Thought Leadership Tensions - Part 1: Is Vanilla the only flavour?

By Steve Blundell - Head of Acritas Advisors

Getting a Thought Leadership project off the ground in a law firm is a challenge. Making sure it’s one that will produce a return on the investment is a bigger challenge still.

There are six tensions that need to be resolved by the creators of any thought leadership project:


       1.    Selecting a topic

       2.    Focus and speed to market

       3.    Getting value from “old” ideas

       4.    Collaboration

       5.    Channel issues

       6.    Internal engagement     



This first article will explore the first of these tensions- selecting a topic:  

This is challenging in any organisation but particularly so in a law firm. The tendency will be to gravitate toward legal technical content – because that’s the ground that most lawyers feel comfortable discussing with clients.

But that’s a mistake. Our research shows repeatedly that clients are crying out for lawyers who are closer to their business issues, and who can demonstrate commerciality and business savviness. What better platform than a well-chosen Thought Leadership topic.

Firms instead should concentrate on identifying the business issues that are top of mind for the audience they are seeking to reach.

In doing so, the ringmaster of any Thought Leadership project faces his or her first tension. 


The Danger of Broad Topics

To get wide support from partners and justify the budget, the topic will need to be broad enough that partners in many practice areas can use it for business development. But broad topics risk the kind of banal generalisations that are the antithesis of real Thought Leadership.

We find that using a well-designed scoring mechanism in a creative workshop helps to balance these tensions to best effect.


How far out to go?

The second tension arises from the very nature of being thought leading: namely how far should you lead. Arguably the best Thought Leadership looks way into the future and offers a new and challenging perspective. The problem is that, pitch it too far in the future, and partners will find it hard to link the “thinking” to the issues clients face today, and as a result the business development value is lost. Make the content too current, and the author will have difficulty justifying why this is Thought Leadership rather than rapportage.


Taking a Stance

And the third tension in selecting the topic is the firm’s willingness to take a stance. Our BrainBox ROI evaluation tool shows that the highest scoring projects invariably take a stance rather than saying “on the one hand this and on the other that”. But that can run into problems for firms. Taking a stance by one practice area or part of the firm, may well create conflicts or tensions in another part. So, the tendency to water down the perspective and cause no one any offence can again result in banality. And this is an area where the firm’s risk management “police” can cause authors a problem. They will always counsel that any views expressed in the public domain be as “vanilla” as possible. 

It can be tough to negotiate these hurdles. As with any flavour other than vanilla: the only proof is in the eating!



Selecting the topic is but one of the tensions that present themselves. Getting it right will ensure the project has a great chance of success. Equally a poorly chosen topic will scupper even the best managed programme. Next time we’ll look at whether it’s best to be first to market with a viewpoint – or take a more considered approach.


You can read more of Steve's blogs here >>

For more information or if you have an enquiry about how Acritas Advisors can help please contact us and we will be in touch:

Website by PeacockCarter Ltd

Print this page