How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

A Story to Make All the Communicators Faint

Resolved: There is no communication tactic that has more strategic potential for your organization or your personal brand than publishing a regular email newsletter. 

Snicker. How old-fashioned. But hear me out, and then email back if you disagree.

I was looking with a client at the numbers for his fledgling monthly newsletter — just two issues old. “Your open rates have been fine, but your clicks could be better,” I said. “That’s an indicator of how attractive the content is. They’re opening the email, but none of the content seems sexy enough to read.”

“OK, let’s do a theme issue next time — on the new roles big data is and should be playing in the sector,” he said.

Wow. Where did that response come from? Why didn’t he say something like “what are you going to do about that?”

Because we had built his list with strategic contacts, and he had skin in the game. He didn’t want to waste their time. He’d taken the risk of asking for their attention by asking them to opt in to the newsletter; now he had to hold that attention.

And so we brainstormed for 30 minutes on new kinds of content around the theme. The features included:

  • A short, controversial opener by the client about how most everyone in his sector is getting big data wrong — and the conceptual shift they need to make to move to the next level;
  • A four-question Q&A between the client and a prospective strategic partner who is a sector leader on how to use big data creatively — a partner from whom everyone on the list would want to hear;
  • Spotlight summaries on two new research papers from the client’s shop on AI and big data, with findings the audience would eat up; and
  • A video column from an established partner about their big data innovation.

Every one of those pieces met at least one of two important criteria:

1) They would bump up the click rate;

2) They would cultivate an existing or prospective partner.

The best part? The client volunteered to take the lead in the outreach for each of these pieces.

All the communicators on this list are fainting right now.

Not “best part” because the client was doing the work. “Best” because the client saw the strategic value of the content creation process — how the lure of creating new content together can strengthen existing relationships, forge new ones and build an audience.

And the newsletter —​ the opportunity to co-create content with strategic partners and serve it all up in one place to his most important audience —​ is what unleashed that creativity.

The client became the content strategist, in the best way possible.

Social doesn’t function this way. You don’t own the channel, so the delivery is unreliable, and there’s no co-creation, except for comments (ah, yes).  

A podcast might, but it takes a lot of promotion and it only functions for a certain kind of audience — in one gear, as it were.

Takeaway: The forcing factor: a newsletter with a monthly deadline, with your organization’s name on it, with an audience full of important people who have given you permission to talk to them through email, whose attention you want to win and can.