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What Is Thought Leadership?

Published on April 17, 2024, 5:12 p.m.
by Alexis Anderson.

Thought leadership can be a crucial aspect of a brand. What is thought leadership, and why is it important to public relations?

Photo via Adobe Stock by Clement C

Thought leadership can be defined as “a leadership style in which the employees, team members or followers are influenced/guided by individuals or firms that are recognized as an authority in a particular field and whose expertise is sought and frequently rewarded.”

It is important in PR because thought leadership can lead to consumer trust and make brands have better credibility. Having thought leaders working with brands allows for brands to be pushed to the top of their industry.

Thought leaders are committed to advancing their field and sharing their thoughts to help and interact with others. They are also responsible for including their own perspective and experience into making others knowledgeable about the topic that they are a thought leader in.

One example of a thought leader within the PR industry is Ally Mills Dorrough, APR, TMP, communications & marketing manager for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism and Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events.

Dorrough reflected on how she started as a public relations intern for Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, and how she is now considered a thought leader within her industry.

“I’ve been able to grow, learn and become a leader in the meetings and sports tourism space,” said Dorrough. “From a post-grad intern to a public relations coordinator to a specialist and now a manager, I’ve grown up in this organization and have learned so much from those in my organization and industry. It has served me well to be mentored and serve as a mentor at every stage of my career.”

She noted how her experience and position allow her to be a thought leader, as well.

“Being a thought leader should move way beyond thought and talk and result in action,” said Dorrough. “One way I give back as a thought leader is through my professional development and involvement in the Public Relations Society of America. This year, I am serving as chair of the PRSA Travel & Tourism Section, leading a 15-person executive committee, which represents more than 600 members across the country.”

Through her work in the tourism industry and leading others to help better their companies’ brands, she is becoming an effective public relations and tourism industry thought leader.

Not only is Dorrough herself considered a thought leader, but she also views Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism and Gulf Shores | Orange Beach Sports & Events as a thought leader within its industry. This is because Gulf Shores has hosted the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship since its inception in 2016.

“Because we’ve been the only host of this championship, we as an organization and as a destination are thought leaders on hosting and building a championship literally from the sand up,” said Dorrough. “From a PR perspective, we push that story out there to encourage other destinations to form the concept of bidding on new events. It’s about the long game, and is a multi-step process, but it can turn out in your favor with your destination working hand in hand with a national governing body to get creative and build something special.”

Photo via Adobe Stock by chaylek

Another example of a thought leader within PR is Tim Blair, vice president of communications for Acadia Healthcare.

“The way that I’ve looked at thought leadership is it’s this terrific opportunity to express ideas and points of view about issues and topics that really matter for the business that you’re in,” said Blair. “Ideally effective thought leadership helps you define those issues, and, perhaps, in a way that’s really advantageous for your business.”

Blair also talked about what thought leadership looks like in his career, especially within his involvement and work in crisis communications.

“What I found for thought leadership in my career, is that if you do it well, it can create freedom of action for your brand, for your company and for that issue you’re trying to manage. It allows you to educate, inform and even convert during clear skies right before an issue may get too messy,” said Blair.

Acadia Healthcare is the largest independent behavioral health care provider in the country with close to 260 locations. Its mission is to “lead care with light,” and this is what Blair strives to reach.

“We want to differentiate based on the quality of our care,” said Blair. “Therefore, we now have a system in place with Uber Health that will allow us to get patients into care faster by providing nearly immediate access to transportation. So that partnership is a terrific example of how that is thought leadership for us. We are getting out in front on an issue that matters for us, which is access to care, because it demonstrates that we are committed to the quality of our care.”

So, although thought leadership ranges across many different industries within PR, thought leaders all have the same vision in mind: help others, help their brand and change their industry for the better.

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