Is Madonna a thought leader?

Twelve celebrates 25 years of being in business in 2021.  To mark the occasion, we’ve produced a desk calendar with a quote each month that touches on a different aspect of communication.  

January’s topic is ‘Thought Leadership’ and the accompanying quote is from Madonna: “Listen, everyone is entitled to my opinion.”  She also famously said “Now that I’ve got everyone’s attention, what do I want to say?”

Madonna pop singer

I’d like to explore the subject of thought leadership by asking three questions:

  1. Why is thought leadership such an enduring concept in public relations?
  2. Is Madonna a thought leader?
  3. What are the key steps to an effective thought leadership strategy?

First question, ‘Why is thought leadership such an enduring concept in public relations?’

Answer, because it is a very effective way to achieve earned media coverage, coverage which helps open doors to new business or clinch deals. Earned coverage plays a crucial role in building trust and supporting SEO, both of which, again, help win or retain business.

You can read about the role of earned coverage in supporting domain authority in our blog post ‘Digital or PR agency? . It describes the ‘human tests’ used by Google to check the reliability of its algorithms, and you can see a good example of effective earned coverage for our client Altelium in The Guardian.

Second question, ‘Is Madonna a thought leader?’

Most people in PR would probably describe her as an ‘influencer’ rather than a thought leader, and this distinction is useful in understanding what makes a thought leader.

Often it depends on context, for example Madonna would certainly be considered a thought leader on how to develop a brand image or sell music, but this tends not to be the subjects she offers her opinions on.

Thought leadership is used to shape business campaigns. Influencers tend to be used for consumer campaigns, but actually where do you draw the line? Who or what influences your shopping habits and behaviour patterns?  Is Donald Trump a thought leader? How about Greta Thunberg?

A thought leader is anyone who has experience, ideas or success that people want to hear about and whose opinions and expertise might interest or influence others.

This is why a good thought leadership campaign is an artform because it is a question of understanding your audience and their needs and interests, as much as it is understanding products, business solutions or science.

Third question, ‘What are the key steps to an effective thought leadership campaign?

Working with an agency, the key stages in developing an effective thought leadership strategy include:

  • Identifying areas of expertise and opinion
  • Compiling a timeline of industry events and high impact occasions
  • Reviewing media channels and audience
  • Developing your tone of voice and approach
  • Preparing well written, insightful material

None of these steps however will be effective if your communication isn’t timely, and this is very much a two-way process. An effective thought leadership campaign requires a close and responsive relationship between the client and agency.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to be have views and opinions which people will be interested in,  but you may need help to get your opinions or expertise noticed in our noisy world.

At Twelve we have twenty-five years of experience to offer, so if you’re looking for help promoting yourself, your business or your brand, please get in touch.

2020: Our year in twelve pieces of coverage 


I’m not going to start this post with the usual 2020 tropes, but what I will say is that this year has certainly thrown us several curveballs. However, we’ve been lucky to work on some fantastic projects with clients across a wide variety of industries including hospitality, education, not-for-profit, electric vehicles and industry in the last 12 months.  Here I’m sharing twelve of our favourite highlights.  

Cotswold Cottage Gems  

The year has been bookended by two sterling pieces for Cotswold Cottage Gems, run by Gemma Elizabeth Conway. Gemma Elizabeth provides a five-star personalised concierge service to guests staying in one of the company’s luxury self-catering cottages across the CotswoldsShe has been known to organise personal chefs, offer lifts to the races and even look after owners pets.    

The Sun’s travel editor, Caron Curnow, stayed with Gemma Elizabeth at Century Cottage in Moreton-in-Marsh and even bumped into Cotswold legend Prue Leith resulting in a full-page review in the paper and covered online.  

1)    MORETON THE MERRIER Cotswold town Moreton-in-Marsh has plenty of Christmas cheer this festive season – The Sun, December 2019  

And this Christmas, Tom Hutchinson stayed at Ivy Cottage in Bourton-on-the-Water, producing a double-page spread in Daily Star and Mirror on Sunday.  

2) Spend it Like Beckham… – Daily Star & Mirror on Sunday (Print editions), 19th December 2020 

“We had a weekend to explore the area while enjoying a stay at a gorgeous stone property, which felt rather like our very own Beckham-style mansion. Ivy Cottage, just five minutes from the town centre, is huge. The original house has been extended with a conservatory complete with giant dining table, two bathrooms, side by side – which helped prevent family arguments – and cosy loft bedrooms.

