How researchers get heard

We Have Experts!

A think tank here in DC sends out an “rapid reaction” email featuring its experts’ take on various events in the news.

The key word: “various.” One alert might cover the coup in Sudan, another China’s hypersonic missile test, a third the latest federal elections in Germany.

There’s no common thread, save one: The think tank. The think tank has experts with something to say about these events.

The emails’ content isn’t bad — averaging a B or B-minus. But that’s not superior to or faster than their many alternatives. For me, the think tank’s “rapid reactions” usually get buried in those hundreds of B or B-minus emails I get every day, a handful of which I might open not because I’m waiting for them, but because I have an idle moment to fill.

However: The email does showcase the think tank’s experts. In fact, that’s its main message: We have experts! We have expertise! (Hey media: Interview us!)

“We have experts! We have expertise!” is also the message most research organizations use as their de facto positioning.

But everyone else has experts.

“We have experts!” might — with great and ever-increasing effort — get your experts a quote in the media commenting on a specific hot topic. It’s not an identity. It’s not a point of view. And It won’t work as your long-term positioning. It doesn’t differentiate you a single degree from any other research organization.

Brian Morrissey, who used to be CEO of Digiday, writes in a new essay titled “Running plays isn’t having a playbook” that “point of view, and the ability to execute on that, is the closest thing there is to a moat in the media business.” That’s because so few have a POV and the content program and playbook that flow from it:

Looking at many publications, you realize that many are just running plays. There doesn’t seem to be a coherence to what they’re doing, who is doing it, or any underlying philosophy guiding what they’re doing. Reading these publications, I’m left to wonder: What exactly do they stand for? Just because you use a set of words to describe yourself doesn’t mean that’s who you are. Who you are is what you do, not your marketing copy.

The think tank has one thing right: As the media continue to fail research organizations, research organizations will be existentially required to produce their own media showcasing their own expertise.

But the first question to ask is: What does your organization stand for?

If it’s “We have experts!”— you don’t know. And neither does anyone else.