Hiring top professionals is always competitive. These days, it requires new ideas and approaches.

One such approach can be to use thought leadership as a powerful employee recruitment tool. Creating compelling content that conveys a firm’s expertise can attract the best talent. They, too, want to be associated with thought leaders.

Many professionals are also motivated by a desire to be considered among the best thinkers in their field and to work with others aspiring to the same level. Midsized firms can attract such natural communicators through a broad-based commitment to thought leadership.

In businesses whose people deliver expertise to customers, thought leadership can be a great business development and marketing asset. It’s how consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group have built multibillion-dollar businesses, and increasingly how wealth management, architecture, IT services, software, and other firms are gaining share.

A Culture of the Mind

Companies must commit to a true culture of thought leadership. This means becoming industry innovators, establishing pathways for professionals who want to publish, speak, and network, and actively seeking top talent who share this vision. As this culture spreads internally, and more people participate in raising the firm’s profile, the “industry-leading” aspect of the brand will strengthen, bringing in brighter talent in a virtuous circle.

“Our business model is all about being on the leading edge,” says Gary Jakobs, President and CEO of Ascent Environmental, Inc., the 100-person Sacramento-based design, planning, and environmental compliance firm, which drives thought leadership through a comprehensive on- and off-line strategy. “We put a lot of effort into client and colleague education and sharing our ideas across the sector, so it has been natural for us to seek and then support a core team of creative thinkers and avid communicators.”

Building the Brain Trust

Here are some simple steps to using your thought leadership culture to draw in the best talent.

Ensure your firm is a thought leader. This is hard and takes long and careful work, so the approach isn’t for everyone. And it must start with the CEO. If you haven’t already begun the thought-leadership journey, using it as a recruiting tool won’t be an option right away.

Establish a communications unit (even if small to start), put in place protocols for content and attribution. Provide training, mentoring, and editorial assistance as needed. A little help and advice can go a long way, especially in building impact through social media.

Make sure articles are bylined from actual people, not generically from the company. Corporate content is regarded as public relations drivel, while readers trust individuals far more. Encourage thought leaders to develop their own voices, which can build strong links with their audiences.

Create a development track for talent who want more podium time or LinkedIn likes. Most professionals don’t arrive as subject matter experts, researchers, writers, or keynote speakers. They learn it. Help them. Developing several experts will build the firm’s reputation – and valuation.

Make sure your thought leaders are deeply involved in professional associations or societies – all touchpoints to other industry professionals. Encourage them to accept important external roles, which may include undertaking outside work. And be sure to pay them well and keep them happy so they don’t leave.

Promote your best talent as industry leaders. It will make them want to stay and putting them on a pedestal shows that you’ll do the same for upcoming talent too. Then market your firm to colleges and all groups of potential employees as the brain trust it has become.

This approach may seem like a lot of work— and it is. It is an advanced technique. The hardest part is getting effective thought-leadership marketing up and running. If this is not already in place, this isn’t for you. Even if it is, before profiling your top talent so publicly, you will also want to make sure your company is the most attractive place for them to stay… with a culture of real thought leadership, support for their expertise, and a sense of strength in the collective brand throughout the team. Otherwise, you risk losing them.

I Think, Therefore I Am

If you are established as experts in your market, using your brand to attract similarly minded top talent can be a great way to sustain and strengthen that differentiation.

Since breaking away from a larger group ten years ago, the environmental services firm Ascent Environmental has leveraged its reputation as a thought leader to drive solid growth. The strategy has been successful to the point that, despite being a startup, they have never had to use an outside recruiter.

The entire leadership team of Ascent, recognized experts in their field, are key personalities at industry events, training seminars, and publications. Leadership roles played by Jakobs and other Ascent Environmental colleagues in major environmental and planning-practice conferences ensure that their names are all included on promotional materials and that Ascent Environmental is positioned as a leader to the most expert visionaries in the industry – making the firm an employer of choice.

As Jakobs notes, “For us, being in the public arena is not just good marketing, it’s a commitment to fresh ideas, and people find that very attractive.”

Have a Plan

It’s one thing to want to use thought leadership as a recruitment strategy. Actually, implementing that strategy and measuring progress towards results requires an organized and systematic approach. One way to do this is to have a dedicated One Page Plan to get your best thinking on paper and use it as a blueprint for making though leadership work for your mid-sized company.