What is a Thought Leader?
So here’s the thing—thought leadership is a buzz phrase that gets thrown around a lot these days, but for good reason. As the marketing and public relations landscape evolves and the way consumers think, act, and buy changes in the digital age, brands must set themselves apart in ways that are more authentic and meaningful. A thought leader, as defined by Influence & CO’s CEO Kelsey Raymond in Forbes, is “an industry expert who shares his or her expertise with a broader audience for the purpose of education, improving, and adding value to the industry as a whole.”
Thought leadership positions a person or brand as an authority in their industry, while opening doors to new opportunities and building a more organic and loyal following. Spanx founder Sarah Blakely and DryBar Founder Alli Webb are examples of thought leaders who get it right in our book, as they are accessible authorities in their space, who consistently lend their expertise in creative and powerful ways.
5 Tactics to Becoming an Industry Expert
1. Figure Out Your “Zone of Genius”: To boost presence and remain part of the conversation as a thought leader, it is important to create a steady stream of shareable content that offers strategies, guidance, and forecasts—articles, video, workshops, social media and blog posts, podcasts, Linkedin content, and relevant industry publications. It is also invaluable for thought leaders to network and share expertise in-person on panels and through speaking engagements. So how can you become a thought leader in your industry, attracting conference panels, speaking engagement and top tier business publicity?
2. Identify Your Lessons in Failure: When we start working with a new creative entrepreneur client, we always ask a set of questions to get an idea for what they are comfortable discussing as it pertains to leadership in their industry. You can actually do this for yourself! The following questions will help you figure out what value you have to offer.
- What are 3-5 of the hardest lessons you’ve learned from owning a business or from being in your field?
- What is the advice you would give your younger self starting out in your industry?
3. Publish Your Own Content: While it’s great to want to scream to the world about your success, it’s not as relatable as the lessons you have learned on your way to the top. In fact, most magazines want you to talk about the ways you have solved problems (see Entrepreneur’s Problem Solvers podcast) and how you have corrected mistakes. Figure out what platforms you are comfortable with and start showing up on a consistent basis. What should you talk about? Let your zone of genius be your guide! Linkedin is a great way to start joining in on the conversation, since it’s strictly for professional networking. From there, you can test out doing videos for things like IGTV or blog posts that link back to your business.
4. Pitch Yourself to Podcasts: Podcasting is experiencing unprecedented growth as a content medium and it’s predicted to grow even more in 2020. There is literally a niche podcast for everything. If you have value to offer, pitch yourself to be a guest! Just make sure you have listened to several episodes, understand the format, and know what specific takeaways you can give their audience. Here is my episode of The Influencer Podcast.
5. Panels & Conferences: This is a long one! There are literally thousands of conferences these days all around the world, and many of them have panels and keynote speaking opportunities. Here is some insight into how this works and how you can get these opportunities:
- Do Your Research: Figure out when and where the conferences in your field take place and know that they generally book panelists months and months in advance (SXSW is mostly booked for their March event FYI).
- Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better: It’s great to get a few smaller panels and conferences under your belt before you try for the bigger ones. Practice makes perfect, and you will likely learn a few lessons the first few times you do it—what does the audience care about? What questions do they ask? What could you do better next time?
- Remember it’s a Money Maker: Conferences like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and so many others sell Thought Leadership Sponsorships. Meaning, brands can buy a package that will include a few spots on a panel. Big names in thought leadership (let’s go back to Alli Webb, founder of Drybar) get paid to be on panels, but many times, companies are paying to have the privilege.
- Keynote Speaches: You can actually hire people to help you craft a keynote speech. We love Keany Communications for this.
- Speaking Agents: Yes, there are agents whose job is to get you paid speaking engagements. Just know that agents only make money when you make money, so they will only sign clients who are already at a certain level.
- Speaking Bureaus: While speaking agents are there to serve you, the industry expert, Speaker’s Bureaus are there to serve the people who need speakers. If you want to be a speaker, it is great to be listed with a speaker’s bureau. Different bureaus service different types of clients. For example, the Washington Speaker’s Bureau is arguably the largest and most prestigious bureau, but there are others who have created a niche such as finding speakers for event planner events.