Davos brings some of the world's biggest names together on a large stage. You can learn from their techniques and adapt them to your own needs.
This week, thousands of politicians, celebrities, journalists, and CEOs from across the globe will gather in a tiny town in Switzerland with one common goal: influence. Through public events and media interviews, closed-door meetings and social media posts, attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos have an unparalleled platform for advancing their ideas.
You may not be going to the World Economic Forum this year (or any year), but you can use the same techniques to build your reputation as a thought leader. I should know—I've helped several organizations develop their thought leadership and public affairs strategies, including preparations to attend the World Economic Forum.
Here are four steps you can take to grow your reach and influence, with strategies that will work for individuals and businesses.
To become a thought leader, provide value
First, you need an interesting and relevant idea to promote. This concept can be related to your business, but shouldn't focus on selling something.
Thought leadership is about advancing ideas in the public space.
Every January, geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group publishes a report of the top risks for the year. By creating valuable information, it drives in-depth media reporting in dozens of media outlets, enhancing brand awareness. Coincidentally, the report appears right before the World Economic Forum, making Eurasia Group founder and president Ian Bremmer relevant and interesting to world elites when he arrives in Davos.
Think about how you can do something similar in your sector: what is a concept you are uniquely qualified to discuss? It doesn't need to be a big report. It could take the form of a white paper, blog posts, or public speaking opportunities.
Create buzz and anticipation
The trick to thought leadership is building buy-in. If you're too far in front of other people, you may lose them or confuse them. World Economic Forum strategic partner McKinsey & Company spends at least a full month before the forum releasing educational content and doing media hits to publicize its involvement. Its efforts are so comprehensive they have targeted content for everyone from CEOs to Gen Z.
How can you replicate this for yourself? Invite the audience to be a part of your thought leadership effort before a big milestone. Have one-on-one meetings with prominent members of your field to ask for their feedback - or better yet, participation. Hold smaller, exclusive events leading up to a big public event. Release sneaks previews prior to a launch. Find the group of supporters that's right for you, and bring them in early.
Go big on release day…and the day after that and the day after that
If you've put months of effort into developing an original report or website, you should get credit for it!
Davos is the perfect forum for almost any attendee to launch a big project: it attracts the right mix of policymakers, media, nonprofit, and corporate attendees. But even then, only a few thousand people attend, so any big announcement needs a way to also reach the rest of the world.
You will face the same problem: you won't be able to reach everyone in a single launch event. Make sure you create specific outreach plans to let all of your audiences know about your big effort before, during, and after the event itself.
Whether you host a launch event, a webinar, give a speech, or go live online, the work you put into generating buzz will pay off.
Keep your idea fresh and new
The Eurasia Group's Top Risks work because the company puts in work every year to keep them fresh and at the top of reporters' inboxes. The company attends Davos, and other major forums like the United Nations General Assembly, to stay in the mix throughout the year.
As we all vie for eyeballs and limited attention span, it's important to keep yourself and your ideas relevant. This may involve refreshing them every year; it may mean revisiting those topics throughout the year across different channels (a podcast here, an op-ed there); or it may actually mean evolving your ideas over time. Repeating yourself is not only okay, it's encouraged. People need to hear ideas many times before they stick.
Preparing for liftoff
When you start to see your ideas take off, that's when you'll know you've done it. You've become a thought leader. And you didn't have to step foot in Davos to do it.