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Thought leadership articles are gaining prominence as a means to convey ideas and messages from individuals who, based on their experience and expertise in a particular field, can offer unique guidance and insight on specific topics. 

So much so that The New York Times’ nytLicensing notes that 66% of marketers consider thought leadership as a top priority for their marketing endeavours, while 52% of decision-makers utilise thought leadership articles to better understand industry best practices.



Thought leadership articles are gaining prominence as a means to convey ideas and messages from individuals who, based on their experience and expertise in a particular field, can offer unique guidance and insight on specific topics. 

So much so that The New York Times’ nytLicensing notes that 66% of marketers consider thought leadership as a top priority for their marketing endeavours, while 52% of decision-makers utilise thought leadership articles to better understand industry best practices. 

This form of content allows brands to build trust amongst their audiences, and while it can be a powerful tool for brands to leverage their credibility, it must be done right if brands want to succeed. 

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Longitude, a UK-based specialist provider of thought leadership and research services and part of the Financial Times Group, published a Learning from leaders study into what senior executives and decision-makers across a range of industries think of thought leadership content and the brands that produce it.

Longitude’s study also uncovered that the 1 000 leaders surveyed, despite being time-poor, spend as much as four hours on average a week reading thought leadership content. 

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In the 1920s, The New York World, under the stewardship of Editor Herbert Bayard Swope, would regularly publish a commentary page opposite the publication’s editorial page. The nature, tone and style of the content included on the op-ed pages were markedly different from the content found elsewhere in the paper. On these op-ed pages, columnists presented their views on the arts, culture and current affairs of the time. 

Under the tenure of John Oakes, The New York Times developed the template of op-ed pages that we are familiar with today – inviting or having outside contributors publish their opinions on these pages. 

Oakes believed that “the function of a newspaper was to interpret the age to the general public” and that “the deepest responsibility of the newspaper was the same responsibility that the college has for its students – the responsibility of making them think.” 

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Unlike a traditional press release, thought leadership does not seek to drive a specific business’s product idea or service to the audience. Instead, the objective is to stimulate debate within a community, or broader public, through a well-researched, editorially relevant, yet personal contribution.  

As Business News Daily unpacked in a 2021 article, “thought leaders draw on the past, analyse the present and illuminate the future to create a comprehensive, unique, and impactful view of their area of expertise. Rather than chime in on every topic, they set the pace for the industry, and offer intelligent insights and informed opinions.”

Thought leadership can be an effective storytelling medium for brands. A provocative and newsworthy angle is needed to draw eyeballs and clicks. Citing and incorporating authentic, publicly available research and statistics help ground the content, distinguishing it as credible industry insight rather than self-indulgent musing.



The goal is to showcase how your business is more than a collection of campaigns, products or services, and consists of experts and thinkers in tune with the zeitgeist. Content that finds this elusive sweet spot can generate endorsements from third parties, building new connections and potential business leads. 

Furthermore thought leadership can:

  • Reposition your brand 

Provokes the audience to review their perspective about your brand. 

  • Raise awareness

Builds the public profile of a brand and its spokespeople, which can lead to a greater market share. 

  • Ignite conversations

Present timely insights and inspire audiences to take action.

  • Build relationships

With prospective clients and turn existing clients into loyal advocates.

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When Longitude asked its respondents what they valued most highly when it comes to thought leadership, 42% said credible research. 

The pervasiveness of fake news and general misinformation in our current age is a growing concern. This infodemic, as labelled by the World Health Organisation, describes the presence of too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments. 

While thought leadership content is premised on a distinctly original idea, it is necessary to support the assertions made by the author with reputable research, insights and data. The winning combination is a blend of personal anecdotes; imaginative, persuasive language; and cold, hard facts. However, equally important is the need to focus on stories and not abstract concepts and data.  


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Thought leadership, opinion and analysis content should be pitched exclusively to a single publication. An op-ed may be reprinted or republished by a different outlet only with the explicit permission of the original publisher.

Remember that newspapers are also businesses locked in fierce competition with one another. Publishing an article that succeeds in capturing the public’s attention or interest is as much a win for the author as it is for the outlet. Recall IOL publishing Minister Sisulu’s infamous “Hi Mzansi, have we seen justice? opinion piece. 

This is why exclusivity is sacrosanct when it comes to op-ed content –  journalists and editors consider this a cardinal rule. When intentionally flouted, it can effectively burn the bridge with a media contact.


Newspapers’ op-ed pages are the prime real estate for thought leadership. Having your content published in a recognised tier-one publication vindicates and elevates it. However, platforms like LinkedIn are equally attractive and have the added benefit of allowing brands to circumvent the media entirely, and engage directly with their audience. LinkedIn has become a proverbial well for interesting, professional business and industry insight, research and observational content.

Longitude’s six hallmarks of great thought leadership include the following:

  1. Prize quality over quantity.
  2. Have a clear marketing rationale.
  3. Have evidence at its core.
  4. Require smart, creative activation.
  5. Add to the conversation.
  6. Make audiences think.

In addition, perhaps the definitive characteristic of all effective thought leadership content is that it leaves readers with an actionable takeaway, a friendly dare or a call to action. Something that the audience or reader can take and share with a friend or colleague. The ability to condense the wealth of information contained in the content into a single memorable takeaway, byline or sentence is often what captures people’s imagination.

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Need help crafting cutting-edge thought leadership to put your brand on the map? Send an email to and one of our experts will be in touch. 

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Please provide us with your information and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

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