Write, speak and share. Don’t say no. Find platforms to write about your topic and speak to others in meetings, at happy hour or in traditional conference settings. Then ensure you have created an elevator speech and/or have a video — something tangible — for those you have sparked interest with, allowing them to share and spread your message. This is where influencers come in.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Miller. Jackie is currently part-owner and CMO of Bozell — a fully integrated, female-led agency based in Omaha, Nebraska. With a 100-year legacy of empowering those who aspire to change the world, Bozell strives to do right by its clients. And Jackie is no different. She is integral in forging client success and building relationships for the long haul. In her early 20s, she helped create strategies still in place today for Warner Brothers — an account she managed while at L.A. media agency MediaCom. By 24, she was president and chief operating officer of 42 — a digital agency in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she helped create a never-done-before interactive textbook for West Point. And recently at Bozell, she has been an integral part in creating a national brand and awareness campaign for 529 College Savings Plans — a program designed to help families reach their higher education savings goals and better plan for their futures — as well as leading multiple marketing initiatives for First National Bank, the largest privately held bank in the U.S.
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?
When I started in communications, I wanted to be C.J. Cregg from “The West Wing.” I interned for a U.S. Congressman as his press secretary intern and quickly learned it wasn’t my niche. So, I dropped my political science major and finished with a Bachelor of Arts from the School of Communications at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles, where I started my career as a project executive at MediaCom. Not long after, I felt called back to the Midwest, where I joined the team at a digital agency called 42/Roundscapes. I was 24 when I began working as President and COO of the agency. It was sink or swim, but sinking was not an option. I learned many valuable lessons throughout my time there and cultivated many values that I still live by to this day.
After working every waking hour, deciding it was time to move on from 42/Roundscapes was heartbreaking. I decided to take some time to get back to the core of what made me passionate about marketing, and I’m happy to say I found that at Bozell. I have never felt more like I was in the right place than here.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I have seen first-hand the value of unique marketing approaches that can stand out and disrupt industries, categories and marketing promotions. I have a diverse background in marketing from business intelligence, industry understanding, competitive review, interactive and development, media buying, attribution modeling and full-scale branding and promotional tactics. That, combined with creative agency experience, provides a breadth and depth of knowledge that speaks beyond one element of a campaign or strategy. This approach helps me provide the big-picture thought that can lead to effective strategies and tactics.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
My most interesting career story is also one of my proudest moments. We partnered with United States Military Academy West Point’s history department to revolutionize their history of military warfare textbook. This was a non-traditional marketing project. We worked with more than 60 authors from across the country to write the text and created animated components to enhance understanding from interactive battle maps to soldier letters and 3D modeling of particular components. This was a product to be gifted to the academy with the understanding we would want to repackage and market to other universities and history buffs.
At the end of the first iteration, I was at West Point for a meeting. While we were touring the campus, and as we were standing and reflecting on our project, Col. Ty Seidule (head of the History Department) said to me, “What we are doing will save lives.” At that time the cadets would be graduating as officers, and when they moved into their career and led forces into real applications of warfare, the more they understood the history and engaged with our completely new book format, the better decisions they would be able to make in real-time in the field. Often in marketing, we think about marketing products, sales and communication tactics … but the opportunity to build and market something that could truly change lives made this project unique and one that will forever shape my perspective on what marketing can truly accomplish.
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?
The funniest mistake I made was not checking all details of a project prior to leading it internally and, trust me, it was a big one. I was hot off the heels of working in the entertainment industry and, in my new role, I had many aviation clients. In the industry, there are about a million acronyms. My first project was to plan and execute a promotional video for a software and mapping system clients used in aviation. The account planner, account service team and creative team kicked it off with me using the acronym “BFP” video. I set up the scope of work, opened the job and scheduled a kick-off meeting with the team to ensure we were on the same page before presenting to the client.
Everything in the project was titled “BFP Video.” I made it all the way through the internal kick-off meeting and the account planner asks, “What does BFP stand for?” I was caught, I assumed it was the “type” of plane. Turns out, it was a joke and BFP stood for “Big Frickin’ Plane.” I made all the updates before the client presentation, and I learned a valuable lesson — be resourceful and make sure you know the ins and outs of exactly what you are proposing. No detail is too small to not understand. BFP followed me for quite some time. People make mistakes, but I try to never make the same mistake twice.
