“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry” With Paige Arnof-Fenn

Yitzi Weiner
Aug 29 · 12 min read

Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. By putting yourself out there you become easier to find via search and then when people google you before a meeting or call many links pop up showcasing you as an expert so by the time you actually connect they have been presold on your talents and skills. I find it helps shorten the sales cycle.


As part of our series about the five things you should do to become a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure to interview Paige Arnof-Fenn. Paige is the founder & CEO of global marketing and branding firm Mavens & Moguls based in Cambridge, MA. Her clients include Microsoft, Virgin, venture-backed startups as well as non profit organizations. She graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School. She is a popular speaker and columnist who has written for Entrepreneur and Forbes.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I did not plan on starting a company. I always wanted to go work for a large multi-national business and be a Fortune 500 CEO. When I was a student I looked at leaders like Meg Whitman & Ursula Burns as my role models. I started my career on Wall Street in the 80s and had a successful career in Corporate America at companies like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola and worked at 3 different startups as the head of marketing. I took the leap right after 9/11 when the company I worked for cut their marketing. I had nothing to lose. Being an entrepreneur provides me a platform to do work I truly enjoy with and for people I respect. I get to set my priorities, I have time to travel and hang out with my inner circle, and work out every day. It has been a journey to get here but I am lucky to have found it. I love the autonomy, flexibility and the fact that I know every day the impact that I have on my business. When I worked at big companies I always felt the ball would roll with or without me, that if I got hit by a bus someone new would be in my office right away. Now my DNA is in everything we do and I can trace every decision and sale to something I did or a decision I made and that is incredibly gratifying and fulfilling. Like most entrepreneurs, I am working harder and longer than ever and I have never been happier. Working for yourself and building a business you started in incredibly rewarding and gratifying. It has been a lot of fun, I joke that I am the accidental entrepreneur. I knew I had made it as an entrepreneur when Harvard wrote 2 case studies on my business a few years after I started it, we were very early to pioneer sharing resources on the marketing front (before my company it was really only done with HR, legal and accounting/finance).

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I started my career in marketing in 1990 at Procter & Gamble, the company that invented brand management, and has the top brands in every category they compete in so I learned from the best. I then worked at the Asst CMO at Coca-Cola in the 90s and after that ran marketing at 3 successful startups that all had good exits. I started my company 18 years ago and have spoken at universities and conferences all over the world. I wrote a monthly column for Entrepreneur and Forbes for many years as well to share my experience and lessons learned.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In the first few years of my business I had pitched a CEO about a month before I ran into her at a networking event where she was the keynote speaker and her topic was about being a woman leader in a traditionally male-dominated business. I had followed up after sending my proposal several times via e-mail and voice mail but the CEO never returned any of my messages or even acknowledged receipt of the proposal requested. You can imagine my shock when she announced at this event as part of her speech that she believes it is important to put your money where your mouth is and for women CEOs to support other respected & well-run women’s businesses and that is why she has hired my firm to handle all her company’s marketing & PR! Everyone congratulated me after, it was a better endorsement than the New York Times because she was very well known and had the reputation of being very tough with high standards so I got a LOT of business from people in the room that night because they thought if I was able to impress her I must be very good ;-)

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It can be hard to laugh at mistakes but looking back I remember one week early on when I had 3 or 4 talks lined up over a couple of day period so I went from one evening event to a breakfast the next morning to a lunch and evening talk the following day. I enjoy public speaking and get a lot of referrals and business that way. The morning after my final speech I showed up at a meeting with a prospective client along with a ew of my colleagues and I realized I was completely out of business cards. I was so embarrassed and my team laughed at me since I always remind them it is important to be professional and prepared all the time. I ended up sending a hand written thank you note to the prospect with my card enclosed and we won the business so I turned my mistake into a good outcome plus I have never run out of business cards again!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

Thought leaders are the experts who invest time and money to educate others on something they care deeply about. They create the content that is pushed to the market, their focus is on spreading the message outward. Influencers seek sponsorships and endorsements that invite you into their world so they are more of a pull than a push. Thought leaders help their audience make decisions influencers’ audiences spend money so both are important to understand for success. Leaders can be thought leaders and/or influencers but the focus of a leader is to inspire confidence and be humble enough to bring onboard people who are smarter, more experienced, and capable of executing the vision to achieve the bigger goal.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Social media and technology are 24/7 so it is easy to get sucked into it! My advice is to pick a few things you enjoy doing and do them really well. You cannot be everywhere all the time so choose high impact activities that work for you and play to your strengths. Thought Leadership is a great way to build your brand, increase your visibility more broadly, raise your profile and attract more clients/customers.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Activities like speaking at a conference, writing articles, building your following on social media all contribute increasing your awareness with potential customers and building your credibility with a larger community. By putting yourself out there you become easier to find via search and then when people google you before a meeting or call many links pop up showcasing you as an expert so by the time you actually connect they have been presold on your talents and skills. I find it helps shorten the sales cycle.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

Instead of trying to start your own blog or newsletter, try contributing regularly to existing well trafficked blogs in your industry or newsletters of likeminded organizations reaching the same target audience as you. Make sure you put your URL or contact info on it so they can find you and follow up.