“The owner, Gemma at Cotswold Cottage Gems, has clearly sought to keep the warm and welcoming feel to the place, while making sure modern families are catered for. There’s a brick fireplace with woodburner and window seats to curl up on with a book. Plus there’s Netflix, lightning-fast internet connection and a lovely country kitchen to try your best Gordon Ramsay impersonation.

“The best part about staying here, however, is when Gemma herself assumes the role of your own personal chef. All Ivy Cottage guests are cooked complimentary breakfasts at The Lansdowne guest house directly opposite.”  – Daily Star, Saturday 19th December

Earthwatch Europe 

When the first national lockdown kicked off, Earthwatch Europe, an international environment charity, quicklswitched its fundraising tactics to launch a new online outdoor/indoor learning service called Wild Days. We helped the team raise awareness of the programme helping to reach parents stuck at home and now in charge of home learning.  

In April, parenting correspondent, Rosa Silverman included Wild Days in her Easter at home activity roundup.  

3) ‘It’s going to be an Easter holiday unlike any other’ – how to spend the school break at home – The Telegraph, 8th April  

“Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl: “Birds are at their busiest in spring and are everywhere. Watch the skies for birds returning here after wintering abroad, or look outside and see how many birds are carrying bits of material to build their nests. Identify them by looking them up online. I used to draw the birds I saw in a notebook and keep a record of all the different types I’d see. Why not try that with your kids too?” @BirdgirlUK on Twitter, and ambassador for Wild Days  – Telegraph, 8th April

Wild Days also featured in Chris Packham’s roundup for the Guardian.  

4) Naturalists flock to Chris Packham’s DIY ‘Springwatch‘ on Facebook – The Guardian, 4th April  

“Osprey webcams are already up and running this year, the majestic birds returning from Africa in recent weeks, others will be online early in April. Among them will be Wild Days on the Earthwatch Europe platform, featuring Strachan as part of a team offering an hour’s worth of daily activities online, to show you what’s going on in your gardens, patios and balconies.”  – The Guardian, 4th April

Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) 

As part of a campaign to highlight that metal packaging is infinitely recyclable amongst consumers, MPMA commissioned a survey to discover who was responsible for championing recycling and forming good eco-habits within the home.  Turns out that children play a really important role in encouraging parents to recycle over two million people read the story but my favourite was from Gemma Francis, environment reporter for the Independent  

5) Children ‘shame’ parents for poor recycling knowledge – The Independent, 2nd June  

And in the heart of lockdown, when demand for canned food surged, Robert Fell, MPMA CEO and director spoke to Michael Odell at The Times on the new tinned food renaissance 

6) Make delicious dinners from your tinned food supplies? It can be done – The Times, 19th March  

“There are certain people we turn to in a crisis. The emergency services. Our political class. And then there are unsung but vital figures such as Robert Fell, the chief executive of the Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA).”

“We hear from the media in a crisis because everyone turns to tinned food,” he says. “It makes me sad in a way because people should know: tinned food is not just a standby. We are not a last resort. That’s old thinking. A tin of food is a totally recyclable, low-energy-to-produce option full of nutritious food which is low on waste. We should celebrate them.” – The Times, 19th March


In November, the UK government announced its 10-point plan for putting the country on track to reach net zero carbon emissions with £12bn investment. However, Charley Grimston, CEO of Alteliuma trusted warranty partner delivering information for the electric vehicle market, felt that the level of investment in battery storage fell woefully short. His comments were included in write up by Fiona Harvey and Jillian Ambrose in the Guardian’s green economy section.  

7) Is £12bn enough to get UK on track for net zero carbon emissions? – The Guardian, 18th November  

“Some in the electric vehicle industry were also nervous. Charley Grimston, the chief executive of Altelium, which makes software for electric vehicles, said: “£500m for mass-scale production of batteries does not compare to investment in countries such as Germany, where figures are in the billions for new battery manufacturing plants.”- The Guardian, 18th November

As part of an ongoing thought leadership programme for Altelium, we also helped place over twenty comment and opinion pieces in key industry titles including Smart Transport, Automotive World, CAT Magazine and Motor Pro.  

