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Steal, provoke & flatter: How to get media coverage through thought-leadership

Unless you have a celebrity founder, or a flair for spectacular press stunts, getting press coverage for your startup is notoriously hard. Very few have a revolutionary product to carry them through, and the reality is that 99% of startups aren’t inherently newsworthy.
Steal, provoke & flatter: How to get media coverage through thought-leadership
WRITTEN BY
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WRITTEN BY
Mikkel Boris

The same goes for Contractbook. Contracts are boring, and even though we think our software is the most important and innovative thing that has happened to the world since the invention of antibiotics, the sad truth is that it’s nowhere near dominating the news cycle on its own.

However, we still regard press coverage as an essential shortcut to increase our brand awareness and build credibility in the market. For us, the key has been thought-leadership.

A few years back, we realized there was a massive untapped potential for us in catering directly to the legal industry. However, lawyers are a risk-averse bunch, and a conservative precedent culture dominates the legal industry, so they only trust well-established and reliable brands. That is quite a challenge for a startup, but thought-leadership proved to be our way in.

Because, one, we were able to position ourselves as experts in their field, and we showed them that we understood their challenges. Two, because op-eds and thought-leadership pieces gave us a chance to increase brand awareness and stay top of mind long enough to seem like an established player. And three, because it’s an excellent way to open up conversations and keep an outbound sales process going.

We weren’t able to produce enough fancy product updates and funding announcements to secure a continuous presence in the media; we relied on our ability to produce surprising opinions, hot takes and innovative expertise. Over a year, we made more than 50 pieces of written content: blog posts, op-eds in niche media, webinars, podcasts etc. And over time, we managed to become so established that we would be invited on stages, and journalists would call if they needed a comment.

It’s not for everyone. Some target audiences care less about media coverage and hardly reads anyway. But if your buyers are somehow well-educated, care for credibility, and you have a hard time in the media landscape, thought-leadership can be a magic shortcut.


In case I sparked your interest, here is some of my advice on how to approach it. 

1. Be original.

You don’t become a thought-leader by stating the obvious, so your views and thought-leadership must be somewhat original. Find an interesting angle and present your views in surprising ways - like this. You should either have a thought-provoking new thought or express your views in a thought-provoking new way.

2. Steal.

Coming up with new ideas is laborious and time-consuming, so steal whenever you can. Companies like McKinsey, Bain & Company or Deloitte produce well-researched and professional thought-leadership content, but their insights are often buried in long reports. Use their insights, condense them and present them in your own way. Some of our thought-leadership content is heavily inspired by consultancy content. We applied their way of thinking to the legal industry to offer an original and insightful analysis.

3. Provoke.

A good op-ed or thought-leadership must be a bit provocative. You want to leave an impression and create memorable content, so don’t be afraid of hot takes or provocative statements like this one. Of course, you don’t want to be condescending or offensive, but don’t be afraid of conflicts. The media love them, and there is no point in stating your opinion if nobody disagrees. Just make sure that the right people disagree. 

4. Coin concepts.

Journalists love new terms and concepts they can hang on to. Inventing and coining new phrases and concepts is an easy way to differentiate your content and leave a long-lasting impression on people. 

5. Play with form.

Thought leadership content is not confined to the sometimes rigid blogpost genre where how-to-guides and listicles rule. You are allowed to make more original pieces and use more journalistic expressions. I like using a story, an anecdote or a pop-cultural reference to lure people into the text and get them hooked immediately.

6. Research.

Your content must be sound and show real expertise. You can’t fake it for very long. Do your research, find sources to back up your claims and populate your articles with numbers and statistic that supports your opinion. 

7. Build relationships.

I have been working as a journalist long enough to be allowed to say this. This joke is also on me. Journalists are self-important, self-righteous and narcissistic. They love flattery and recognition. Use it to build a strong relationship with them when you are sending in op-ed pieces and pitch ideas. It might come in handy when you have an announcement to make or news to break.

8. Stay on point.

Of course, your thoughts and opinion should be connected to your company and the product you want to promote. You shouldn’t advertise your product directly, but you can communicate your values and the vision behind your company. For us, it was an obvious choice to focus on innovation management, the legal tech movement and the future of work because it’s a field that we already operate in. 

I hope my advice can be of any use to you. You are always welcome to reach out to me on mb@contractbook.com if you have any questions on how you can use thought-leadership to tell your story and improve your brand recognition.

More about the author(s)
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More about the author(s)
Mikkel Boris

Mikkel Boris is responsible for press and communications in Contractbook. He is also the editor of Legal Tech Institute and contributes with freelance journalist to various Danish newspapers.

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Steal, provoke & flatter: How to get media coverage through thought-leadership

Unless you have a celebrity founder, or a flair for spectacular press stunts, getting press coverage for your startup is notoriously hard. Very few have a revolutionary product to carry them through, and the reality is that 99% of startups aren’t inherently newsworthy.
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