I Looked Into the Abyss and the Hot Takes Stared Back at Me

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Call me a bit biased, but as a PR writer, I tend to see thought leadership as the unsung hero of any solid public relations effort. And in a cultural climate where the ground constantly shifts in defining what constitutes good press and how to capture frighteningly short attention spans, the impact of thought leadership as incisive PR content cannot be overstated.

As essential as an amazing story and great connections are, you can’t solely rely on these pillars to get coverage anymore. Making your voice known is now just as vital—especially in times when your company might be between noteworthy milestones—to reach audiences that count.

With that in mind, creating exciting PR content and thought leadership involves contending with a gap in trust and perception. Many outsiders view PR as an industry dedicated to manufacturing authenticity, designed to spin stories and cover up seedy corporate behavior. Typically, companies that try to nail down an invented legitimacy have these efforts backfire spectacularly once the mask inevitably slips.

So how do you make thought leadership that feels genuine yet actually contributes an exciting perspective to your industry or a breaking story? In practice, it requires a firm grip and understanding of the overlapping values of controversy, niches, and authenticity.

Entering the Hot Take Factory

Controversy certainly has value, but it remains the most dangerous double-edged sword to wield and has the potential to cause serious reputational damage.

Harnessing the power of controversy thrusts an individual onto a discourse tightrope. A controversial opinion or a hot take only really works in your favor when there’s a purpose behind it and you can back up your position with conviction. It’s also most effective when it relates to a breaking story or trend, which requires agility, brevity, and razor-sharp focus.

In other words, stand by your opinion.

But being too eager to comment on every single event that might pertain to you can backfire. You run the risk of falling into what I refer to as the Hot Take Industrial Complex: An ever-churning cycle of op-eds fueled by shallow interpretations of breaking stories and trends in the quest to find hot takes.

At best, this complex can bring forth thought-provoking commentary from an individual with their finger on the pulse and something meaningful to contribute. Or you get embarrassing editorial misfires such as the Wall Street Journal’s analysis of the SVB closure. People new to creating thought leadership can mistake it for an excuse to be opportunistic or bellicose, and this is where knowing what not to speak on is just as important as knowing what subjects need your input.

In essence, properly utilizing the value of controversy stems from being discerning on both what subjects you can tackle and how your argument will be perceived.

The girls that get it, get it

If you’ve decided to step into the ring and pen an op-ed, especially one that might step on a few toes, it’s worth considering who your piece is going to resonate with. Everyone always talks about finding a niche, but no one actually really explains what that means in practice.

Finding a niche isn’t some kind of cosmic riddle, it basically comes from asking yourself some key questions that relate to your target audience. To start, look at some op-eds you really love. Why does it appeal to you? What is the content or the author trying to say that makes it appealing? Is the argument trying to appeal to everyone?

For context, my background is in the world of fashion, an industry where every brand is trying to be inclusive, yet exclusive at the same time. It’s also an industry where everyone has seen everything and has no qualms to call out copycats or phoniness. This means that brands and designers have to dig deep in order to find their audience and what makes them stand out in an incredibly crowded space. And unless you’re a multi-billion dollar conglomerate, that audience cannot be everyone. Is this starting to sound familiar?

It’s always better to have conviction in what your content stands for and who it’s meant for than trying to please everyone. Outside audiences can still see the value in your content without being its target, just as you might appreciate a designer or artist even if it’s not your style or taste.

Staying real: The value of authenticity

There really is no substitute for it.

In the past, we’ve heard a lot of buzz about the importance of developing a “brand voice.” But with the prominence of LinkedIn and every brand being on TikTok for some reason, brand voice has taken on a much more individualized approach. Even this blog, some could argue, is in service of developing a brand voice through the Trojan Horse of one person’s perspective.

Obviously, this isn’t a solo journey to embark on. Any PR agency or writer worth their retainer will dedicate time to distilling your individual voice and how it relates to your brand as a whole. Authenticity is the foundation of authority, and it’s the root of how people interpret what you have to say.

Nobody can teach you to be authentic—that’s simply called a personality. Transcribing your viewpoint to the page is a different story. Authenticity comes from being forthcoming, affable, and able to parse what is actually important to you and your brand. Try as you might, ChatGPT can’t do that for you quite yet. In the end, it ties back to expressing your perspective with enthusiasm and confidence without coming across too pompous or flippant.

Ultimately, achieving thought leadership that excites and stays true to your authentic voice comes with practice and trial and error. Striking the right balance of controversy, audience appeal, and verity in your voice likely won’t happen every time you write something. Writing, like thinking, is an exercise, and you always have the chance to try again.



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