them at your peril:

1. Thou shalt be news driven. There was a time when evergreen pieces had value. When print was still the center of the news universe, reporters and editors had to bank stories for the weekend edition. Those days are long gone. Now, online media is ruled by what might be called the tyranny of the present. That is, what's going on right now is intensely interesting. Everything else falls by the wayside.

2. Thou shalt write compelling headlines. It's impossible to overstate the importance of headlines. To write an effective one, you have to be SEO-friendly, clever but not too clever and summarize the article well in as few words as possible. You also have to walk the line between prompting someone to check the story out without resorting to clickbait.

3. Thou shalt write specific sub-headlines. Readers usually don't have much time and they're often viewing content on their smartphones. To help them more easily understand your argument, make your sub-headlines very specific to what you're arguing. If you can't boil it down to 10 words or so, then your argument may be too complex.

4. Thou shalt be timely. That huge issue in your industry? No one will want to read about it a week later. In our short attention span-ruled media environment, even four days is pushing it. If you can't turn around a piece within 72 hours of a big media story, then move on to the next thing.

5. Thou shalt pay attention to research. News doesn't always have to be based on an action. Research is an oft-overlooked news hook that gives you entrée to weigh in on larger trends that would otherwise go unnoticed.

6. Thou shalt consider SEO. Today's news organizations are fueled by what people are searching. That's why you're better off checking Google Trends or Twitter's trending topics than the newspaper's front page. Editors are usually under a certain amount of pressure to deliver page views. Help them.

7. Thou shalt add something to the narrative. There's nothing interesting about reiterating what people already know or stating the obvious reaction. In news, the classic example is "man bites dog" because dogs bite men all the time and offering a twist provokes interest. Adding to a narrative doesn't always have to be counterintuitive.

A recent example: After The New York Times ran its expose of Amazon's brutal work culture, Dustin Moskovitz, a Facebook cofounder, ran a Medium post that argued that a law of diminishing returns applies to work hours. The post added something to the original narrative - proof that an alternative existed.

8. Thou shalt have an opinion. Taking a stand on issues is divisive. Inevitably, some people - perhaps even most people - are going to disagree with you. Alienating part of the population doesn't come naturally to business leaders, but if you don't take a stand, then no one will read it. So express an opinion or don't bother.

9. Thou shalt follow the guidelines of the publication. Most publications do not want you to self-promote. An op-ed that's merely a thinly disguised sales pitch won't get traction anyway. If you make an intelligent argument, readers will look up your name and affiliation. This soft sell technique works much better. Aside from content, tone is important. If you're writing for marketing executives, then you will probably sound different than if you're writing for lawyers.

10. Thou shalt promote via social media. You've written your op-ed and it's been picked up. Congratulations! Now go out and bang the drum. Link to it on Facebook, tweet about it and post it on Medium and LinkedIn. If people comment, comment back. If you're not doing this follow up, then you're missing out on many of the benefits of executive thought leadership.

As you are planning your PR campaign for 2016, a strong thought leadership campaign for your entire executive team can be an invaluable component - if it's done right. Follow these 10 commandments and you just might find your business obtains heavenly results.

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