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Establish your identity as an engaging thought leader

So what does it take to become recognized as a thought leader?

To define the term, it is important to first establish what it is not.

True thought leaders are not one-hit wonders who write great-sounding but impractical fantasy filled books about “reworking” the workplace, obeying the “new rules” of marketing and PR and mastering Social Media 101. Nor are thought leaders entertainers who produce great sounding but farfetched little red sales books and tomes on purple bovines.

From a public relations perspective, a thought leader is one who is positioned as an engaging authority on a specific niche to a very targeted audience. The thought leader leads others to take certain actions such as employing new techniques or deploying unproven technologies.

Thought leaders not only have the knowledge needed to answer questions others are asking, they stimulate conversations by asking the questions no one has thought to ask. And in so doing, thought leaders position themselves as trusted and credible authorities, which ultimately will attract new business.

How does one become recognized as a true thought leader? First you need experience, commitment and something useful to share with others. If you have those qualities, the following steps will guide you through the rest of your journey.


What do you want people to envision when they hear you or your company’s name?

Think in terms of their thoughts phrased as, “Jenn … she’s the business strategist who________.” Or, “XYZ Bank is the company that ________.”

At the heart of every true thought leader is a person who carefully crafted his or her own image. Before you set out to establish yourself as a thought leader, define who you are and then let all your communications reflect that message.


Identify what you can bring to the “conversation” that no one else offers.

If you ever were trapped in a lunch meeting with an unknown motivational speaker who pretty much parroted the quotes and techniques of Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins or Brian Tracy, you know how painful it is to sit through the presentation.

To establish credibility and longevity as a thought leader, be unique, offer fresh material and engage your audience.


Promoting your company, its products or services will quickly cause your audience to diminish and destroy your credibility as a thought leader.

People have very little tolerance for advertising. Think about it, when a YouTube video begins with an advertisement and you notice a link at the bottom that says you can skip to the video in five seconds, what do you do? Like most people, you are so focused on clicking out in five seconds that you do not hear a thing the ad says.

The same applies with online forums, opinion pieces and presentations. By sharing ideas, asking new questions and stimulating meaningful conversation, you will attract sufficient attention to your company, its products or services.


There are many venues through which you can reach your target audiences, but not all of them are necessary or worth your time.

For example, you may find quarterly placements in trade journals well worth your time as those pieces can both attract prospects and be reproduced as powerful marketing material for sales presentations. Conversely, you may find speaking at an industry conference breakout session to offer little ROI.

Although thought leadership is at its core all about providing unique knowledge to others without charge, it makes little sense to blog yourself into bankruptcy. Time is money, thought leadership is marketing, and ultimately you need to enjoy ROI for your efforts.

So determine which mix of online platforms, print and broadcast placements and speaking engagements will both provide the maximum benefit for your audience and adequate ROI for you.

Ken Kilpatrick is president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, a PR agency that specializes in crisis management, corporate communications and litigation support, and also is blog-master of www.mondaymorningmarketing.com. He can be reached at ken@sylviamarketing.com or 610-323-3500.

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