How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Take Me to Your Thought Leaders

[Reading time: 2 minutes]

Like everyone else who lives in DC, I wake up stressed and jangly, irritated that this supposed necessity of sleep (all four hours of it, or three or one) has done nothing but amp up my FOMO.

And like everyone in DC, I immediately mainline Politico’s Playbook, a daily newsletter providing dealer-grade news and gossip for political pros. (Even though I’m not one.)

Playbook embodies the incestuous, irredeemable navel-gazing of this little company town, right down to a comprehensive list of the day’s birthdays in politics. You don’t read Playbook — you snort it, snapping through its expanse for a name you know or a scandal you didn’t, trying to light up your burned-out synaptic gaps. It is a peculiar form of genius.

One week last May, deep in the throes of a Playbook scroll, I spotted an inline ad from UC-Davis touting its marine science.

That’s interesting, I though, clicking through. And got taken to…

An About page.

A collection page about a number of programs at Davis, to be precise, among which was a well on marine science. Which, when you clicked on it, took you to another About page about Davis’s marine science and endeavors.

At that moment, I wondered five things (because I’d had coffee and could):

  1. Why had anyone at Davis thought anyone reading Playbook would suddenly want to read about marine science?
  2. Why had anyone at Davis thought anyone reading Playbook, even if they suddenly wanted to read about marine science, would have the patience to browse the university’s greatest hits page looking for the marine science well?
  3. Why hadn’t Davis instead linked to a piece of great thought leadership by one of its marine scientists that was pertinent to federal decision-making and might get passed around by some in the Playbook audience?
  4. Was I was missing some grand brand marketing play by Davis here? and
  5. How long Davis was going to keep this campaign up?

A week, as it turned out. Touting each of the wells on that campaign page once, in separate links, but each to the About page.

Let’s not just trash Davis. That’s too easy. Let’s not just smile and say “typical university communications” and “you should know your audience” and “you should develop a use case.”

Because Davis is the rule, not the exception. Most research-driven organizations and institutions would link to an About page. Even if they had seen opportunity — and kudos to Davis for taking the risk — they wouldn’t have a clue how to win it. They would have done trojan horse marketing instead.

The lesson here is: It’s all Playbook now. All of it. That’s the addled, fidgety, bored, give-me-something-I-can-use sea we all swim in.

And if your research-driven organization isn’t prepared to provide top-grade insight and solutions to those sea creatures…you’re going to sink.