Developing Thought Leadership: Connie Ward and Thought Leader Zone

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Posted At: May 1, 2013 10:00 p.m.
by Lindsey Green

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What is a thought leader? Connie Ward defines it in four ways:

1. Thought leaders are people who make other people think.
2. Thought leaders will throw a javelin to just the right place in the sand; others will then build paths to that place.
3. Thought leaders see and then set a new direction.
4. Thought leaders are seen as pioneers.

This focus on establishing the brand of leaders as innovators in their industries led to Ward’s creation of Thought Leader Zone, a partner network that creates coherent thought-leadership strategies for internal and external communications to clients, media and business professionals.

“I chose the name Thought Leader Zone as it reflected the work I do to position CEOs and to help them choreograph communications choices,” Ward said.

Thought Leader Zone works with international clients from its offices in Switzerland and the U.S. to offer strategic and tactical support during key inflection points. The organization’s clients from the last year include one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, a leading global engineering firm, an international biotech company, an HR consultancy, a global trade publication, and several nonprofit associations and private clients.

The key difference of Ward’s business model is the individualized and flexible attention she can give to clients. As a smaller player in the Swiss market, she is able to develop unique and case-specific plans at lower costs than the big, multinational PR firms.

“My days are most often spent seeing, then thinking, then doing. Too often it’s tempting to jump right in with a client and ‘do’ without taking the time to really ‘see’ the challenge from different viewpoints and then ‘think’ about the best model to use,” Ward said.

This customized approach also allows different opportunities to measure success.

“Robust, reliable metrics are the Holy Grail for any PR/communications person. In one company we measured our impact in column inches of publicity for particular projects and then multiplied that number by the cost of an equivalent-sized advertisement in the publication where each article appeared,” Ward said.

In another recent situation, for example, Thought Leader Zone set functional and relational rules of engagement for working together during a workshop for a German corporate communications team. Success was then measured by the scores for the workshop.

From where in the world did Connie Ward come?

Ward’s entry into the public relations industry is another story of its own. In 1989 she was teaching in Bulgaria as a Fulbright fellow when the Romanian Revolution broke out. As the first female journalist to respond, Ward provided coverage for the London Times, the London Sunday Times, Time magazine and many major American newspapers.

“Unlike Nicolae Ceausescu, I did not face death with defiance. I ducked and screamed and prayed and cried when snipers shot at me. But I got the story,” Ward wrote in her blog “Stuff Not on my CV.” (Link: http://thoughtleaderzone.com/who/constance-ward-stuff-not-on-my-cv/)

After her fellowship ended, Ward stayed in the journalism industry as a reporter for the London Times and the London Sunday Times. Bored with the monotony of a desk job, she moved to Munich to work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and to do research in the former Soviet Union. Eventually, Ward accepted a position at a pharmaceutical company in Basel, Switzerland, where she stayed in the pharmaceutical industry until 2001. She then began her first communications job as global head of internal communications at Zurich Financial Services.

“I used many of my skills as a writer, editor and interviewer to help propel me into a career as a communicator,” Ward said.

This career shift eventually brought her back to Kansas City, Mo., for nearly 10 years, where she continued to lead global communication teams at major corporations such as Black & Veatch. Soon after her husband’s job moved them back to Switzerland in 2011, Ward founded Thought Leader Zone.

The global market

Although Ward’s diverse background has well prepared her for the world of global communications, she insists that working with international clients is very similar to working with their domestic equivalents.

“Clients want a high-quality product – you give them a top-quality product. Clients want it tomorrow – you give it to them tonight. Clients change their minds – you change your approach,” Ward said.

Speaking multiple languages is extremely important, she said, even if the language you learn isn’t the language of the country where you’re living or if you’re not required to use it in your daily work. Ward, who has training in Bulgarian, French, German and Swedish, explained that language skills show an aptitude toward learning and indicate an interest in the world beyond the U.S. borders.

Still, it is important to seek professional help when doing business outside of your home country, she said. No matter how proficient your knowledge of the language is, business terminology and cultural context are usually learned through experience.

“When you form a company abroad, you’ll probably need an incorporation lawyer, a tax accountant, a notary public, a bank manager and a sympathetic ear – like a friend or a spouse you can complain to when the complex, expensive process slows to a molasses pace,” Ward said.

With more experience under her belt, Ward is continuing to expand her possibilities. In the next couple of months, she is launching an official consulting network called the AdvisorsADVISERS for Strategic Communications with former colleagues in Germany. She also continues to speak to and mentor students interested in international careers, as illustrated in this video from a lecture at the University of Kansas.

Her parting words of advice for students?

“Persevere and keep your eye on the prize: a fulfilling career with global adventures!”

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