Q&A: Tim Cooper of Dentsu Aegis on the C-suite impact of thought leadership

James Watson


As Global Head of Strategic Communications at multinational media and digital marketing giant Dentsu Aegis Network, Tim Cooper knows a thing or two about building brand reputation. Before joining Dentsu, Tim worked in thought leadership and corporate affairs at Accenture and as a policy advisor at the Treasury.


Welcome, Tim. Let’s start with a fundamental: what does good thought leadership mean to you?

Good thought leadership means developing new, distinctive insight about a strategic business challenge. That really hasn’t changed much in the time I’ve been working in this area. But what has changed is the ferocity of the competition for attention and the multitude of digital channels being deployed. There are more and more businesses trying to reach the same members of the C-suite, who are increasingly agnostic about the organisation producing the research—as long as it’s credible and insightful.


In such a crowded marketplace, how do you get the attention of the C-suite?

There is a huge amount that we do today through digital marketing to reach our target audiences. But when it comes to members of the C-suite in particular, the traditional routes are often more effective, and I find there’s little substitute for locking them in a room together! Business leader gatherings—for example, at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos—are helpful ways of accessing the right mix and calibre of audience, but more broadly any roundtable or industry gathering is a hugely powerful way of building better relationships.

That’s not to say that these events are easy to put together. Striking the right chemistry is essential. Our own experience at Davos suggests that senior leaders appreciate the opportunity to connect with people they might not normally get the chance to meet, rather than the same people they’ve sat next to at the same business forums for the past 15 years. Having as much diversity in the room – in terms of gender, industries, roles and seniorities, for example – seems to energize the C-suite executives we’ve talked to.


How do you measure the business value of these types of meeting?

It can be tough to measure ROI on events in general, and perhaps even harder to measure the ROI on taking your company to somewhere like Davos. But there are things you can track, like the conversations you have with the people sitting around the table, whether that has led to commercial conversations and potentially paid work. My advice would be to measure everything and report judiciously through a single source of truth CRM platform, like Salesforce.


And what about thought leadership in general? How would you measure the more traditional forms of insight-driven marketing?

There is a broad range of metrics you can track, from developmental through to reputational and, finally, commercial. Obviously, the trick is to follow the metrics that matter to your firm.

For example, much of our thought leadership is focused on being seen as the trusted advisor to the C-suite on marketing as a driver of business transformation. Our brand reputation is absolutely key to this, which means driving media coverage, PR and social media, as well as key speaking opportunities, for example. But it also means making it real and being clear about how our expertise is delivering business value for clients. Connecting the theory and the practice is really what helps position us in that trusted advisor role.

From a commercial perspective, by driving reputation and share of voice, we can equally start to drive traffic and lead generation for the business through marketing the right content to the right audiences – designing our thought leadership in such a way that it can take many different shapes and forms is an important part of that.


Looking ahead, how do you see the nature of thought leadership changing and what is your advice to others looking to engage the C-suite?

There are a couple of trends I see that we’re already responding to. First is the need to avoid the ‘clickbait’ tendencies of a lot of thought leadership, where dramatic headlines mispresent the analysis that follows. Of course, you’ve got to work hard to grab attention, but many audiences are getting fed up of this kind of manipulation and a more balanced tone can be more effective. Second, focus on the human factor. Thought leadership is awash with high-level projections of economic clout that after a point can become meaningless: bring it to life by focusing on the stories, case studies and examples that make it real for a C-suite audience.

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About the author: James Watson

James oversees project delivery and all the processes involved. In this role, he helps manage and coordinate the research, editorial and project management teams in order to deliver high quality thought leadership campaigns.

As an editor, he has over 15 years of experience in both business journalism and research. Some of his specialist areas of coverage include IT and technology, urban issues, energy and sustainability. Prior to co-founding FT Longitude, James spent five years at the Economist Group in the UK. Earlier, he worked in both South Africa and Singapore, reporting on the dot com boom (and bust). He is now based in Zurich, Switzerland.

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