Key takeaways:
Your internal subject-matter experts can get your point across in an authentic way
Outsourcing thought leadership runs up the budget
Personable video is perfect for the Growing Middle tier of content

You just put the finishing touches on your thought leadership campaign. You have the data and messaging you want to get across. You’ve identified the target audience. You know the precise channels you want to leverage.

But you’ve got little-to-no budget to work with to promote it.

For many marketers, this might feel like the point of no return, and the campaign needs to be deprioritized. But there’s a lever that just about every marketer can pull — their internal subject-matter experts.

Once you know what needs to be said and how to say it, you only need to identify who should say it. There might not be a better place to turn than in-house.

Using your own subject-matter experts will help with the budget, but also goes a long way to humanize your content with real perspectives from your people. The trick is to identify the right person to deliver the message. Once you do, it’s off to the races with your in-house subject-matter experts leading the charge.

Cost savings of in-house video production

Outsourcing video creation is expensive. Agencies, travel, and in-person video shoots all add up.

The ROI of in-house content creation is easy to recognize. Fewer moving parts, less money spent on agencies, and less of a need to rely on others.

For an earlier piece, we outlined that just the act of sending an internal video team to do an on-site recording can cost nearly $5000. So many marketers leave video out of their thought leadership campaigns due to these costs.

But this is where the “Growing Middle” of video creation shines.

Most projects won’t meet the justification of a $25,000 studio shoot just for a few promo videos and a social clip or two. Still, many need to be of a much higher quality than Zoom or other meeting tools can deliver. This middle tier of content creation using digital video platforms can hit the mark.


Video is a must for each campaign to help with promos, teasers, social content, short explainers, and a number of other ways to distill the information into a digestible format, especially at the top of the funnel. A 5000-word PDF won’t hit the mark there.

This is why there’s a need for a subject-matter expert to drive the point home.

What to look for in a potential subject-matter expert

OK, so you’re convinced video should be a priority! Now comes the hard part — identifying your SME and then getting them on camera.

The first piece is pretty intuitive but still needs to be thought out. You know the messaging for the campaign better than anyone. Your SME needs to be someone who knows the material inside and out. They may have been the same person you met with for an informational session or the individual whose research you’re promoting.

For example, we met with Naomi Titleman for a campaign about the power of video for DEI and HR professionals. We recorded her with both the written piece and the promotional videos in mind — one of which is featured at the top of this blog.

Your on-camera SME should:

  • Have specific expertise and significant experience related to the topic
  • Be someone capable of speaking freely on the topic without the need of a script
  • Be a more senior team member
  • Have availability to meet for a 10 to 15-minute recording session

Titleman hit the mark in each of those categories. She has ample experience in the field of HR, she hosts her own video podcast, is the co-founder of her company, and had just enough time on the calendar to meet with us.

It’s best to prepare your speaker well in advance of any recording session, so they can get their thoughts and notes together. Plus, this will streamline the recording session for the sake of your SME’s calendar.

Now comes the easy part — recording your thought leader, editing the video, and getting it out to the right channel.

How to quickly create thought leadership video content

First step, set up a date and time where you and the speaker can meet. You should do this in a high-quality recording platform. Of course, we recommend our own, but you should be covered so long as you can capture the speaker in HD. Plus, your speaker can feel confident and relaxed using our in-platform teleprompter.

Next, the video needs to be edited down to the perfect soundbite to promote the rest of the campaign. Socialive’s Editor is another great example of a platform to use. It should allow a way to quickly find the right spot, trim out the rest, add branding, and get the clip on its way.

All in all, this should ideally be a same-day project — not a days-long journey to create the video.

Of course, our marketing team follows this process. Here’s an example of one of our recording and editing walkthroughs for a video featuring an SME.

Outsourcing thought leadership has a fixed cost

So why go through the process of recording everything yourself? Why not just pass along the work to an agency to handle the recording? Why not just draft up a script and send it over to an external SME with a bit of notoriety?

These tactics drive up costs — and remember, we’re working with a thin budget here.

Using freelance business analysts and consultants

Many business analysts and consultants can serve as great spokespeople for a digital campaign. They specialize in thought leadership, and analysts are great at digging into the research.

The average business analyst charges around $60 per hour of work. Everything from reviewing the data, crafting a narrative, and recording their content counts as billable work.

Custom market research projects

Hiring a consulting firm or other group to do primary or custom research and own the project end-to-end guarantees that your team doesn’t need to do as much work on the front end. It should be expected that video content, promotional materials, and rich content are all a part of the package.

But this is the most cost-prohibitive approach.

A custom research project can cost between $20,000 and $50,000 per project. Again, the benefit here is that it can be a hands-off approach for the marketing team.

This probably wouldn’t be a realistic option since you’ve already done the legwork on the research, and cost is a factor.

Influencer marketing and paid spokespeople

Many marketers will choose to hire an influencer or well-known expert on the topic to be the face of the campaign.

For a mid-tier business influencer, you could expect to spend somewhere between $250 and $1250 per video. It’s not nearly as costly as outsourcing the entire project, but it’s still much more expensive than turning to your own internal SMEs.

Besides, hiring someone to speak on your company’s behalf is pretty obviously a paid promotion.

There are clever ways to make it seem more authentic — such as working your messaging into organic content that the expert or creator is already known for. Creating a roundtable or webinar on the topic and letting them be the face of the promotion.

But this still risks coming off as inauthentic and can’t replicate the real experience of someone who specializes in the area you’re highlighting.

Cost-effective, authentic content in the Growing Middle

We’ve mentioned authenticity a few times now. There’s a reason why — your audience wants to know the real opinions and experiences of real people. Paid sponsorships defeat the purpose of creating authentic thought leadership content.

There is space for the larger, $50K project, but it’s much more scalable to have more cost-effective solutions. The “Growing Middle” fits this concept perfectly. High-quality, professional video content that matches the effort and thought that has gone into the campaign. Just with a more cost-effective approach.

The best way to sum up the Growing Middle: the ease and flexibility of self-service video tools combined with the power and quality of a studio shoot. Striking that balance ensures that your costs stay down as you launch your thought leadership campaign.

Again, your internal SME has as much knowledge on the subject matter as anyone. Rather than using them as an auxiliary resource, make them the primary focus of your external-facing content. Allow your SME to provide their perspective in a real, human way, and your audience will connect with them and what they have to say.

How to position your in-house subject-matter experts

The best way to present your data, research, insights, and positions is with your people. Your in-house SME might not have the same level of media training as a professional influencer or a paid consultant, but they know the material better than anyone.

Authenticity, storytelling, and a genuine approach to your content allow your audience to resonate with it. This person-to-person connection is tough to replicate in a high-budget production.

Take a critical look internally, think through who is right to speak to the material, and take the time to flesh out content with your people. Your audience will thank you.

Once you’ve identified your thought leader, you need to figure out what kind of content you want to create with them. We previously put together a quick guide on positioning thought leaders. While the post focuses on DEI thought leaders, the types of videos and sample content work across many thought leadership campaigns — particularly summarizing industry research and creating educational content.