Quite often it happens that a company knocks on the door of, let’s say a PR-agency, to ‘build’ or even ‘create’ thought leadership. It’s a bit like wanting to write a book: many people dream of it, barely anyone actually gets it done and out the door. It takes a while to create then a ton of effort to distribute, absorbing rejection after rejection. It takes proper time, and stamina.

And as with getting books published, thought leadership is not for everyone. Yet there are some paths for getting there. And in this series of blogs, I will sketch some directions.

Thought leadership: expert or authority?

For twenty years now, I’ve worked on building thought leadership for companies. I dare to say that I know a thing or two about it. And although writing about it is not likely to get me any thought leadership (too narrow an audience) I am sharing my thoughts and experience with you because I believe that companies, organizations, experts who have something interesting to contribute to global knowledge, who can initiate improvement or change or open mindedness, deserve to be heard and seen.

But first things first, what exactly is thought leadership? Wikipedia strikes it as “An individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.”

An authority is not the same as an expert. I know many experts who don’t make themselves seen or heard and they are therefore not thought leaders. A thought leader is someone established media will rely on when they need an expert’s opinion on the subject. The thought leader shares visions, speaks up, lectures students and explains developments in the world in their area.

So expertise is a start point, not the end stage.

Research versus Netflix

Take virology, somehow that was never a big topic with the general public which changed 180 degrees in March 2020. People, media, governments needed guidance through this new and dangerous situation.  Although the number of thought leaders in this field grew exponentially in 2020, the number of experts did not. They’ve studied virology for decades, worked in the field forever and while others were watching Netflix they invested their time in Sars, Mers and Ebola. When these viruses spread, people in the West paid some attention and general virus thought leadership grew, but in 2020 the stage was theirs completely. Even though they never aimed for such a role.

The pandemic creates a good example for the last part of the definition: their expertise is sought. And for expertise to be sought, topicality is needed. Topicality and relevance go hand in hand and relevance is the leader of the duo. Relevance is about how many people are affected and therefore interested in this. That is why B2B topics only really take off when there is a consumer (wider audience) implication.

Trust, relevance and topicality

We have thought leaders on climate change, racism, start-ups, gender equality, mental health in general, on data, privacy, creating habits, fitness and building muscle, happiness, online safety, sustainability, many political topics, the ocean and many, many more. On each of these subjects, you probably think of a person or company who you trust when they speak about the related topics. They have spoken to you with expertise when you were looking for it.

To understand thought leadership it is good to look at what news is first – as news will always accelerate thought leadership. For news to be news, it needs relevance (who cares), trustworthiness (the source of the news is expertiseful) and topicality (this happens now in the world).

Thought leadership canvas

Thought leadership is nothing new. Yet it is a growing phenomenon. There is more information from experts on more globally connected topics available than ever. There are also more bubbles and more thought leaders than ever. And although thought leadership is not for everyone, if it is for you, let me show you a framework to work from. I’ve built the canvas with from all scenario’s I have been involved in.

And although two dimensions don’t cover the complexity, I think you’ll get the drift. I am very happy to share the methodology with you on email. Just send an email and I’ll send over the Canvas with a manual. Have a look and then decide if thought leadership is for you.


Nothing gets by you. You notice the said and unsaid; you have a clear antenna for the needs of others. You are smart, on your feet and proactive. You hear something and you conclude the logical next steps. You have a strong intuition on when to check and when to move forward. You get things done, are a pro in organizing yourself and others and do it with flair and intelligence. You like a challenge, an entrepreneurial mindset, there is a bit of Pipi Longstocking in you: believing that things you haven’t done before are great to try.

 I am looking for my right hand


– Assist in setting up new processes and project management, ensuring timely and accurate planning

– Planning smaller events and activities while keeping an eye on the bigger picture

– Assisting in all sorts of promotional activities: webinar organizing, blog posts, imagery, website updates, etc. – for customers and in-house

– Preparing materials, making sure all details are sorted for meetings and ensuring the right follow-up of meetings

– Work with suppliers, partners and customers – maintain relationships, getting agreements in place etc.