One topic, which covered why EV fleet managers must have complete data on battery state of health authored by Alex Johns, Altelium’s business development manager, really struck a chord 

8) EV fleets need complete data on battery state of health – Electronic Specifier, 14th August  

“How can we expect fleet managers to embrace EV if they’ve one hand tied behind their back?” says Alex Johns, business development manager at Altelium, which specialises in lithium ion battery information.

“With a traditional petrol or diesel fleet, there’s a wealth of information available about the vehicles – a full-service history. Yet in the electric vehicle (EV) market, a crucial piece of information is missing – battery state of health – because it is commercially sensitive information.

“This can severely limit the ability of operators to manage fleets efficiently and cost effectively, and further down the line limit their ability to capitalise on the second life market.” – Electronic Specifier, 14th August


To my sheer delight, we also began working with Re-Fashion, an online retailer which specialises in secondhand clothing sold in aid of charity whilst also reducing landfill. My entire lockdown 2020 wardrobe came from this site!  

In the summer, Re-Fashion launched its partnership with fashion stalwart, Very.  Specialist upcycled denim press packs were sent to retail, fashion and lifestyle journalists and influencers, including a Re-Fashion donation bag.  Interview with founder, Steve Lyons, was covered in Drapers Magazine.  

9) Re-Fashion’s aim to be ‘the Asos of charity shopping’ Drapers   25th November 

And the partnership was selected by The Sunday Mirror’s Notebook magazine as part of the ‘10 things to make a note of this week’ column.  

10) Designer deals: Second Chance, Notebook Magazine – The Sunday Mirror (Print edition) – 8th November  

“Every year we’re guilty of chucking a shocking £140m worth of used clothes into landfill. Instead of wasting pre-loved threads, shoppers at can request a donation bag and fill it with good-quality old favourites to be enjoyed by someone new. Second-hand clothes specialist Re-Fashion does the hard work for you, so get online and start your winter wardrobe edit.” – The Sunday Mirror, 8th November  

British Fluid Power Association (BFPA)  

This Autumn, the BFPA launched its ‘Choose Q for Quality’ campaign which raises awareness of the BFPA Approved Hose Assemblies Scheme and its associated Q logo. The scheme sets best practice guidelines for hose manufacturing, distribution and fitting. Members who sell and fit hoses under the Q mark must meet strict criteria to carry the accreditation.  
The BFPA wanted to reach professionals within the construction industry and also highlight why hose re-ending, a practice Q members will simply not docan cause serious injury. Twelve launched a thought leadership campaign targeting construction titles.  


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A post shared by BFPA (@bfpauk)

11) Implement zero tolerance towards hose re-ending, urges BFPA – Construction Plant News, 20th October  

“The UK’s fluid power trade association has launched its ‘Choose Q for Quality’ campaign highlighting BFPA Approved Quality Members. “The pandemic has us all under extra strain and I know that many company owners or workers across the construction industry will be looking for ways to save money – but let me tell you now, re-ending hoses to save a few pounds is not the answer,” comments Nigel Thomason, BFPDA Chairman.“ – Construction Plant News, 20th October

 Qube Learning  

Last but by no means least is this piece for HR Director secured on behalf of Qube Learning, training and learning provider which has been helping young people reach their full potential and employers tap into funding available through an Apprenticeship Levy Transfer.  

There hasn’t been a more important year than 2020 for ensuring all avenues for training are explored and taken advantage of. Twelve has helped Qube Learning reach HR professionals across several industries including logistics, care and retail to raise awareness of the government-backed training funds available to them to implement traineeships, apprenticeships and other training programmes for their future and current employees.  

12) Guide to tapping into apprentice levy transfers – HR Director, 22nd June  

“Every HR Director in organisations with an annual payroll of £3 million or more will be well aware of the apprenticeship levy, with 0.5% of their payroll going to the levy, that amount of money is hard to ignore. Yet from our experience it looks like many businesses are ignoring it, missing out on thousands of pounds available to fund training by not utilising the Levy transfer option.”  – HR Director, 22nd June

That’s our year in review! We’ve enjoyed working with all our clients and exciting projects in 2020 and from all of us at Twelve PR, we hope you have a great new year.  If you’re looking for support for your campaigns in 2021, please don’t hesitate to get in touch for a virtual coffee date (at least until physical meetings resume!)  –  

Bridging the gap between ‘what is said’ and ‘what is heard’  

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As individuals, we’ve all experienced the terrible frustration of miscommunication – the dissonance between what we’re saying and what is being understood.  

