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5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry, With Kent Lewis of Anvil Media

If I could inspire any movement, it would probably be to act at a local level to help save the environment. We’re amid an environmental crisis and I’m concerned about the future of the planet we are leaving behind for our children. From my perspective, causes like animals or non-humans (say technology or even marketing) […]



If I could inspire any movement, it would probably be to act at a local level to help save the environment. We’re amid an environmental crisis and I’m concerned about the future of the planet we are leaving behind for our children. From my perspective, causes like animals or non-humans (say technology or even marketing) are a luxury for first-world countries.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kent Lewis. As President and Founder of Anvil Media, Inc., Kent is responsible for ensuring the company is living its mission and vision by managing overall corporate strategy, including operations, business development, sales and marketing. Specializing in analytics, search engine and social media marketing services, Anvil is a digital agency which provides measurable marketing that moves clients’ businesses forward. With a background in agency-side digital marketing, Lewis regularly speaks on effective digital marketing techniques & trends to audiences as a subject matter expert. Since 2000, he’s been an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where he teaches an SEM Workshop. He is also currently contract Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for ToneCommand, an audio measurement platform and mobile application. Lewis also regularly speaks and contributes to industry publications including SmartBrief, Online Marketing Institute, Business2Community and iMedia Connection. Lewis is also a Marketing Advisory Board member for his alma mater, Western Washington University. As a long-time entrepreneur, he’s an investor and advisor to a host of emerging companies, including BeetBoost, RISEcx, Syndical, Tixie and Workplace Resource of Oregon. Lewis is co-founder of a variety of organizations, including career community pdxMindShare, eROI and SEMpdx, a Portland-area professional trade association for search engine marketers. Active in his community, he’s currently involved in non-profit charity and professional trade organizations including early literacy program SMART (Start Making a Reader Today), The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) and others. Lewis’s industry recognition and awards include Portland Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 Award, Top 25 Most Influential Pay-per-Click Experts, American Marketing Association Oregon Chapter Marketer of the Year, Top 20 Digital Marketing Strategists and a BuzzSumo Top 100 Digital Marketing Influencers of 2019.


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 graduated with a business degree and marketing concentration. I had no idea I’d be able to use my degree as a business owner of a marketing agency ~5 years later. I kicked off my career as a PR intern at a full-service agency in Seattle, then moved to Portland (where I knew 1 person, my cousin, in 1995). By 1996, I moved into a marketing manager role at a web development firm and started my journey to thought leadership as a digital marketer. I started speaking and teaching a year or so later and haven’t slowed down. As of today, I’ve co-founded 2 agencies, founded 2 agencies and 2 trade organizations. I’ve worked with over 1,000 clients and enjoy writing, speaking and teaching as much as my Anvil team and clients will let me.

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

This year, I was named a BuzzSumo Top 100 Most Influential Digital Marketer. I’ve also been named an American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year, Top 40 Under 40, Top 25 Most Influential Pay-per-Click Experts and Top 20 Digital Marketing Strategists by a variety of organizations. I speak 25–30 times a year across the country and publish 15–20 articles annually via publications like SmartBrief. My 19-year-old digital marketing agency, Anvil, was recently named Agency of the Year and is regularly recognized for growth, being a great place to work and a healthiest employer. You can view our awards and recognition on our website.

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

Perhaps my greatest career accomplishment, if not most memorable experience as a marketer, was sharing a meal with Seth Godin in midtown Manhattan many years ago. He’d long been an idol of mine and I reached out to him to see if he would be interested in keynoting a conference in Portland and we got to talking. He even blogged about our conversation. I turned that initial interaction into a request to meet when I was visiting NYC to speak at a conference a year later and he accepted my invitation. It was 2 of the best hours of my career. In our 1on1 meal discussion, he was inspiring, engaging, supportive and funny. Being able to have that level of intimate conversation with such a global marketing influencer was truly moving.

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?

One of the funniest early memories of my career was calling Andy Rooney at CBS, not realizing I was trying to reach a different reporting with the same name. Back in 1995, Internet search was rudimentary and the database I was using didn’t have enough info, so it was an honest mistake and one that would be difficult not to repeat. I’ll never forget what he said when he picked up the phone (which must have been my lucky day, as I’m guessing he doesn’t always answer his phone). He said “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” That’s how he answers a phone, at least at the office. I explained I was interested in discussion some new technology and he quickly confirmed that wasn’t his bag and I hung up. Short, sweet and memorable.