Personality, you are: 

– Good with people – empathetic, antennas for people’s needs

– Smart – logic is your biggest talent, you put one and one together

– Problem solver – you don’t run into problems, you find a way to get out of them

– Caretaker – you like running a smooth household, taking care of the people in it

– Well organized – naturally punctual

– Entrepreneurial – keen to find out new things, learn and find your way


Skills and background, you are:

– Fluent in English and Dutch – you understand, speak and write both languages well

– Down with most common software systems (google suite, MS365) – and okay to learn to work with new ones

– A proper project manager

– Able to switch between conceptual and detailed thinking

– Intellectually the equivalent to ‘Higher Professional Education’ or Academic

– Interested and/or experienced in the tech sector 

– Okay to work from home (especially now) and commute ones or twice a week to a workplace (Amsterdam – Utrecht area)

Any additional skills like: writing, design or administration are a plus.  

I care more about skills and personality than years of experience 


What I have to offer:

– Job for 32 or 40 hours a week

– An entrepreneurial environment – lots of room for own initiative

– Mentorship, attention for your personal development

– Trust

– Market conform salary


About Leoni Janssen Consultancy

LJC is a brand and communications agency and network that is founded by Leoni Janssen early 2020 and that is setup around experts in many fields related to Brand Building: PR in different countries, naming, design, events, video etc. All elements that together make up branding, marketing and corporate communications.

Leoni is obviously the founder and the lead consultant, with 20 years of brand and corporate communications experience mainly honed in the international technology sector. She serves as a CMO on demand and consultant for technology organizations.

LJC contracts experts for specific projects and retainers and where needed delivers a joint customer offering under Leoni’s supervision. You would be the third full time person on the team.

Do reach out to leoni@leonijanssen.com if you are interested or have any questions or to Savana ter Burg to hear first-hand how it is to work with me.

* I don’t mind  job titles, so feel free to suggest something else that fits with this profile and you. 


Branding is a tough topic and almost impossible to talk about without agreeing to the definitions at the start of the conversation. There are more words like this: innovation and communication are also almost impossible terms to work with as everyone has an own understanding of what that means or what it should look like. 

On the one hand, branding is not important, at the same time it is also the most important thing in business and value creation. You can compare it to the automatic part of the nervous system, we don’t really need to pay much attention to it when we are healthy, it takes care of itself, but it is involved in everything. I would like to try to clarify things in a blog series about Branding in relation to more tangible efforts in business.

But first an attempt to set definitions:

A brand is not

A brand is not a logo, it is not a visual, not a corporate identity and it is not the collection of all images and visual expressions.

It’s not an ad, it’s not a commercial proposition,

It is not the company’s messaging, it is not the values, it is not the purpose (the why) of the company.

It is not the customer experience at any touchpoint with the company, not the web experience, it is not an event.

A brand is not the thought leadership that the company is known for.

It is not the name, or the labeling of the entire product portfolio.

The brand is not the behavior of employees, the attitude or commitment to diversity and privacy.

It is not defined by who are acquisition candidates and how post merger integration is carried out, it is not the power and speed with which companies can incorporate other companies after an acquisition.

It is not the vision of the CEO and not the culture of the company.


It’s all of the above and everything above affects a brand. So that is probably not the most helpful clarification. 


What a brand is

There are many sensible definitions of “Brand” and one of my favorite is:



In this definition by Jeff Bezos, Brand equates to “reputation”, which is as much as the “perception of your identity”.


Then a brand is the recognized (artificial) identity of an organization, service or person. The organization, service or person is not the “owner” of the brand, the person (the audience) having the perception, owns it.

The organization, service or person can and will influence that perception purposefully and unconsciously through advertising, but also everyday behavior, through offerings, service and knowledge level. The perception is supported and made recognizable by a logo, colors and images that evoke desired emotions.


Branding affects the entire business; it influences the behavior and values ​​of employees. It largely determines the culture and the culture of the company also influences the brand / perception. It affects the values ​​and vice versa. The brand determines what the positioning is and the positioning loads the brand and the names of divisions, business units and products.

