OUR THINKING/ARTICLE

Slowly does it: a more considered approach to thought leadership

Sean Kearns

We live in an age of movements. Whether it’s climate change or the future of capitalism, what you stand for ‒ and when to stand up for it ‒ matter. Everyone must have an opinion. Luckily, with today’s media, you can just choose the one you prefer.

The comedian David Mitchell recently decried the role of the smartphone in accelerating such mandatory subjectivity. The media curates news based on “what we’re likely to respond to”, but, Mitchell suggests, we should see the same story as everyone else, “just like I would if I’d bought a newspaper in a shop”.

Personalisation and the obsession with breaking news prompted the rise of slow journalism, pioneered by the likes of Delayed Gratification, and the basis of the business model behind Tortoise, which calls for slower, wiser news.

These organisations understand that good stories take time and patience. Considered analysis is worth waiting for; readers get a complete journey, with twists and turns, and messages that linger in the memory.

The popular opinion is that brands have about six weeks to have an opinion on something before that view becomes obsolete. We know that pulse surveys can be great here, especially in the context of a wider theme or trend that a business is shaping. They are part of the content drumbeat that brands must maintain to stay relevant.

But the big themes of our day – trust, the human impact of new technology, the balance between profit and purpose – deserve considered thought. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back, rather than rush to the front.

The same applies in thought leadership; you need more than a team of sprinters. A two-speed model allows you to be both responsive and thoughtful as circumstances dictate. It sometimes takes stamina to find the right angle, to discover the real story, to follow leads to their illogical conclusion.

Intelligent research design allows brands to achieve such longevity, providing both headline data and detailed analysis. The smarter the questions and the greater the depth of research, the richer and more multi-faceted the story.

The new openness: should thought leadership follow journalism’s example?

Tortoise and many others are also calling for a new type of open journalism, where readers collaborate on story ideas and iterate drafts. At FT Longitude, we’ve long talked about the importance of clients – and their clients – helping to shape thought leadership strategy at every stage. By listening more intently to the market, you can design research that reveals insights of tangible business value.

The more you consult, the fresher the perspective.

It is why slow journalism is about not following the crowd. The point is not to be contrarian, but to search deeper. It is why ‘long reads’ have become so popular in the Guardian, the FT and elsewhere.

While we all like instant gratification and shareable tweets, we also long for real, time-earned expertise: the individuals and brands that provide a definitive account amid the din.

The upcoming Future of News event will explore what the next-generation newsroom looks like. Thought leadership is grappling with a similar dilemma: how to strike the right balance between data analysis, original opinion and sustained expertise.

Some brands are already taking a stand, seeking to avoid the pitfalls of clickbait and surface-level predictions. A desire for more meaningful, human stories is really the search for nuance – that one data-point or piece of commentary that confounds an accepted view.

Yes, speed to market is important. But if you’re going to back a movement, make sure you’ve got something worthwhile to say, with style and substance.

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About the author: Sean Kearns

As FT Longitude’s editor-in-chief, Sean helps ensure that we create thought leadership campaigns with influence and impact. As well as delivering high-profile programmes for our clients, he advises on thought leadership strategy, helping brands reach the audiences who matter.

Sean has 20 years’ experience of creating strategic content across a range of sectors and senior editorial roles.. Before joining FT Longitude, Sean was Editorial Director of communications agency Bladonmore.

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