Part 2: Taken from the second half of Miles Clayton’ interview with a Tech Entrepreneur and CEO of a Successful Tech Firm and most longstanding client of Agility PR

In Part 2 of the two part blog series based on my interview with the CEO of a highly successful UK tech firm about directing thought leadership PR efforts correctly. He recommends picking the topics which you want to ‘own’ and which are relevant to you as a business. Then design campaigns around these topics to build authority in a specific sub-market or vertical sector where you are anticipating growth over the next year or two. In this way, you can hardwire your PR activities into your business goals.

So, the questions you may need to ask yourself are:

-What topics do you want to become a recognised subject matter expert for?
-Will increased brand authority in those areas help you gain more credibility in parts of the market where you can reasonably expect to close more business over the next year or two?

Ideally, you must be able to answer these questions before you prepare your next presentation, blog, or media article.

Q4. You seem to place a particular value on thought leadership building work when expanding into new/adjacent markets. Can you explain your rationale here?
If you can transfer your technology capability into adjacent markets you need to recognise that even if you have transferrable skills and technologies to add value in that new sub-market, you are relatively unknown amongst your new prospects.

You must build your authority in that space. You need to earn the right to be clicked on and read before you can earn the right to be included in a tender request.

The best way to do that, working with Agility PR again in our case, is to run some market research to probe the concerns and experiences of the new market.

When you share your findings with that sub-market, perhaps through social marketing or media coverage, automatically you have something which shows prospects that you understand their challenges and, implicitly, have solutions to address them. It’s that simple.

It’s not easy to do this work. You need to ask the right questions and deliver genuine insight back to the market. But if you are serious about growth into adjacent markets you cannot go wrong with this approach. But my advice is, hire a good PR agency which understands thought leadership building to take the sweat out of your content creation.

Q5. Do you have any recommendations for tech firms struggling to trade through the current recession? What do they need to get clear on? What mistakes should they avoid?
Have a look at some of the exemplars in your market. Who seems to be commenting consistently and authoritatively on developments impacting the market(s) your serving? It’s of course much easier if you are serving one or two key markets as you can build and maintain authority relatively cost effectively.

Pick some topics which are meaningful to your business and which your firm is promoting debate on and building solutions for. If this problem has a human element, so much the better. For example, in the retirement market, Just Group has a strong focus on serving vulnerable customers well and stimulating wider access to affordable financial guidance.

These are not only laudable goals but also on the regulator’s ‘to do’ list. As such, they are hot topics for the media. Just is adding insight to them and stimulating further discussion about them.

And it’s doing this consistently. My guess is their spokespeople will make themselves available for comment on these topics whenever a journalist wants to speak to them about them. And they’ll have a lot to say.

That’s where you need to get to with one or two relevant and topical industry topics. Start there and work on it consistently for at least a year before reviewing how it worked and what happened in sales, as well as marketing terms, after starting it.

And what should they not do? Don’t try to ‘boil the ocean’ by offering views on everything that is happening in the market you are serving. It’s too much work and the content will show that your knowledge is only skin deep, or a regurgitation of what others are already saying. You will fail to differentiate.

Q6. Do you have any thoughts on managing suppliers of marketing/PR services and consultancy – how have you got the best out of me/them over the years and what mistakes (if any) have you made?
Make sure they understand and have some pedigree in the market(s) you are serving. That means ideally they need to understand what value you add to your core audiences quickly and ideally can sell a story to a relevant set of media to create several opportunities for your key audiences to read about your success and opinions on the market each month.

Bear in mind the ‘Rule of Seven’. Studies have shown that people need to see a message at least seven times before it sinks in and the message is associated with the person or company it comes from. It supports the notion that people learn, and therefore remember, by repetition. I’m told that the Rule of Seven must be doubled again if you want to assure real engagement and brand authority with your key prospects.

Q7. COVID-19 is creating severe disruption in many markets, what have been the biggest challenges for your business so far and how have you navigated them successfully to date?
Within tech firms, it’s proved difficult to persuade developers and coders to return to the office in times when Government guidelines were stimulating this. Right now, less than half our staff are regularly coming into the office and developments of the last few weeks have pushed that backwards again.

Productivity does not necessarily suffer from working remotely. However, building team spirit and stimulating camaraderie it’s very difficult to do via Teams. You don’t get the body language and really understand what people are feeling about something you are proposing. Planning can be trickier and time horizons for plans have shortened for the time being.

In the pandemic, you need to recognise that in the resulting downturn, new projects will be difficult to get sign off on. The key is to have enough regular income from your existing clients to at least cover your costs. So, when new projects do come on stream they are delivering genuine profit to the bottom line and helping you towards your (temporarily moderated) growth goals. We keep working hard on building our pipeline because we want to be a in a strong position when the market starts to normalise again.

Q8. Do you think most of the technology world should benefit from this COVID-19 disruption? Are you an optimist for tech firms looking through the next year or so?
There is no doubt that business practices are accelerating, and some technology is being adopted faster than it otherwise would be because we are having to do much more via a screen. There is a lot of talk about Digital Transformation now for example.

Remote working has had to be implemented fast, albeit with different levels of control being relinquished according to the nature of management. Some businesses won’t look back. ‘Hybrid working’, with much more working time spent based at home, will become the norm for many of us.

It may even help with the perennial problem of work-life balance. Technology solutions can help us collaborate better digitally and it is a shot in the arm for many firms which are enabling this virtual collaboration or helping firms offer end-to-end, fully digitised customer journeys.

Eventually, all interactions with every organisation we deal with will need to offer us a process for gathering the key information we need about our policy/agreement etc and enable us to self-update our personal records and even complete secure transactions digitally.

For me personally, it’s got us thinking about the next generation of software. We need to create software which enables fully paperless, automated processes which the next generation of users already expect and will be building for us in the future.

That also means we need to keep hiring and developing the next generation, regardless of the budgetary pressures on overheads today. We need to watch and learn from organisations like Schroders which has committed to keep offering internships and placement year programmes for young people.

I guess the key is to try to keep a longer view in mind even when the events of today seem all consuming, even threatening at times.

What did I learn from my chat with a longstanding Agility PR client? I’ve used the above to summarise 6 key learning points for investing to build your brand authority?:

Thought Leadership is key to differentiation in crowded B2B markets

  1. If you are a tech firm doing consultative selling and trying to move up the value chain, striving to be a thought leader is a ‘must’ to differentiate.
  2. Build content streams and campaigns which are designed to reach different levels of the prospects you’re targeting. Think about serving decision-makers, influencers, and users alike.
  3. Use thought leadership campaigns to help you build authority in new markets where you may have no reputation today – if you have an existing product set, selling into one market that can be offered to a new adjacent market, make sure you are building thought leadership content into your marketing effort.
  4. When planning to use content to differentiate, start by looking at how some exemplars in your chosen market are already doing it. You can learn a lot from what has gone before.
  5. When selecting a PR agency, choose one that is already embedded in the market(s) you serve and understands how to promote B2B technology companies.
  6. Be aware of the ‘Rule of Seven’ and that fact is the era of digital communications that the number of opportunities to engage that you need to stimulate with prospects is only going to go one way.

Start developing the habit of striving for thought leadership now. Within the next few years, you will only have to do more of this and get even better at it to secure engagement and build brand authority.

If you trade on your knowledge alone, like the big consulting groups, you already recognise that your thought leadership content streams are your life blood. They open the gates to new markets and help maintain authority to advise in a wide range of markets.