“If you take good care of the little things, Big things will take care of themselves.”

So if you run the separate parts such as acquisition, product development, user experience, culture, navigating megatrends, thought leadership and talent acquisition – you could call them ‘small things’ – according to the identity, core and reputation of the organization, then Branding will take care of itself and you don’t have to worry about it.



For many things, the ROI is difficult to calculate. Take for example getting dressed in the morning, putting on your shoes, or the “ROI of your Mother”, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it (the video below is totally worth it, check it out to see the master in action). We all know that these things -clothes, shoes, and also mothers-are extremely important for the success of a meeting, of a day or even for the rest of your life. They are indispensable and yet it cannot be calculated how they will pay off today, next month, or over the next 5 years.


Branding is another such topic: What does a strong brand deliver? What is its value if you sell your company? What does it do for your revenues and profits? Having goodwill and a strong brand is valuable, and also requires investment to create visibility, deliver good products, expertise, and customer experience. It’s hard to pick one element and say: ‘That’s what determined the value of our brand’. Are you successful because you employ experts, have a visionary CEO or a great product? Or is it due to a combination of all the above? Or are you successful despite missing one of these elements? Would fixing that one issue greatly increase your success?


Last week I had the privilege to advise a very cool company about the possibility of rebranding; a company with great expertise in an industry that is currently in the spotlight. They run two partly overlapping brands that are both well-known in their industry and reliable, but at the same time need some refreshing, reinforcement and scaling. Their business has been heavily affected by Covid-19, in both a negative and a positive way. The current brands can’t make enough use of the situation while over the years, their offering has become extremely broad and difficult to summarize. The meeting was about merging these two brands and clarifying the market position. The next step is actually quite clear but processes such as these require many considerations.


A few thoughts on that:


Only invest if it creates value


You should only invest in a brand, in thought leadership, visibility, and rebranding if the outcome leads to higher business value than the initial investment. Ideally, it wouldn’t just be a little, but a lot higher. That’s the ROI of branding. This is not always as evident as you’d want it to be. Branding, or thought leadership, for example, will never be the only step/conversion in the sales process. There are countless other instances that can undo the created “profit” through visibility. But overall – and if you do it right – building visibility, confidence, and branding enlarges the top of your sales funnel. You will get in touch with more potential customers, which increases the chances of closing deals. Company value is related to revenue and revenue potential in addition to the goodwill of the brand or company. You won’t find it in your bank account today, but it is on the balance sheet.


ROI versus CoDN


What if the I of ROI is lower than CoDN: the Cost of Doing Nothing? Then it’s not an investment. I don’t call painting my house an investment, that’s called maintenance, something you do to prevent additional costs in the future. In many cases, “maintenance” and “necessary adjustments” in a company can look very similar to an investment. And that paint on the window frame also feels like an investment and sometimes I catch myself trying to postpone it to avoid costs. However,  if you compare the cost of investment to the cost of refraining from it, the line of action becomes obvious. You just paint the house. In our case, you have two brands that you can merge fairly easily without any significant loss of brand awareness – as both brands would benefit from stylistic and strategic updating anyway. Thus, merging means that you only have to do that work for one brand, instead of for two. From that moment on, all future brand investments will be scaled up across both brands and areas.


Rebrand or reorganize


Making the decision on investing in rebranding, as an important step for the future of a company, is rarely about the initial investment and even less about the money. It is more so about investing in the setup as a whole. A brand change is a business change, it is a re-organization (and nobody likes that word). Changing or merging brands is always a signal of something much bigger. The old jacket no longer fits. So even if the brand change is a clear next step, people can still have doubts about everything involved in the process, and those doubts aren’t unfounded. So we come to the question and the trade-off: Can we step up (now)? Of course, there is a chance that you won’t find out until you do it. But that’s a completely different blog post.

