We get variations of this question from our thought leadership clients all the time. Of course they understand that Forbes won’t publish 800 straight words of self-praise—but what about a piece describing this cool new program they just launched? Or this resource that they offer, or this research that they just published?
The simple answer is: it depends. Most often, mentioning your company in thought leadership sounds too self-promotional—but sometimes there is a compelling story about your company that only a thought leader can tell. Read on to find out when it’s okay to include that company mention, and when it’s better to save it for a company blog post or press release.
Can I write about original research done by my company?
Yes, but there has to be more to it than just reporting the results. A thought leadership piece isn't a press release. You could use the research as a basis for a strong call to action on an issue or an interesting personal reflection on the results. Remember, editors and readers want to feel like they’re reading a piece written by a person, not a company—the more individual your voice sounds, the better.
Can I write about an exciting new program at my company?
Yes, but only if the program is really unique. Traction’s CEO has written about the blowback he got for offering employees paid leave for activism. Netflix’s former chief talent officer has written about why she gave employees unlimited vacation. But writing about an initiative that’s less radical than that might limit your placement to trade magazines. Thought leadership topics need to be interesting to a general business audience, not just specialists in your field or people already interested in your company.
Can I write about the main problem my company solves?
Maybe, but bear in mind that most readers (and editors) will want an article to end with a solution—and if you can't talk up your company, what is that solution? Often articles structured like this leave the reader hanging.
However, if you can make the "solution" broad enough that it's not just your company's product, then this could work. Better yet, give examples of other companies not your own that are helping solve it. For examples of how to do this well, check out these two client articles, both published in TechCrunch: “Why Silicon Valley Should Bring Sexy Back” and “Big Data Doesn’t Exist.” Both of them elegantly namecheck other companies in the same space without giving free publicity to direct competition.
Can I mention a resource or service my company offers that might be helpful to the reader, like an informational website, database, etc.?
We’d advise against it, as this can make the whole article sound like a promotion for that resource or service. Generally, this is the sort of call to action that belongs on the company blog, not in a thought leadership piece. True, there are exceptions to every rule, and if the resource really is unique and useful, an editor might let it slip through—but why take that risk? Most editors don’t want to give your company or its services free publicity.
Can I interview my company’s customers and quote them in the article?
If this is a business article and you’re a B2B company, then yes, you can generally quote your enterprise customers. However, bear in mind that some publications may see this as a conflict of interest. (Forbes probably wouldn’t mind, but the New York Times would.)
We do not recommend interviewing individual consumers who are customers of your company. Most thought leadership articles don’t need such “man or woman in the street” style quotes; if your article is the rare exception to that rule, go find that man or woman in the street instead of a customer. Again, the goal here is to avoid the appearance of bias as much as possible.
Can I use my company’s preferred marketing language?
It depends. To catch an editor’s eye, a thought leadership article must use language that readers are familiar with and that mainstream publications use regularly. It also has to sound authentic—like a person and not a company wrote it. Successful thought leadership by a company’s executive may not follow the same strict style guide as the company’s sales collateral or press releases.
That said, it’s often possible to incorporate some terminology as long as it isn’t too jargon-y or euphemistic. If you want to talk about “stakeholders” instead of “customers,” that’s probably fine. However, using terms that no one uses outside your company is generally a bad idea.
Can I write honestly about my own experiences running my company?
Now we’re talking! Yes, absolutely. Editors love tales from the trenches like this. (The Traction CEO’s article above is a great example.) Just remember that this kind of narrative has to come off as authentic: it needs to talk about the bad, not just the good.
Want to know more about how Hippo can help you craft great thought leadership? Get in touch today.
Photo by Bethany Legg on Unsplash.