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 an expert in a specific field or area that has mastered an understanding of the topic and is able to generate original thought to help drive change and evolution. A typical leader is an expert and can educate and motivate others to accomplish the task at hand but isn’t necessarily a change agent. An influencer is a connector, she or he can take that original thought and seed and syndicate it throughout their loyal following.
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?
Thought leaders are a resource to evolve and push an industry or topic. If you are a thought leader, you are setting the tone and trajectory of the industry you serve. Benefits include:
- You are not just keeping up with change but creating it, getting to be one step ahead.
- People trust people, and industry experts are covered in the press as such. This coverage helps build credibility and engages a community vs. selling and maintaining a reputation. It is proactive vs. reactive and gives you more control of the message.
- Thought leaders are independent of the products and brand. This allows them to adapt to what consumers are interested in hearing while still tying to the marketing objectives.
- They are newsworthy, unlike a marketing campaign most news outlets wouldn’t cover. However, a thought leader can be picked up and quoted in a way that drives the same awareness as an advertisement but gets the endorsement of trusted publications.
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?
Together with 27 states, we helped launch a national awareness campaign for 529 College Savings Plans — state-backed programs that help families from all walks of life save for higher education. Most of the national conversation surrounds debt forgiveness and the rising costs of education, rather than preventing debt in the first place. Our goal was to help tackle this crisis for future generations.
To help drive 529 awareness nationally, we collaborated with Fred Rogers Productions — creator of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and, more recently, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Dedicated to making the world a better place for future generations, Fred Rogers Productions was the perfect partner for the campaign. We then leveraged Young Boozer III as our thought leader and chief spokesperson. Young, former Alabama Treasurer, has great expertise and a unique name that has garnered national attention. He uses humor and experience to help us engage in a national conversation about student loan debt. He drives social content ideas as well as thought leadership for the campaign as a whole. With his help, in the campaign’s first week, we generated news media coverage valuing the equivalent of 3 percent of our total 18-month advertising buy, and we increased 529 College Savings Plans’ social media engagements by 40 times over the previous week. The recently launched microsite is also delivering promising results, as well. Visitors are spending an average of four minutes on the site (industry standard is 2:30) and the site is registering a four-percent bounce rate (versus the industry standard of 30–40 percent).
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.
- Get as many experiences as possible. Do what is asked, then ask for more. My diverse experience has allowed me to think differently. I don’t create boxes of what things are “marketing.” This allows me to evolve and plug into different and unique projects that expand influence. See the above story about interactive history book turned marketing opportunity.
- Read, read, read and then read some more. I spend two hours every morning before getting into the office consuming media — from social media to traditional national news outlets down to local market news outlets for clients. Understanding what consumers are consuming helps you to understand how your topic of expertise could uniquely complement or disrupt current news and media topics. As mentioned above, for 529 College Savings Plans, we monitor news of the student loan debt crisis and work to lead the conversation in a positive way to prevent debt for the next generation. In a primarily negative conversation, we provide a beacon of hope.
- Get grounded. It is easy to get lost in your own head and the expected. I will take time to do something completely different and when I come back to the initial thought or opportunity, I am able to adapt and adjust it for maximum impact. I might go for a hike, travel somewhere I have never been, watch old movies … anything that will get me out of that train of thought. When I come back to it, I have a new set of eyes.
- Have an army of sounding boards. Talking through ideas and thoughts with people from various industries and experiences will help you hone it. By working with developers who were testing the yet-to-launch Oculus Rift, we were able to surprise and delight potential customers on a roadshow for a new FNBO brand campaign. FNBO asked customers to share the “unforgettable firsts” that shaped their lives. Stories about their first jobs, first heroes and firstborn children were posted on an interactive website and shared via TV, radio, outdoor, print and digital platforms. The campaign was comprised of several elements, including a four-state, 15-city roadshow in a 38-foot branded RV and mobile studio, and an immersive Oculus Rift virtual reality experience to allow people to try out brave new firsts like skydiving.