I am looking for a young professional in the field of branding and communications. Do reach out if this you, or if you know someone like this.
– intelligent, and smart, curious and eager to learn about branding, PR, Corporate communications, managing (complex) customer accounts (experience is a plus, eager attitude is a requirement);
– problem solver, can do mentality;
– personable, interested in people, fun to work with (for me and customers);
– organized – project management skills and character that gets things done and organizes well;
– wanting to learn on the job, pick up as we go;
– eye for detail;
– good with people, relationship builder;
– fluent in English, verbally and in writing, ((near-)native would be very welcome);
– able to juggle several things without getting overwhelmed;
– good judge of when to flag, ask and when to carry on;
– a fitting educational background;
– any specific additional skill or interest is very welcome; like basic design wise, or writing etc;
– understanding of basic tooling like Powerpoint, Keynote, Canva, Pages, Trello etc is a plus
– Support/junior role in building brands for companies – assist in everything (and learn while we are at it) – tasks that fo with that, include:
   – Basic material writing, support in preparing plans and proposals;
   – Basic design work, like finetuning a powerpoint deck;
   – Basic project planning, progress follow up (familiarity with planning tools/thinking is a plus)
   – Maintaining databases, planning of meetings, updating website (experience with any CMS is a plus, project management overviews;
   – Managing relationships with suppliers, help organizing events;
   – Help manage suppliers of any kind;
   – Running/supporting social media accounts;
   – General branding activities to help grow visibility for LJC and customers; through campaigns, events, newsletters.
– A manager who is an industry veteran, who likes to teach and be a committed mentor to your personal growth;
– Flexible working hours and location;
– Hours tbd – at least 3.5 days a week, ideally 5;
– Starting with a 6 months contract, looking to expand and build from there;
– Salary that bench marks for a marketing/communications junior;
– Immediate availability is a plus;
– LJC is based in NL: www.leonijanssen.com
LJC is a brand and communications agency that is setup around experts in many fields: PR in different countries, naming, design, events, video etc. All elements that together make up branding, marketing and corporate communications.
Leoni founded it in Jan 2020 and she is the lead consultant and serves as a CMO on demand for customers for a shorter or longer period of time. LJC contracts experts for specific projects and retainers and where needed delivers a joint customer offering under Leoni’s supervision.
The key objective in working with customers is that we create something outstanding, we don’t do mediocre. We create, start from scratch if we have to and go the extra mile.
Do reach out to leoni@leonijanssen.com if you are interested or have any questions!


We usually keep a straight face or we are told to keep a friendly face in presenting companies, organizations, political or professional views. We have learned somehow that a neutral face is more professional than an expressive one. Look at all the images on LinkedIn and in newspapers.

But when building thought leadership, you are constantly convincing people and your face is a very persuasive asset, because it is straight from the gut, what you see is what you get.

So I would challenge people with an expressive face to get aware of the power of it and use it conveying what they want to express. The face is the larger part of the 80% ‘body language’ that transmits the message. Nobody doubts a facial expression, as it is obviously hard to to fake it without people noticing.

I think this is quite easy to relate to for many now being on video calls a lot. That setting makes people use visual cues more than ever. And look for them too – they are all we have to focus on.


We see passion on faces, doubt, kindness, engagement etc. I have heard that my face says a lot.  Facial expressions are just so much quicker and more precise than words are and more international too.

So my conclusion, of having watched so many faces more intensely than normal the last few weeks, has been, that I will focus way more on people’s facial expressions in any messaging or mediatraining I’ll lead from now on.

So use it, and be aware. Let me close off with when facial expressions are actually tricky:

  • When politicians and public figures forget for a second that raising an eyebrow can the next big thing in the news or company gossip.
  • If you try to hide your true thinking in a conversation, and you have a face that is lightly wired to your thinking, you will have a tough time keeping your cards to yourself.
  • When there is inconsistency between content and facial expressions. When you hear a serious message or apology and see a grin, trust is out the door. I see that a lot with politicians actually.
  • When facial responses are too big to hide. Remember Fauci trying to hide his expression during an early Corona briefing in March?

So, stay aware and keep twinkling!


(And ‘the use of timing and silence’ too is underestimated. Have you seen Trudeau last week with his longest silence ever, making a clear statement without saying anything? That is advanced.)



