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Thought followership

colourfulbuildingblocks_l_62594174_originalDespite the volume of thought leadership that is created, not all of it delivers as it should do. A recent survey by Thoughtworks360 found that less than a third of organisations who invest in thought leadership successfully generate leads and close business from it.

This is not because thought leadership does not work. Done well, it can be highly effective, but it must be done well. Much of what presents itself as thought leadership is uninspired, “me-too” thinking. It is bland “content” that fills space but offers little genuine insight, much less leadership. In doing so it can do more harm than good to an agency’s reputation. 

Why does this happen? After all, this is the creative industry. Day in, day out we conceive and implement brilliant ideas that transform clients’ businesses – thought leadership ought to be second nature to us. To some extent the issue is that agencies are so devoted to client delivery that we lack time and attention for our own self-promotion. 

Conception, creation, distribution

Yet the issue is about more than mere lack of resource; it is also about skills. There is a subtle but critical difference between creating thought leadership for clients, and creating it for ourselves. Whilst we are typically experts in our clients’ businesses and issues, we tend to lack the broader industry perspective required to conceive the right topics. It also requires production skills – typically editorial writing – that we lack. Whilst we may be accomplished at crafting on-pack copy or compelling ad copy we tend to lack the editorial writing skills that are needed for thought leadership. Finally, B2B content distribution is a skill little in demand at most creative agencies, but is essential if any potential clients are going to see our carefully conceived and crafted thought leadership.

Many agencies choose to bring in experts to help them conceive, create and distribute thought leadership. Yet, it can be done in-house. The skills can be learnt. In the latest DBA – Red Setter Guide we detail the three key stages – conception, creation, distribution – that will result in distinctive, ownable material that will contribute to your reputation as a genuine thought leader and so help grow your agency.

Agency transformation

Thought leadership is not a short cut to agency growth and it is hard work. Yet, high quality thought innovation_l_54343736_155_02leadership not only has the potential to deliver short term returns; perhaps more important is the longer-term shifts that on-going thought leadership creates in the way agencies are viewed by clients, employees, and peers, as well as by future employees and clients. 

We worked with a top-five agency which presented a fresh view of the future of the spirits market in an article in a drinks industry publication and then emailed it as a PDF to potential new clients. It got them in front of one of the main global drinks players, and they picked up the brief to create a more contemporary visual identity for one of the world’s most famous spirits brands. 

And a thought leadership article we developed with a small regional agency, following months of researching the UK’s further education market, was used by the Times Educational Supplement as a cover story, and led to an event attended by dozens of education marketers and addressed by our client. The agency picked up significant new business as a result. 

Done right, thought leadership can be powerful

redsetterblack-copyIf the potential of thought leadership seems enticing, but the time required seems intimidating or inconceivable, consider instead how you can create an agency of thought leaders. The agencies that do this most successfully, do not rely on just one person. They instil a culture where everyone is involved in the ongoing conception, creation and distribution of thought leadership. The agencies that begin this process today, will be tomorrow’s industry success stories. 

About: Alex Blyth

A widely published journalist and book author, Alex Blyth has also helped global brands such as Deloitte, Dell, and PwC produce thought leadership reports. He now brings this experience to the design sector, helping Red Setter’s clients create thought leadership that grows both their reputations and client bases.

Image credits: © Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com

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About: Nick Howe

Nick is Managing Director at design and innovation agency Uniform.

Long-standing members of the DBA, Uniform have offices in both Liverpool and London. www.uniform.net

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Design in context

Design is central to the British economy, helping to drive innovation and improve productivity. Recent research by the Design Council shows that the design economy alone contributes 7.2 percent to the total UK economy.

Central to the submission is the message that ‘Design does not exist in isolation’. It works across all levels of the economy, allowing for innovation to take place in sectors ranging from agriculture to robotics. As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it is vital that design is seen both as a major contributor to the British economy in its own right, as well as a driver for growth in terms of both commercialising innovation and manufacturing.

Member consultation

In order to secure the best possible outcome for the UK economy, the DBA, APDIG and BIDA held an open consultation with the design sector, requesting their views on how the Industrial Strategy should work to:

• Embed design principles at the heart of British industry

• Promote R&D funding and tax credits for innovative companies and contractors

• Work towards a targeted sector deal for the creative industries

• Give people access to education and training to develop the skills needed for the industries of the future

• Develop Britain’s infrastructural capacities by investing in reliable communications, transport and energy

In carrying out this consultation – the DBA, APDIG and BIDA asked six open questions to members. Full details of which can be read in the submission. 

The role of design

The DBA, APDIG and BIDA’s submission calls for the Government to think carefully about the role of design and its potential contribution to a positive future for the British economy.

In developing a good working relationship with the design profession, the new Industrial Strategy can work to support and reward this vital sector of the economy, giving it the potential to grow itself, and to facilitate the development of businesses in both a sectoral and regional way.

The submission also calls for the Industrial Strategy to recognise the unique characteristics and tendencies associated with the design sector. In particular:

• It’s a diverse sector comprised of a range of firms, ranging from large-scale conglomerates to microbusinesses and independent consultants.

• Design is often under-represented in statistics and government discussions owing to its ‘hidden’ nature, oftentimes within other sectors of the economy. IBM, for example, employs 1600 designers in-house in the UK but they are included within the employment statistics of the Technology Sector and not Design.

• Growing the UK’s manufacturing base by improving or creating new and innovative products which has a major knock-on benefit to their supply chains and the export potential of growing businesses.

• It encompasses nearly all sectors of the economy – from agriculture to management to robotics and AI.

• Design is a cross-cutting enabler in business – working from the inside out across the entire supply chain for major manufacturing projects.

• Crowdfunding increasingly forms part of the business plan for many businesses and agencies.

• It’s a sector in which UK is world-leading and which also provides a huge amount of ‘soft power’.

The submission outlines that in all these areas design is the perfect sector to assist in increasing the UK’s competitive nature – achieved both in terms of itself, as well as designers working to increase efficiency and drive innovation for other sectors of the economy.

You can read the submission in full here.

With thanks to all those who contributed valuable comment to the consultation.

Further information on the Government's Industrial Strategy

In January, the Government announced a consultation into building a new industrial strategy, where the public sector works with private companies to promote economic development. The initial views of the government outlining the way forward have been published as a so-called Green Paper, which is available here.

The strategy has highlighted Ten Pillars, summarised below, that show the range that the new set of industrial policies will focus on:

  1. Investing in science, research and innovation
  2. Delivering affordable energy and clean growth
  3. Driving growth across the whole country
  4. Upgrading infrastructure
  5. Supporting businesses to start and grow
  6. Encouraging trade and inward investment
  7. Creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places
  8. Developing skills
  9. Cultivating world-leading sectors
  10. Improving procurement

The Government announced that the Creative Industries will form one of the first five specific “sector deals”. 

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