When your articles or talks become available online, make sure to send them out via social media to all your friends, followers and contacts.

Don’t let social media drive you crazy, you do not need to be everywhere, it does not matter which platform you choose just pick one or 2 that are authentic to you. It should look and sound like you and the brand you have built. Whether yours is polished or more informal, chatty or academic, humorous or snarky, it is a way for your personality to come through. Everyone is not going to like you or hire you but for the ones who would be a great fit for you make sure they feel and keep a connection and give them a reason to remember you so that when they need your help they think of you first.

Start small and build as you go. For me I started speaking at local events and then submitted proposals to speak at industry conferences and trade shows nationally and eventually global events too. Same advice goes for writing start with small publications then move up the food chain to reach bigger audiences.

People need to be on LinkedIn so that they can be found too. It adds credibility and transparency when you know the people you are meeting or working with know people in common. LinkedIn has become more than an online resume or rolodex, it is the foundation for building trusted relationships in the digital economy. You do not need to blog or be on all social media platforms but make sure you are active on the ones where you are. If your customers do not use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to find you then you do not need to make them a priority. For many professional service businesses like mine, LinkedIn matters the most.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Seth Godin is the gold standard. He has a great story to tell and has created a strong platform that ties together his writing, speaking, and social media in a way that consistently builds his brand. He speaks in plain English and uses real world examples from his experience so everyone can understand and learn from his very practical advice. He is smart, authentic and funny.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I find it is more powerful and effective and just better for others to use the term to refer to you vs using it to describe yourself. You have to earn the title of thought leader. If someone says that about you it is a sign of respect.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Like most entrepreneurs I work harder and longer than ever before. I have come to appreciate that if I do not feel good I am not going to be at my peak performance level for my team or my clients. With technology and social media we are always on today 24/7. All work and no play is just not a sustainable option. To be more productive I try to find creative ways to multi task that incorporates work and exercise. When I worked at large companies they had gyms at the office or groups who walked at lunch but when you are an entrepreneur you have to get creative to find balance. Instead of meeting up with your local colleagues at a coffee shop, over a meal or chatting with them on the phone, meet them for a walk so you can catch up while you are getting some exercise too. You’ll feel great after, the time will fly & it will be a fun activity to share. It works with customers too, I have clients who play golf so sometimes we meet at a driving range instead of the office to discuss things especially when you are trying to think outside the box. A change in venue is always nice and you feel so much better when you are moving and not trapped behind your desk. As an entrepreneur, having white space or “me time” is not a luxury or pampering like it was in my youth, now it is maintenance! I recommend allocating time on the calendar and take yourself as seriously as you take your most important clients because if I am not at my peak performance I am not going to be useful to anyone else either. I will set aside regular time to recharge my batteries and take better care of myself so that mentally and physically I will be sharp and in the best health possible to set myself up for success. Even if you do not have time for a big vacation, sometimes a long weekend away, a walk outside in fresh air mid day or a trip to the museum or local gallery can be a nice break to hit the refresh button in pinch. Mini-breaks and short vacations can be effective ways to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I’d try to start a kindness movement to counterbalance what we see in Washington and all over the media today. I grew up in the South and people were generally nice, respectful, kind, and friendly. I do not believe life or business is a zero sum game. We do not have to divide up the pie we can work together to bake more pies so there is enough to go around. I think the people around the world in the center want peace and we need find ways to bring the extremists back into the fold but it is going to take people from all walks of life to band together to make it happen. There really is more in common across cultures when you realize everyone wants the best for their family and community so we should all be putting our energy into building stronger foundations and ecosystems that will help us all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This quote really resonates with me:

I am strong because I have been weak

I am fearless because I have been scared

I am wise because I have been foolish

It is an important reminder that stumbling is part of the journey to success. As an entrepreneur you just have to keep going and pick yourself up and be smarter every time you get up and try again. It was true for Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Sara Blakely and it is true for me too!

Another one I really like is “you have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t.” Again, making mistakes is just part of the process. Brilliant.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

There are so many people I could pick for this — Richard Branson, Sarah Blakely, Tina Fey, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Donna Karan, Arianna Huffington, etc. but I would pick Reese Witherspoon right now. She is killing it. Like Reese I am from Tennessee and went to Stanford for college. Reese has become more of a force in Hollywood in her 40s than she ever was when she started her career. She is not only the leading lady now but she also produces shows, buys and negotiates scripts, is a successful entrepreneur, activist, mother, etc. She is a force to be reckoned with and has stayed relevant for decades in a tough industry. I am sure she could teach me a few things and has some great stories to share!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My LinkedIn profile is: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paigearnoffenn

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Yitzi Weiner

Written by

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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