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How to Collaborate on Thought Leadership with Internal and External Stakeholders 

Brands are expanding their thought leadership ecosystems with partnerships from commercial partners, government organizations and academic institutions. Our panel examined the issues of internal and external collaboration and identified the best approaches.

Improving your ecosystem

The primary topic was our starting point. How can thought leadership partnerships enhance an organization’s broader ecosystem?

Dan Davey, Managing Director, M&A at GlobalData, and  Chairman of the Content Marketing Association, pointed out these partnerships are strong on boosting the reputations of all involved. He highlighted how small organizations can accelerate from these kinds of associations.

This latter point was continued by Rachael Kinsella, the Editorial & Content Director here at iResearch Services. She focusedon how smaller companies benefited from the ‘bandwidth’ of large companies, providing the necessary ‘fuel’ for thought leadership programs. Educational partnerships were recommended by Rachael for providing valuable insights often unknown to those in the private sector.

An interesting point raised by Dave Reid, Research Director at DXC Leading Edge (at DXC Technologies), that experts on environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) tend to be in smaller organizations. This was his reasoning for having DXC work with smaller companies, especially start-ups, where exciting things were being done ’on the fringes’.

The importance of non-traditional partnerships

We were pleased our panelists were keen to look beyond conventional methods to produce thought leadership, which brought us to our next major topic. This is where our moderator, Yogesh, challenged the panel to cite unusual partnerships that have provided unique value to drive thought leadership.

Educational partners were at the top of Dan’s list, as “there’s no commercial agenda.” He was also keen to discuss the flexibility of banking institutions as they have the impetus to understand certain sectors. This is to be expected, as each day, banks encounter so many different types of businesses, having to understand all their nuances.

Government departments were another of Dan’s recommendations, albeit with the caveat that they’re “tricky to pin down,” yet can deliver enormous value if you’re able to work with them. He said their strengths and impact should never be underestimated, plus they’re able to see trends coming down the path.

Adding to Dan’s endorsement, Rachael pointed out that government policymakers are “on the ground” and building regulation around thought leadership.

When it came to Dave’s thoughts, they were focused on the type of people to look out for, such as head-hunters who are trying to get noticed and always have something interesting to say. Interns were also commended for seeing the world through a different lens. This is likely the reason why he is a passionate advocate of graduates coming into his organization.

Building your new symbiotic relationships

The panel was quizzed on how they have created thought leadership to drive shared value for multiple partners. Dave shared the importance of having a common goal. 

When it comes to ESG, Dave said no one individual can solve it, so it involves partnership, reinforcing his earlier comments that small organizations would be particularly strong in these areas. It’s his belief that large entities will appreciate the value of the small organizations’ expertise, which is immensely helpful in galvanizing reputation.

Rachel tapped into her two decades of experience, having specialized in editorial, communications and marketing across professional and financial services. From this, she recommended working with agencies and undertaking intense planning with data. We learned it was best to look at one’s strategy through a consultancy lens to discover what steps need to be taken. These procedures help create messaging for marketing and PR campaigns.

Our next panelist reminisced about the building we were in, the Chartered Accountants’ Hall in One Moorgate Place. This is the London headquarters for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, and Dan recalled being at a green tech roundtable organized by this professional body. Many banks were present, promoting their green fund initiatives for tech-based start-ups.

According to Dan, it takes a long time for investment from these green finance projects to show up. What really ‘greased the wheels’ for these start-ups was thought leadership. The British political and cultural magazine New Statesman was involved, along with the Secretary of State. Frustration was expressed at the lack of long-term policy from the government at that time. In this situation, thought leadership cut down barriers and won over a major UK bank, providing much-needed investment.

The best practices for establishing collaboration on thought leadership

When it came to explaining the most suitable framework for collaborating on thought leadership projects across organizations, Rachael was very keen to underline the ‘4 Rs’, a backbone of iResearch Services’ initiatives as well as the theme for the event, Thought Leadership For Tomorrow. These 4 Rs are common goals that should be set as benchmarks:

  • Reputation
  • Relationships
  • Real-world impact
  • Revenue.

