Buday TLP’s research shows that the real opportunities are not where you think. Go beyond the obvious places to ply your trade.
The overwhelming odds are that at some point in your career you’ll be ready to bolt. Not completely out of the thought leadership profession necessarily, but rather out of the company that employs you.
You’ll decide you’ve had it with top management. They don’t take thought leadership seriously enough, and every budget cycle is a bruising-to-the-ego battle to prove value. Or certain heads of practices think they know more about creating and marketing substantive content than you do. They micromanage you to do imbecilic tasks: the wrong way to design research studies or write research reports or plan content for marketing events.
They’ve driven you nuts, and you’ve had enough.
Yet you love the thought leadership profession. You don’t want to go back to journalism. Or editing an academic journal. Or market research. Or product marketing. Or brand marketing. Or wherever you came from before entering the ivy-covered gates of thought leadership.
You are too intrigued by thought leadership; you may be addicted to the profession. You are a B2B chief marketing officer who knows the need for thought leadership content. Or you are a thought leadership director who loves exploring new topics and discovering best practices. Or you are an editorial chief who gets excited when your firm’s subject experts get recognized externally.
You love the thought leadership profession. However, you’ve decided it’s time to practice it somewhere else. But where?
Go Beyond the Obvious Places to Ply Your Trade
If you started in this profession at a consulting firm, there’s a good chance you will look for work at consulting firms. If you started at a law firm, you’ll likely move to another law firm. Or from a tech firm to another tech firm, or from an IT services firm to another one of those.
Judging from the careers of people we know, it’s far less likely you will consider doing thought leadership in a different industry. What’s more, companies may doubt your thought leadership capabilities unless you’ve worked in their sector.
But if you think that way, you are significantly limiting your opportunities, and companies are significantly restricting their talent pool. You need to think more broadly where you could work, and recruiters need to think more incisively about the most important qualifications for the job.
That’s why we set off this summer on a little research project, something that could turn into a bigger effort. We’ve already put a month’s time into it and feel there’s enough to show. To understand where the thought leadership jobs are, we asked this research question: Which B2B sectors around the world have the most people in thought leadership roles?
Our source of data is LinkedIn. Is it the only source? Maybe not. But it does have 206 million members in the U.S. alone (more than the total non-farm U.S. workforce in July, which numbered 187 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And LinkedIn has another 700 million-plus members outside the U.S., making for more than 930 million members globally in over 200 countries. We figure that if you are in thought leadership at a B2B company, you probably have a LinkedIn profile.
So how many people on LinkedIn are in thought leadership roles? When we typed “thought leadership” (in quotations to look for people whose title had those two words together) into the search category of “people” (vs. “jobs,” “companies,” “groups” or others), it generated 180,000 search results.
Then we went through the first 500 names and we put them in a spreadsheet to organize them by industry. Of course, reporting on 500 names is only a tiny step toward the full 180,000. However, we wanted to tell you what we’ve found so far, fully realizing this isn’t complete data.
Where the Thought Leadership Jobs Are
We like that subtitle. It sounds like the title of an old Hollywood movie. We know it’s old because we were alive then (1960). But this data is new — we think, unless we’ve missed something that LinkedIn published on it.
OK, drumroll please. Based on the number of people already in the thought leadership profession, the four industries in which we found them most frequently were:
- Financial services (18% of the 500 names)
- Technology (17%)
- Consulting (13%)
- Research and information providers (8%)
The chart below gives you a flavor of where the jobs are. The bigger the box or rectangle, the greater the number of people in thought leadership roles.
What surprised us? Since one of us (Bob Buday) began his thought leadership career in 1987 at a management consulting firm, he thought consulting firms would stay on top, as he figured they did 36 years ago. Not the case. In fact, in the 500 LinkedIn profiles we reviewed, one financial services firm – Fidelity Investments, the $25 billion revenue, Boston-based behemoth – had 24 people in thought leadership roles. Twenty-four!
You can also find thought leadership professionals at Spotify (the $11 billion revenue music and podcaster streaming platform), Aptiv (a $17 billion automotive technology and parts company), Jones Lang LaSalle (the $20 billion commercial real estate), pharma giant Eli Lilly, chipmaker Intel, e-commerce and cloud pioneer Amazon and wireless carrier providers T-Mobile and UScellular.
If you are looking only at opportunities in your industry, you are thinking way too narrowly.
OK, we do realize you may be thinking this: “But I won’t get a hearing in other sectors.” We ask you to think again.
How to Sell Your Thought Leadership Skills Broadly
How do you maximize your employment choices? How do you possibly prove to hiring managers in industries where you don’t have much experience that you can do the work, especially when the job description calls for deep industry knowledge?
You need to argue, like we do, that the most important skills for thought leadership transcend industries. Knowledge of financial services or software or life sciences or some other sector is not the most important capability for thought leadership professionals.
Instead, it’s the skills in developing a thought leadership strategy, in marketing thought leadership content, in designing a research study, in analyzing the results of such a study, in working productively with subject experts to develop and capture their thinking, and in writing compelling prose.
Those are far more important than knowing what collateralized debt obligations or the stages of pharmaceutical drug development are. You can learn what those are.
It’s much harder to know how to design thought leadership studies that generate counterintuitive insights based on real evidence; how to work well with a cadre of subject experts with contradictory views on a white paper; or how to stage a marketing campaign to promote a new book or new study.
As an analogy, consider this: To drive safely to a certain destination, it’s more important to be a highly skilled driver than it is to be an inexperienced driver who knows the route well.
In your search for thought leadership jobs, don’t underestimate the value of your expertise to any company in any industry.
Now, go apply for that job!