Businesses are similarly not immune to miscommunication and there are some famous examples of misunderstandings involving even the largest of organisationsIn 2009, HSBC had to spend $10 million on a rebranding campaign after their slogan, ‘Assume Nothing’ was understood in several countries to mean  ‘Do Nothing’.  

Public relations can play an essential role in ensuring that what you are trying to say, your key messages, are communicated effectively to the people you are trying to reach, your target audience, so that the information is received, understood and in some cases, acted upon. In fact, that couldn’t be more of a textbook definition of PR.  

But what happens when youre facing an audience whose views are so entrenched they can’t hear what you’re saying?  

The story gap  

This is what Catherine Ashford from Crisis UK and Tamsyn Hyatt from the Frameworks Institute discussed during their presentation at the Market Research Society’s Storytelling Virtual Summit, which highlighted the communication challenges they face when talking about homelessness.  

Catherine said: “Stories are powerful and we can identify two clear types. Those that we are told and those we tell ourselves. Both help us as individuals make sense of the world we live in.” 

When it comes to homelessness, Catherine showed that there is a big difference between the story the sector was telling and what is actually being heard by their audiences – in this case, the wider public. Crisis and the Framework Institute have been researching this ‘story gap’ to see how it might be bridged.  

Professionals working within sector understand that people living on the street are dealing with complicated problems like addiction and that these issues are related to other causes of homelessness such as poverty. This is why providing people with the right support early on is so important in preventing homelessness.   

There is plenty of evidence to illustrate this and was explained to respondents as part of a recent Crisis study to see how the general public perceived rough sleepers 

Researchers found participants did recognise that the causes of homelessness were complex and that street sleepers were dealing with difficult circumstances. However, many respondents expressed different views when talking about who was responsible for homelessness, how it was caused and how this might affect the prevention of rough sleeping.  

One participant was paraphrased as saying, ‘[Homeless people] put drink and drugs before their own future and don’t think of anyone else, so they are creating their own destinyI think people make that decision to follow that path. 

Over and over again researchers found that the true-based narrative was unable to dislodge the self-told story of how homelessness is caused and at worse, simply reinforced beliefs already held.  

The study concluded that Crisis had three narrative challenges to overcome Firstly, a very narrow definition of homelessnesscentering on stereotypical views of the homeless as the hobo. Secondly, focus on individualism without considering the wider context or society systems which is epitomised by the person who makes bad choices.  Lastly, that prevention was totally absent from people’s thinking. This triptych leads to fatalism, belief that no change is possible.  

Change is possible  

So, what can be done in the face of such long-held views? Ultimately, the story needs to be reframed, told in a different way so that the key messages are received and understood.  

For Crisis their research found that using stories to explain the constant pressures in our lives and how close some of us are to the brink helped to shift people’s understanding.  

On social media, Crisis highlighted stories of constant pressure on social media with tweets such as ‘In the UK, we believe in supporting each other. But right now, people are struggling to afford the basics. This constant pressure is what can finally push people and families into homelessness #ThisCanChange’ (November 2019)   

By using storiespeople are able to think about homelessness in a new way, develop a strong mental picture and understand the problems of homelessness and how it might happen in a straightforward way.  


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A post shared by Crisis (@crisis_uk)

Similarly, Crisis also found that talking about different experiences of homelessness and putting this into context was also key. Using case studies but paired with wider contextual data showed that these were not ‘one-off’ stories and helped to explain why change is needed to wider social systems which contribute and aid rough sleeping.  

In the last Crisis Autumn Appeal, the team produced an infographic with a breakdown of the different types on homelessness in Great Britain and also shared independent stories.  This was designed to refocus the ‘blame’ for homelessness on wider systems rather than an individual’s actions 

Bridging the gap  

Ultimately, communication is a two-way process. In our role as PR professionals, not only do we help our clients communicate their core messages to their stakeholders, but we are also responsible for listening to our target audiences and registering if message has been understood or not.  These learnings are then factored back into our ever-evolving communication plans so whatever you are trying to say is really heard.  

If you’d like help communicating your key messages to your target audience, get in touch –