How do you select experts to do a job for you? You don’t want to duplicate yourself and probably look to hire someone who knows stuff you don’t and you can barely check. Here are some tips straight from the pitch team.

I realized what a headache this can be, when I renovated my house last summer and had to selected the team to do this. I quickly knew I would be needing an interpreter, an orchestrator and a team leader to get it done. You want good people in your house, but there is no way you’ll be able to find, select and run a team of carpenters, plumbers, door hangers (yes, it’s a profession).  I found a good builder to do that for me.

Seeking advice from people you trust and who know the specific area, is often the shortest and safest route. And you should do that too when selecting branding professionals. Below some considerations from me, having been the one to select experts and teams many time. Let me know if this is helpful at all.

1. Objectify– Know what you are looking for

This applies to vacancies as well as to hiring experts or agencies. Even if you don’t know what the drug is you need, you can describe the complaint as precisely as possible, and then check how many offered solutions will adequately actually remove that pain.

I always set up a list with features or characteristics that are important to me. In the left margin I list the features and each applicant or agency gets 1 column and I literally mark them and ask the selection team to do the same. I know what I am looking for, so per need I can tell how well the different ‘offerers’ score. This helps not just in understanding your preferences and voting, but also in discussing differences in perception in a group of selectors. You’ll learn about what is important to your co-selectors.

Plus you need this because your memory is simply not capable of remembering all 20 variables from various parties. The brain has the task to spare processing capacity and starts summarizing before you know it. In this case you want to keep track of all the individual elements, and you want to weigh and compare between the parties.

I will mention a few features that you will probably want to include in your list: “understands my business sufficiently to act fast”, “has qualities to be a sparring partner at the right level”, “can execute”, “is able to convince internal decision-makers”,”is able to bring across knowledge”. If you select people/agencies along these elements, plus “planning skills”, “available when needed”, “tactical”, “creative” and other criteria that are important in your specific situation, you can compare at a later moment and adequately discuss with colleagues.

Do not forget the important internal debate about the criteria. Maybe you do not agree on the criteria or the scoring, or you revise the criteria after seeing the parties. That is not bad. An overview like I described will help in the discussion and enable you to think and talk about them openly and transparently. Feel free to email me if you would like to see such a sheet for inspiration. Happy to share.

2. Click does not count

Of course click counts, but stay focused. I click with a lot of people with whom I should only drink a glass of wine or something, but should not necessarily work with. There is click and click.

Don’t go with the charming people, unless ‘charming’ was on your list. Check if the person you have been talking to, will be actually be taking care of your account.

It belongs to the first point ‘objectify’. Yet I mention ‘click’ separately because it easily makes things unclear. It also happens the other way around: people with great skills but substantive lesser social skills get rejected for positions in which sales techniques are not even important. Even though it is not a criterion, charm affects all of us tremendously.

One thing I like to mention is: be aware of accents and if someone is addressing you in a second language. People talking to you in a second language, always carry a handicap. They are probably 10 or 20 IQ points more intelligent than they appear to you as they are managing the interface of language constantly.

Try to look through all this and just touch upon issues like integrity, like-minded values, skills ​​and substance; which can also be a form of click

3. Never select on price

This was hard when I selected my home renovator, cause when everything is expensive you want to bill that looks least bad. But i stuck with the principle and it worked out. Comparing quotes in tenders is almost impossible (unless you provide RFP type of lists to fill in), but it has to be done anyway. Price matters….

Be conscious The ‘cheapest on paper’ might underestimate (consciously or unconsciously) the process and might charge you later or you are left with incomplete projects. I learned in my process that the cheaper builder had scoped very slim which would have left me with unexpected costs later.

But even more importantly, if he/she is not good or not delivers what you needed, then even half of the bill will be too much.

We all know quotes like:

If you think a professional is expressive, try working with an amateur.


Think of what it costs to fail this or not do it.

In the case of equal criteria the price can be the deciding factor, but equal ability is hardly ever there.

