You can’t lead by standing in the back, so be ready to go all in. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Envision the best result from becoming a thought leader, but also the pitfalls that may come as you work your way to the top.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Byrne. Bill is managing director at Remedy Public Relations. Byrne has more than 20 years of experience as a communications practitioner. In the early days of environmental marketing he was called a guru by the Discovery Channel’s TreeHugger website, and interviewed by The New York Times on the cross-section of Gene Simmons, skiing, and pop culture. He’s regularly featured in communications industry trade media for his blunt and thought-provoking stance on the shortcomings of PR.
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?
Glad to! I graduated Ithaca College in the 90’s. Besides having a leading communications program, they were also within an hour of many small ski mountains. Snowboarding became a passion of mine in high school, so the opportunity to move from Long Island to pursue an education somewhat close to home, about five hours from Long Island, and with the mountains, albeit tiny ones, nearby, seemed like a great opportunity.
Fast forward to the late 90’s, I have a degree in advertising and am looking for a job in Manhattan. My resume that included extracurriculars, one of which was that I was co-president of the snowboard club. Keep in mind that this was the late 90’s and snowboarding isn’t what it is today. It was far from mainstream, and not yet in the Olympics.
This is the reason why I encourage everyone to list hobies and passions on their resumes or in their outreach to potential employers. I came home one day and there was a message on my parent’s answering machine from a recruiter, asking if I knew the brand Burton Snowboards (the biggest in the world at the time) and would be interested in an entry-level administrative assistant job at Y&R advertising’s sister PR firm, Cohn & Wolfe, working on the Burton account. I really didn’t have a grasp on what PR was, but I knew Burton, and was eager to pursue.
Cohn & Wolf had me work on a variety of accounts, from Burton to Guiness, Intel, and Sony, which went on to really shape the direction my career would go afterwards.
Fast forward to 2004 and I wanted to try out California. I spent a summer in Los Angeles interning at Capitol Records while in college, but decided to go further south to San Diego for a social media startup.
Six months in I knew the promises of dot-com riches would not come to fruition, so I began freelancing for some old friends, which later morphed into meeting other like minded PR pros and co-founding Remedy PR.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
Many will give advice and not follow it in their own practice. Some quietly keep very intriguing and valid ideas to themselves for fear of repercussion.
The strategies we advise clients on to become thought leaders are the same ones I personally follow here at Remedy Public Relations in San Diego.
The communications world is rife with misperceptions, yes-men, and outdated thinking. It makes my job a lot harder when pursuing potential partners.
For better or worse, usually both, I’m outspoken about what we do and change as an industry in PR. It definitely helps us win new partners, but I know it also turns others away who are simply looking for an agency to tell them what they want to hear.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I love working in PR. There’s a natural dopamine effect from landing a great story for a client. Better than any Like button hit you can get on Instagram or Facebook.
A large percentage of our work here at Remedy PR is is in the active-outdoor space, a personal passion of mine. and one of our clients was the non-profit Surfrider Foundation’s eco-initiative project BLUE. We arranged a seven-minute segment with Good Morning America where we took a reporter out to learn to surf as we discussed environmental issues and there are a few instances in the segment where you can see me on a surfboard in the background.
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?
Unfortunately, none of my mistakes have been all that funny, at least to me.
This one has taught me to be clear and when it’s a new relationship, or an area where someone may not be an expert, to be very clear in direction. Sometimes annoyingly so.
I got reprimanded and called out to a client later in an email my first week working in PR. As an admin assistant, I had to fill out more than my share of Fed-Ex and UPS forms, something I’d never had to do prior during my internship or distinguished career as a cook at McDonald’s.
The first time given the task, it took me a little while to figure out what to put where on the form, and I sent the package, a magazine the client was featured in, three-day instead of overnight. I thought saving money was a good thing.
The client supervisor did not think so and cc’ed me on an email to the client explaining not just what happened, but who was the cause.
