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Beth McRae of The McRae Agency: 5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry

Participate in a podcast or webinar. This is another great way to be positioned as a thought leader — you can be interviewed alone or as part of a panel on a topic related to your industry. Content that is created can be used for social media posting and put onto your website for added credibility. We have one client who hosts monthly webinars and is getting his name out there and establishing himself as an expert in the financial space.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth McRae, president of The McRae Agency, a full-service PR, marketing and social media firm celebrating 25 years in 2020. Beth has represented clients such as Google, Sprint, Red Bull, KB Home and CBRE, to name a few. She has won over 45 awards for her work, including the Bank of America Enterprise Award.

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 received a B.S. in journalism and a B.A. in marketing from Texas Christian University. Public relation is a hybrid of both of these disciplines and I found that I loved studying it in school. I opened the first office of The McRae Agency in San Diego in 1995, followed by a San Francisco office and one in Scottsdale. I also got my MBA after founding my agency, something unusual in my field.

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

As a seasoned PR practitioner, it is my job to present my clients as thought leaders in their industries. I have been writing thought leadership content for over 30 years, in many different forms. It has helped me gain the attention of clients such as Google, Sprint, KB Home and CBRE, not to mention many smaller companies. Thought leadership is really an elevated form of content creation.

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

When I was running the WD-40 account at McCann, we found out that WD-40 was turning 40. I found stacks of letters written to the company in an old file and found that people were coming up with all sorts of unusual uses for the product, such as putting it on fish bait to catch five times more fish than others. Through some clever pitching, I was able to secure a front-page story in USA Today, a spot on the Tonight Show and press coverage from coast to coast. This campaign was definitely a highlight and shows that you take a relatively mundane product and elevate it to national recognition.

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?

I’m not sure if this is funny, but I was in charge of a photoshoot for a client and I mistakenly put the wrong version of their product into the shoot. It had to be totally redone and I was quite embarrassed. Fortunately, my boss didn’t make me pay for the mistake.

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?

A thought leader is someone who is recognized in their industry as being forward-thinking and visionary. They create valuable content on topics beyond that of their brand. They are prolific and constantly thinking and creating. They are innovative. They are different from an influencer in that they may or may not have a large social media following. They aren’t just putting up brief posts as snippets on a particular topic. They put much more thought into it than that.

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?

Being a thought leader is highly valuable to the person themselves, as well as the brand they represent (their company). When positioned as a thought leader, they are getting their name out, their company’s name out, and helping move the needle on sales, which is the ultimate sign of success. It does take time and resources — this is where PR people can be invaluable since they can ghostwrite thought leadership pieces and have their clients carry the byline.

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?

A great example of thought leadership was a press interview the head of CBRE did several years ago with a top business publication. He not only answered interview questions but was able to infuse them with examples of his own leadership both in and out of the company. He told me they had landed a very large client as a result of the interview. That’s the ideal scenario.

When we helped introduce Red Bull into the United States, there was no such thing as an energy drink, so we not only had to create the category but explain why Red Bull was so great. Through a series of strategically placed articles with key press targets, we were able to establish the head of Red Bull North America as an expert and successfully launch the product in the United States. Sales started jumping immediately.

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.

Five ways to become a thought leader:

  1. Write bylined articles on topics related to your expertise in your industry. One of our clients manufacturers tubular skylights and they have a VP known as “Dr. Daylight.” We help him craft articles that we get placed in trade publications and that carries his byline. They always get the attention of customers and help support the company’s sales.
  2. Participate in a podcast or webinar. This is another great way to be positioned as a thought leader — you can be interviewed alone or as part of a panel on a topic related to your industry. Content that is created can be used for social media posting and put onto your website for added credibility. We have one client who hosts monthly webinars and is getting his name out there and establishing himself as an expert in the financial space.
  3. Secure press coverage constantly. News coverage gives you the implied third-party endorsement of the press. It is worth its weight in gold. Recently, we put together a food and supply drive for homeless veterans in our market with a client who provides services to those same vets. The drive was a huge success and we were able to garner substantial press for the drive and its spokesperson (our client). Press coverage should be used as content for social media, newsletters, blogs and on the website.
  4. Write a blog. This is a fairly simple activity — blog posts can be of varying lengths and hosted on your website. It’s another way to get your name out there and share your expertise. We have been known to ghostwrite many blogs for our clients (sometimes that’s the only way to get it done as people are very busy).
  5. Use your social media sites as platforms for your thought leadership messages. Places like LinkedIn are particularly well suited to thought leadership posts. We help our clients be positioned as experts by creating monthly content calendars for them which show posts for each date, including visuals and the actual text. This is a solid way to manage thought leadership posts by making sure they are integrated into each month’s calendar.

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?

Steve Jobs was one of the best thought leaders imaginable. He created a unique style/brand for himself that was easily recognizable and had quite a loyal following since he was a brilliant man with a lot to say. He and his team at Apple utilized many platforms for his thought leadership and people still continue to look up to him.

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

I think thought leader is still relevant. It may be overused but nothing better has come along to replace it as effective terminology.

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

Keep moving forward and keep an open mind. Opportunity is out there everywhere, especially with all of the platforms available to get your voice heard.

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 know others have tried it but I would love to spark a kindness movement. If we all approached each other from a place of kindness, there would be less animosity and misunderstandings and a happier world.

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

It’s always darkest before the dawn. This quote gives me hope if I’m having a rough day or feeling hopeless. Especially in the era in which we live currently, it’s important to find ways to get through everyday life. We are surrounded by doubt and unpredictability.

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. :-)

I’ve always admired Warren Buffet. He’s a brilliant businessman and definitely a thought leader.

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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