Time for real thought leadership  

Thought leadership | Spending review

Does anyone know what’s going on at the moment? Amidst continuing political uncertainty and with a potential general election looming, it is time for housing professionals to prove that they, at least, know exactly what needs to be achieved for their sector.

When (rather than if) we head into a general election, there will be an abundance of opportunities for media commentary – opportunities that can be grasped wholeheartedly and used for genuine thought leadership.

“Thought leadership” and “becoming a thought leader”, are terms we hear in PR all the time. Everyone wants to be a “thought leader”, but this isn’t achieved through simply providing a comment or opinion in response to a journalist request.

Thought leadership pushes boundaries and moves agendas forward; it seeks to influence opinion and to carry people with you. Done well, it can prove transformative in affording you and your organisation a platform to deliver your objectives. However, reaching that platform can often require guts. So how is it done?

Standing up and being counted

In his agenda-setting article in Inside Housing last week, Jim Strang, president of the Chartered Institute of Housing, wrote: “If we cannot stand up and be counted, why should we be surprised when the government acts as it does?”

Housing professionals know the realities of affordable housing delivery. They are local experts with access to the facts and figures on their communities, allied to first-hand experience of the ways social policies affect individuals and families. For instance, they know the impact welfare reform has had on tenants, as they have dealt with the fall-out.

Yet, as Jules Birch pointed out in his blog reflecting on Chancellor Sajid Javid’s Spending Round speech last week, it is clear “that housing is not one of the so-called ‘people’s priorities’ of crime, education and health and so does not qualify for any headline-grabbing investment”. How can this situation be altered so that the role of social landlords and the communities they house cannot be ignored?

Welfare reform is a useful example. Those who work in housing know that housing and welfare are priorities for their customers. Welfare reform is also a cross-over issue of national public interest. As such, there is a clear opportunity for housing providers to contribute to and lead debate.

Yet, despite years of housing sector comments being made and opinions being shared, it remains possible for the government to exclude the housing sector from a list of ‘people’s priorities’. There is clearly still a long way to go.

Making the most of opportunities

At See Media, we encourage our clients to make the most of every social media post, media statement, speaking slot, and blog, pushing themselves that step further in order to provoke conversations that build momentum, propel existing debates forward, and establish themselves as individuals and organisations that have to be listened to.

And this is not just about directly influencing political decision makers. It is about uniting and driving internal teams, winning the support of local partners, and promoting understanding amongst customers and members of their wider communities.

Provoking healthy debate

A good recent example came with our client Stonewater and its involvement in the West Midlands pilot of the Voluntary Right to Buy (VRTB).

While others questioned the use of public funds to support the pilot and were concerned that homes sold may not be replaced like-for-like, Stonewater’s Sue Shirt, its executive director for customer experience, wrote an article for Inside Housing, stating that the organisation was “unashamedly supportive” of the VRTB, and “proud” to be involved.

She outlined how Stonewater seized the opportunity provided by the pilot because its customers aspired to own their own homes, and this could help some to do so. She also explained how VRTB is different from the traditional Right to Buy scheme.

Instead of allowing popular negative opinions of the VRTB to be the only ones out there, Sue stepped up and put across an alternative perspective.Through her well-argued piece, she not only reinforced the fact that Stonewater is an organisation that bases its decisions on the needs of its customers, she provoked some healthy sector debate.

Thought preceding action

The late Joel Kurtzman, the American economist widely credited with coining the phrase “thought leadership”, described it as introducing ideas that “cause people to think differently about the world and their role in it.

“The idea was that since thought usually precedes action, the better the thinking the better the result,” he wrote.

At a time when the individuals and institutions that have traditionally told people what to think are seemingly in disarray, those who truly know what they are doing, and why they are doing it, have space to make their insights and arguments heard. So, dig deep – your moment is now.