Studying proposals is a very educative exercise any way and in any choice you make, you probably lose something you liked in the other party. Talk about that with co-selectors, the suppliers, applicants and maybe you can get best of both.


Happy selecting!


I do a lot of questioning to find the way to go. I ask them out loud and internally to build consultation and to understand the world. I ask to understand constructs, connections, logic, and the context and stakeholders surrounding the matters at hand. I ask to get agreement on the end goal, get to know the start point and to understand and envision the way to get there. And there is this one question i ask multiple times a day – out loud and quietly.


Imagine below tactical and strategic questions – and if you and i have spoken in the last week, you might recognize one or two of them.

  • What should be in the post-merger integration plan?
  • How to create a best corporate communications setup for next year for Europe?
  • Should we hire a global agency, individual agencies or run with in an inhouse team?
  • What formulation works best to get the buy in from the team?
  • Should we double our marketing budget?
  • How to raise the profile of our CEO?
  • How to build a stronger brand?
  • What needs to be the focus in our marketing and branding strategy for 2020?
  • When and how should we act/respond to this data leak (or general issue)?
  • We are going to launch in Europe, one country at a time. What should we be watching out for?
  • How should we pitch this story?
  • How to propel our social media?

All good questions right? Some huge and some are tiny. They do not have a lot in common at first sight. But they all start the same mental process and I hear myself repeating the same return question all the time as that is what the answer depends on.


It is this same question always that lays the foundation for any strategy and any tactic. And don’t focus too much on the ‘what’ in the question, it is the detailed ‘whom’ that matters just as much.


The question is easy, the multitude of answers make it messy. There is hardly ever one ‘whom’ – list, identify and understand them, understand how they influence each other, when etc. There is hardly ever one objective and the starting points are never the same for all groups(s). There are always multiple stages the audiences will go through and success does not happen overnight or as a one off. That is where story or content layering (marketing) comes in, and PR, campaigns, in all types of forms you can think of.


What question do you lead with?


I am really good at reverse parking, in parallel too. I just enjoy a smooth single-move park. The reason I am bringing this up, is not to boost my ego, but to to make a point about having quota for women in leadership positions. A topical discussion in the Netherlands since the Social Economical Council (SER) advised the government last week to make a (whooping) 30% women in supervisory boards (!) mandatory for listed companies.

I am unsure the supervisory board is the place to start, but that aside, let’s just focus on anything in that direction becoming mandatory. I have been in doubt about quota for a long time but organic change is so extremely slow in this conservative country, that I am now leaning in the direction of the SER. Let me clarify that by telling you about my outstanding parking skills.

I am good at it. I have had people literally applauding me in the streets, once an older gentleman took off his hat to bow for me, finger whistle homages from across the street have happened, no kidding. I don’t get a weekly cheer so when I do, I just wholeheartedly enjoy the 5 seconds of fame.

How many men get compliments?

So by now I am quite aware that it is a stand out thing to do a good parallel park. Let’s do a test – how many men get compliments on their parking? So far i haven’t heard a positive reaction and i know some men I asked to be minimally in my league or ahead. My point is of course – although i would love to believe to be absolutely remarkable at something – that my parking is nothing but proper. It is nowhere near sensational yet i get (and enjoy) a silly amount of praise. Which can – sadly – only happen against the prejudice of women and reverse parking.

Good at it… for a woman

Also I have been told to be good at kiting…, for a woman. The kite surf instructor wrapped up a day of blood sweat and tears on the beach with saying: ‘you are great at flying a kite, you have an excellent feel for it….’ and just when he made me feel warm and fuzzy, swallowing my beginner frustration, he added ‘…for a woman’. I’ll spare you what followed.

Fast thinkers need prejudice

Of course people conclude things based on prejudice; earlier experience and what society has taught them. That is how the brain work and that is how it should work, we have too many decisions to make to think them all through. But prejudice is not what should influence sound, important business decisions about individuals.


This everyday story is really for everyone who thinks that such biases no longer exist, for those who naturally assume that the world already is equal between the sexes. So if you really don’t think anything is needed to eliminate disadvantages, just ask any lady who can properly park a car.