Of course, these aren’t ‘set and forget’ goals. Rachel emphasized it was important to continue collaboration in your ecosystem, keeping a sustained campaign going based on these targets.

“Maybe this is a bit wild, but kids, children, provide fascinating perspectives on big global issues,” explained Dave. “We have this notion in our firm of explaining things in ‘kitchen English’, so if I can’t explain our next report on ESG to my 11-year-old daughter, you know, it’s not going to fly.”

“We had an intern working in our department over the summer. She was in a college in the US, based in Minnesota and brought a wonderful energy, passion, and just this sort of fantastic naivety about corporations and how things worked and asked the most incredible questions about our work, so there’s definitely something in the power of tapping into educational institutions, interns, you know, graduates, etc., in your own organization because they just force you to think a little bit differently. They see the world through a slightly different lens to us.”

For Dan, flexibility was seen as a big priority, along with the need to plan ahead. He commented that you must be open to the people you approach. He also raised the point that collaboration deserves to be extended as far as possible. Asking your main partner if there’s anyone else who could be involved is a great way to strengthen the project.

Unexpected success from a joint thought leadership initiative

Dan again recalled his time at the green tech roundtable. For him, the New Statesman joining the initiative was remarkable, although not without complications.

This meant the date had to be changed twice, but respected academics also got involved, alongside Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. She wrote an article which got great attention. “We weren’t expecting that,” exclaimed Dan.

As for Rachael, she found that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives in the professional services sector scored huge attention and led to further collaboration. It was sparked off by trade media picking up these thought leadership pieces and then wanting to partner up to create more of this material.

From this, Rachael was invited to events and more collaboration proposals came her way from professional bodies. She remarked that DEI still leads in the trade media and other organizations.

Thought leadership collaborations with historical figures

A light-hearted question towards the end of the session had the panel thinking of where they’d go in a mythical time machine to pick up a historic collaborator on thought leadership.

Tim Berners-Lee was picked by Dan for being “an inspirational individual” citing his efforts to ensure the web is free for all and wanting to hear his thoughts on where technology is headed, especially generative AI’s role in thought leadership.

Dave highlighted Winston Churchill, believing he would provide interesting quotes for press coverage. Benjamin Franklin for “very florid writing,” while Rachael paid tribute to Anne Boleyn for battling misinformation in England’s Tudor Court.

We then turned to the audience who posed their own questions for the panel, kicking off with “How many partnerships is too much?” 

Dave believed five or six at a minimum, although pointed out that virtual webinars of course don’t call for a limit, but otherwise, the limit should be eight. Rachael believed it should be no more than six.

“If we execute a piece of work well,” explained Dan, “we have to be ruthless.His advice was to keep all partnerships warm but aim to work with two or three collaborators on a specific campaign. For attracting collaborators, he recommended using LinkedIn groups, which let you continue conversations and pull in others.

The final audience question touched upon reluctant experts and how we could persuade these people to join thought leadership initiatives.

Rachael stated that ‘FOMO’ has a role to play here. She explained that it’s important to make the most of the time you have with these experts, leading with a conversational request such as “just give me between five and fifteen minutes.”

Dan observed that academics like to be engaged. He stated it was vital that they know what they will get out of it and what the goal is, and this information can ‘open the door’. The main outcome of such a collaboration should be that it furthers the knowledge of the people involved.

Dave went straight to the bottom line. “I’ve found academics like to be paid, that helps!” His advice was to be upfront and to strongly convey the benefits your prospects would receive if they agreed to collaborate. In most cases, overcoming objections can be done from a ‘what’s in it for me?’ angle.

Interested in watching the Expanding Your Thought Leadership Ecosystem session on-demand? Click here.


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