- Write, speak and share. Don’t say no. Find platforms to write about your topic and speak to others in meetings, at happy hour or in traditional conference settings. Then ensure you have created an elevator speech and/or have a video — something tangible — for those you have sparked interest with, allowing them to share and spread your message. This is where influencers come in.
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.
I believe thought leaders are original thinkers. One of the greatest minds of all time is Maya Angelou. She was a trolley operator, dancer, producer, poet, speaker, civil rights activist and more. She lived life in the moment and leveraged those experiences to provide true thought leadership. She challenged you with her work to think differently and begin to understand other’s perspectives as well as your own. Even in death, she is quoted and referenced daily on social media. True thought leaders are evergreen. They change the way we think, not just what we think. Angelou wasn’t a thought leader with one medium. She used songs, films, books, poems, speaking platforms and more. She had original thoughts, a unique perspective and she varied her delivery to maximize her influence and impact on our world. She taught me not to limit my thoughts to a prescribed box but to expand and try new ways of communication and execution. You will connect with new people, new experiences and new thoughts forever propelling the change and evolution of a thought leaders’ knowledgebase.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
It is human nature to define, label and link those thoughts to better understand and communicate complex topics. I don’t think it should be avoided, but we should always be looking to explore expanded definitions and various ways it could come to life. Linking and labeling allows us to understand and communicate effectively, but the minute it becomes vague and too broad it is the difference of saying person vs. consumer.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
It isn’t about work-life balance. Balance is bullshit. If you are passionate about what you do and are rooted in why you do it, it is about work-life integration. Understand when you need to step back and get grounded. My brain doesn’t shut down when I leave the office, so I have found ways to disconnect and reconnect with life, family, friends, travel to new places and have new experiences. Doing this regularly will open your mind and reinvigorate your thought process.
But for burnout, in particular, self-care. I love kickboxing — nothing like punching and kicking your way to an open mind. In those moments of physical exertion, you are only able to focus on the now. I find burnout comes when I am too fixated on the past or future. If I can recalibrate to living in the moment throughout the day, it helps my focus and energy. Self-care for me also includes hot baths, a walk around the block, traveling, massages, trashy romance novels, hiking, and live music. The list goes on. Find something that works for you and do it each day, week, month and year to ground yourself in the present. Allow your mind to wander, that is when original thought is created.
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. 🙂
Learn how to learn. An education system that teaches us how to learn. The current U.S. education system is built for standards and to create factory workers from the industrial revolution. Our new world requires problem solvers and those who are insatiably curious. In the world, as well as right here at home, there are roadblocks to accessible and affordable education. Some areas might limit accessibility based on race, gender or religious beliefs. If we are to start a global movement to learn how to learn, I would begin at the end — with the students. If we change what they expect, we can generate real demand for new ways to learn. And with the internet and social media, we have effectively flattened the globe. Ideas and conversations can span geographical and national divides. We must spark and torch — Spark the conversation then help to spread it like wildfire. Discovery is sometimes misunderstood as the process to arrive at when really it is a practical application. Penicillin was a discovery that found its application after it was discovered. Discovery should be encouraged as the way to expand our horizons. With an education system rewarding problem solvers, we will find the best applications. We don’t need the end in mind to explore and discover. If we teach the world to learn, we can affect every aspect of life. Each person’s passions will lead them down various paths. If we educate the world, we change the world. If we believe, they will believe. If they believe they can, they will.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou
I find it easy to get locked into what I am doing and why I am doing it, but this quote reminds me the tactics are just vehicles. Our emotions connect us as humans and we should lead with them, not bury them.
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. 🙂
“Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” Michelle Obama, Becoming.
After reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming and keeping up with her throughout her career, I would be honored to break bread with her. Her passion for education, her grace under stress, and her ability to connect on an emotional level with people through her experiences have made her one of the most valuable thought leaders of our time. She not only has a unique perspective and platform to speak from but, most importantly, she has something to say and we are all lucky to have the opportunity to listen.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.