PR and Communications

Here’s Why Your Execs Aren’t Thought Leaders

By Marnie Hayutin, Hayutin Creative

With countless executives weighing in on everything from interoperability to value-based care, it’s pretty clear that thought leadership is a prevalent healthcare marketing strategy. Say what you will about the term “thought leader” (or read what other people have said here and here), but most still seem to agree that the concept of contributing meaningfully to industry conversations is a valuable marketing goal.

The problem is, it’s not as easy as it looks. Marketing teams scramble to churn out a schedule of ghostwritten blog posts and promote links to webinar sign-ups on social media. Meanwhile, they’re not sure why reporters from Becker’s and Modern Healthcare aren’t lining up for interviews.

What’s going wrong? Well, these are probably some of the reasons your execs aren’t thought leaders:

They’re “selling” on social media. To build public credibility as thought leaders, your executives should be engaging on the key issues impacting healthcare today, not selling your products and services. Use the company-branded social media accounts to link back to sales or product pages. Senior leadership should be weighing in on significant topics, sharing links to thought-provoking articles, and commenting on the posts of other industry thought leaders. Reporters are looking to interview people who can serve as experts on your industry as a whole. They won’t call someone they expect will deliver a sales pitch.

You edit them to sound like a sales sheet. The concept of “brand voice” is a valuable one, but it shouldn’t dominate your thought leadership strategy. Certainly, marketing teams may need to ensure that key phrases are used consistently, or that an overall message doesn’t contradict a significant marketing campaign. But, if your executives sound like your website copy, something has gone wrong. When editing, make sure to retain your executive’s unique voice. Fix the structure and grammatical problems; leave the rest alone.

The writing is inauthentic. Worse than a brand voice is no discernible voice at all. Be very careful about letting multiple staff members log in to personal accounts to post on behalf of senior leadership. And, please, don’t hire five different freelancers to ghostwrite one exec’s posts. Keeping the voice consistent is critical—the audience is looking for evidence that leaders are not doing their own thought leadership. Help your executives make time to personally post on social platforms and to engage with the people who engage with them. For articles and blog posts, a good ghostwriter will be adept at capturing the authentic voice of the intended author; if your writer isn’t, move on. When it comes to hiring a writer, pay for quality and then expect a lot.

You’re focusing on web traffic rather than thought leadership. When cultivating thought leaders, you want to be thinking about engagement, not visits. For example, your executives’ posts will generate more engagement on LinkedIn if they’re posted as articles or status updates rather than as shared links from your website. (Read some thoughts on that here and here). You can still post the article on your company site to drive web traffic—just let other employees share that link. The main thing is to not dilute your results by trying to accomplish two goals at the same time. Focus on thought leadership, and then use the correct tactics and metrics for success.

You’re promoting the executive, not the content. When your leaders present at conferences, are you sharing the substance of the talk, or are you just blasting out the event details in six different ways? Most marketing teams over-promote the event itself: “Our CEO was proud to address fourth-year medical students at Mercy Hospital on Tuesday.” Instead of sharing yet another photo of your CEO speaking to a crowd at HIMSS or MGMA, tweet key points from the talk, blog about important questions that were asked, create an infographic from a presentation slide, you get the idea. Promote your executive’s message, not just the news that he spoke.

They’re focused on what they want to say, not what the community needs to hear. Ok, this is the tough one. Executives often have agendas, and it can be tricky to steer them in an educational direction. But, the success of your thought leadership effort depends upon helping executives identify places where they can shed light on a confusing topic or offer insight that’s truly valuable to readers. Make sure what they have to say is something the industry genuinely needs to hear.

They’re unresponsive. When reporters do call to offer you that coveted moment of earned media, make sure your executives can be available to meet their tight deadlines. Executives are not always aligned to make last-minute interviews a priority. Unfortunately, one bad experience with a short-tempered or unavailable thought leader will set your efforts back immeasurably. Ensure that your thought leadership strategy includes a plan for responding to reporters when your thought leadership works.

Share your success stories and tips in the comments below.

About the Author

Believing that marketing is where journalism meets sociology, Marnie founded Hayutin Creative to help companies communicate authentically with their customers. Trends come and go, but exceptionally clear writing and honest communication will always remain at the heart of effective marketing. She has assembled a team of writers, editors, designers, event marketers and marketing automation experts to help you reach your customers.

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The Healthcare and IT Marketing Community (HITMC) is an extension of the HITMC conference that is the first of its kind event that brings together marketing and PR professionals from throughout the health care community. We strive to provide amazing marketing and PR related content that helps HealthIT companies and healthcare organizations  stand out amidst all the noise of the industry. If you’re looking to market to hospital executives, doctors, practice managers, patients, or other healthcare professionals, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the HITMC community!