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?
Someone that not only has a strong counter-opinion on something that is considered accepted doctrine, but also backs it up in practice.
A typical leader provides direction and motivation. There’s nothing wrong with being a typical leader by any means, but sometimes success can come from going in a new direction.
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?
Done right, being a thought leader will differentiate you from others in your space. Inspire those who’ve had similar leanings to follow you, align with you, support you, and in today’s social media space, share your content. It will put you on the map if you pursue it.
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?
I’ve contributed marketing-focused articles to publications in both the fitness space, and the craft beer world. Both of them were in my voice, which I believe is important, and fairly different from what others were saying.
In both instances they resulted in partnerships for our agency, and experiences that have helped us grow further.
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.
1. You can’t lead by standing in the back, so be ready to go all in. Are you willing to put yourself out there? Envision the best result from becoming a thought leader, but also the pitfalls that may come as you work your way to the top.
2. Start with a stance or point of view that you believe in that’s different from the norm. If you don’t believe in it, or it’s not different than the norm, are you really leading? Gather examples of how you actually follow this path. How are you leading? Make sure there are visibly tangible ways you walk your talk.
3. Start small on the public front. Put your message out on Twitter, a Facebook page, or company blog. Then go broader, to LinkedIn or similar platforms.
4. When you have a foundation, then look at others with an audience who would also find value in telling a unique message. Start with trade media for the industry, then broader ,business media.
5. Promote, review, adapt, and shift. Don’t expect to be discovered and realize that a change in direction may be needed as the times change.
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.
From first person experience, Gary Vaynerchuck. How busy do you think he is? Yes, he does have a team with him, but I also know he does take the time to personally implement what he preaches. He achieved success by following the path he tells others to takje.
I’m sure Gary’s approach turns off some, but look at the growth his agency has experienced. One of the things I like most about him is being candid about his mistakes. That resonates well and something many aren’t doing in today’s perfect Instagram world.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It takes more than one TEDX talk to be a thought leader. I do agree that the term is nearing overuse, but it’s better than marketing ninja or influencer. Do you know how many PR gurus there are with five years of experience? Maybe even more than those who are CEO’s of one-person companies and make claims about it.
Smart people will see through it if you claim being a thought leader and don’t back it up.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take breaks. Self-care is quickly becoming an overused term, but it’s necessary. Even on our busiest days, when I’m working a legit 16 hour day, I’ll go to the gym for an hour, or surf or run. It’s important.
Leadership should not happen in a bubble. On the mental awareness side, you should explore media and knowledge outside your space in order to grow. Listen to podcasts from people on the other side of the table. Are you a CNN person? Take in some of what Fox News has to say.
In the PR world, what works for our skateboard clients can bring new energy to our financial clients, and we cross-polinate those tactics all the time, as well as look at what’s working for brands we’re not in any way related to.
If you want to be a thought leader, you need to look around so you can choose a direction.
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. 🙂
Well thank you for saying that. At a most basic level, I wish people had more awareness and understanding of those around them as they went about their day. From the people you pass in the halls of your office to the person next to you at the supermarket. A second to care and think would benefit us all in business and life away from the desk.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself. That’s from Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. I, like many, thought it was by Baz Luhrmann
because of his spoken work single, but it was Mary.
Simply put, it’s hard not to compare yourselves to those around you, even in today’s social media world. I keep that quote in mind though, life is a journey to be enjoyed, not a sprint where only the top three finishers matter.
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 mentioned Gary Vaynerchuck. I really do follow him intently. I’d like to know more about how he compartmentalizes his day, so he’d be a top pick. That’s an area I could use the most help and as a fellow agency guy, he’d be a great source.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/billbyrne) is the best place to start, but I play a big hand in the direction of the Remedy PR social media accounts, so the LinkTree for that (https://linktr.ee/RemedyPR) is another one. I’ll be launching a personal website soon tied to entrepreneurship and business as well.