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?

I believe a Thought Leader is a forward-thinking expert on a particular subject. They may not have to be a futurist or an influencer, however. An influencer is someone people look to shape or change opinions, but they may not be as much of a thought-leader or expert as celebrity. For the most part, however, thought leaders in business are also influencers by default. Typical leaders stay within their organization and are not interested or able to get outside of their team, company or community. Thought leaders tend to be more comfortable with public-facing roles and responsibilities, as do influencers.

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?

I’ve invested well more than 10,000 to earn thought leader status in digital marketing but having a 23-year runway helps. Benefits I appreciate most include: new client leads for my agency, Anvil (this is the primary reason I’ve invested the time in speaking and writing), unsolicited requests for quotes or interviews by the media (typically local TV stations and podcasters), speaking opportunities (especially those out of market are most interesting) and honestly, getting priority attention from vendors, service-based companies etc. Especially when I complain online… I get heard and prioritized over others, so problems get fixed faster.

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?

High-profile speaking engagements beget other higher-profile speaking engagements. When I first started speaking at SEMA in Las Vegas in 2011, I had no idea that being on their agenda would lead to at least two other speaking engagements at sister organization events around the country. Those events led to new clients and other opportunities, simply by appearing on the website as a presenter. I’ll be speaking again this November at SEMA on Amazon and managing online reviews, as my sessions are typically highly-rated and I’ve developed a relationship with the event organizers.

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.

These are the key steps I recommend taking to become a thought leader. Related stories are included in this article:

  • Read voraciously: blogs, articles & books
  • Attend educational workshops: webinars, classes and conferences
  • Filter and share: the best information and insights via social and email
  • Add a point-of-view: as you become more comfortable doing so
  • Create unique content to share: timely, compelling, shareable blog posts or articles
  • Speak: at local, regional, national industry events
  • Write: a book or start a podcast, video or webinar series

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.

As mentioned above, I believe Seth Godin has set the bar in terms of thought leader in modern marketing. He’s written a handful of best sellers, charges nearly $100K to speak and makes his own schedule. He’s worked for corporations, consulted and launched his own technology companies, so he’s well-rounded. I mostly appreciate how he frames up his ideas as actionable insights or thought-provoking tomes. As the top marketing blogger in the world, he’s set an example for all to follow. Did I mention he’s very approachable?

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

I agree the term tends to be overused. I’ve been called many things, including marketing maven, influencer and thought leader, but the term thought leader is perhaps the most overused across industries. I don’t feel passionate about it, but I would like to see alternative descriptions used that are perhaps a more accurate reflection of the individual’s background. I’m more annoyed with the term influencer and influencer marketing, personally. Anyone can be an influencer and influencer marketing has become corrupt, IMHO.

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

To avoid burnout, stay true to yourself and your goal. Don’t be someone else that you feel is more appealing to others, as you must live with that person. It’s just like collecting… don’t collect anything you don’t personally like or enjoy, otherwise, you end up with a bunch of junk you get stuck storing because you can’t sell it as a reasonable price. I would collect cars if I had the money… happy to get stuck with them in my driveway or garage. Similar with thought leadership. Pick a topic or industry for which you have passion, not just experience, then the long-game becomes much easier.

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. 🙂

If I could inspire any movement, it would probably be to act at a local level to help save the environment. We’re amid an environmental crisis and I’m concerned about the future of the planet we are leaving behind for our children. From my perspective, causes like animals or non-humans (say technology or even marketing) are a luxury for first-world countries.

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

I have a host of life lessons I’ve outlined in an article, but this is perhaps my favorite: Set goals and you will achieve. In 1997, my roommate advised me to write down my short and long-term goals, both personally and professionally. I spent the time to set compensation milestones for my career and personal milestones like buying a house, traveling to Dubai and even finding my soulmate. I even made a Bucket List including meeting Seth Godin 2 years before we had lunch in New York. All those goals have been achieved and I credit seeing those goals on my nightstand for 5 years straight and letting my subconscious guide me.

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 think Richard Branson is perhaps the most intriguing businessman and marketer. He’s a visionary and unlike Steve Jobs, he’s still alive. I think Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are interesting, but I get the feeling they are ruthless and not as inspiring (at least in Bill’s early years and Bezos’ later years).

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can following me @KentjLewis on Twitter, KentLewis on LinkedIn and my digital marketing agency at @AnvilMedia on Twitter

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

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