Tip Sheet: Go ‘Gaga’ for Thought Leadership Strategies

When Lady Gaga takes the stage with a raw meat fascinator on her head, it isn’t just a fashion statement or an accident. She is encouraging conversation on the importance of standing up for human rights. Ultimately, she is building her brand through thought leadership. As PR practitioners, we believe in thought leadership for ourselves and our clients in much the same way, finding interesting hooks and angles for important subjects.

For example, one way we do this at Solomon McCown is through our twice yearly “SM& Presents” panels. The panels take many forms and cover a range of topics, from baby boomers to social entrepreneurship, and from corporate social responsibility to crisis and social media. Despite the range of topics, one deliverable stays constant: the establishment of thought leaders.

For example, when global construction company Skanska USA wanted to be seen as a leader in workplace wellness, SM& had its general manager/executive VP both discuss and perform its “Stretch-and-Flex” program on a 2010 panel around marketing workplace wellness programs. The panel established Skanska as a thought leader on a relevant topic, especially for key audiences in the real estate and construction industries. Ultimately, like Lady Gaga, this PR tactic helped to build Skanska’s brand, putting a proverbial “steak” in the ground for workplace safety. It’s easy to relate other thought leadership strategies to “Gaga-isms.” For example:

â–¶ “I am a Master of the Art of Fame”: Lady Gaga is the self-proclaimed “Master of the Art of Fame.” On 60 Minutes she told Anderson Cooper how she connects with her audience and stays authentic. It is all very deliberate. In essence, she decides what people pay attention to by feeding angles to the media before it can do the same.

The SM& thought-leadership recipe is much the same. We find the right mix of recognizable and locally “famous” people, comprised of equal portions of charisma, expertise and enthusiasm around a topic across sectors. For example, for our most recent panel on Building Community in a Networked Economy, we positioned Microsoft as an example of a global corporation that has exponentially increased its local visibility by opening its front door for events and lively discussions among entrepreneurs.

â–¶ “I direct every moment of my life”: Let’s face it, those of us in PR know even the most simple mistake can result in controversy, confusion and, much worse, crisis. Lady Gaga is the creative director of her public life, and PR professionals must be the stage and art directors of every element of their clients’ public persona. We don’t leave any element up to chance. Every one of our 15 panels has been highly planned and orchestrated, from panelists’ arrival time and staged seating arrangement to the moderated questions. Temperature of the room? We know it. Potential event conflicts? We plan for them. Optimal lighting for panelists? We got it. We carefully analyze the time of year, day of the week and even time of day for the best outcome of fresh content and energized dialogue that continues long after attendees exit the parking lot. No one leaves without understanding our brand.

â–¶ “There is always some sort of story or concept I am telling”: It is the same for both a celebrity and a communicator. In order to be relevant, you need a good story and you need to be clever about how you tell it. When organizing our thought-leadership events, identifying four months in advance what story we wish to tell is our biggest challenge. How will it be fresh? How did we manage to host a panel on responsible investing one week after the start of the worst recession the country has seen in decades? We identify trends and focus on what we are interested in discussing, while also being strategic to reveal the story of our firm, clients and our intellectual capital.

â–¶ “The curtain call”: Every performer, especially Lady Gaga, plans for what to do after the show. The successful execution of a thought leadership program provides multiple opportunities. Live tweeting with a dedicated hashtag is a given so we can watch ourselves become a trending topic after the fact. Video interviews of selected participants can be packaged quickly for YouTube—where the content can live forever—and e-mail follow up. And for those who missed out, the audio and/or video of the entire session is posted on our Web site.

Then, take a bow and begin planning the next one. PRN


Helene Solomon is the cofounder and CEO of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based strategic communications firm, and a member of the PR News Advisory Board. She can be reached at hsolomon@solomonmccown.com.