Your business or project has 100 times more likelihood of being successful if you are a thought leader. You have a 100 times higher likelihood of being elected to office if you are a thought leader. If eWeek or TechTarget quotes you in a story about cloud computing solutions that help streamline manufacturing processes then managers who want to accomplish this task will read your intelligent advice and then get in touch for a product demonstration. Being a thought leader gets your project exposure. People buy your product. You make money. That’s what makes a business tick.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle McIntyre, a self-proclaimed Silicon Valley PR diva. Michelle runs a public relations consulting firm that serves technology clients and venture capitalists globally. She has an enviable Rolodex and finds it easy to make highly technical subjects interesting to a mainstream audience.
Ms. McIntyre is fully engrossed in STEM or science, technology, engineering, and math in every aspect of her life from her family to her work and volunteer roles. Her “mathlete” son is in his first year at the elite school University of California Berkeley and her husband is the blockchain lead at Xilinx. Several neighbors run startups, e.g. in artificial intelligence and IT.
McIntyre has a slew of awards for PR results: eight are from IBM. She was named 2017 VLAB Volunteer of the Year: this group puts together thought leadership panels made up of people from Stanford, UC Berkeley, the venture capital industry, startups and established brand name companies.
One of her favorite volunteer roles was an executive member of TEDxSanJoseCA because of the role’s emphasis on creativity. She spent several years on a Silicon Valley-based district PTA (Parent-Teacher Association) board and has trained many parents in how to successfully run a unit and help kids at their neighborhood schools.
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 grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, and while there I daydreamed of escaping the snow and cold. I eventually ended up in sunny California but had to “stop by” the East Coast to get here. My first job was at a PR firm in Gloucester, MA, in a six-story mansion overlooking the harbor. Later I moved to Silicon Valley. I worked for Neale-May and Partners, now called Global Fluency and then after a few years joined Microsoft’s agency, Waggener Edstrom. After that, I went to a mobile storage company, then got hired by IBM, in Silicon Valley by the way, and stayed for 16 years. I thrived in IBM’s PR department with all of its technology firsts, market share gains, genius inventors and acquisitions to talk about. There I developed close relationships with writers and influencers. After that I started my own consulting firm and 24 clients and six years later, walla!, here I am.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
In addition to 29 successful years as a publicist, I’m a top 100 influencer in future of work according to Onalytica Influencer Database. In particular they rate me as an expert in “future of recruiting” which is not too much different than work. You recruit someone for a job, which jobs will be most popular? What makes them a fit?
A thought leader and influencer are, to me, the same. I have a high interest in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence and promoting diversity in business like women in STEM. I like to track how close we are to making a robot that’s as smart as a human which could take 50 more years. And on Quora, I’ve had an amazing year. I’ve been commenting on how to get into an elite school as well as anything Silicon Valley related, e.g. what’s it like living here? In just two weeks my Quora impressions have more than tripled from 25,000 to 86,000: I comment on how to get into an elite school. My son goes to the number one public university in the United States and I saw what he did to get admitted. Maybe I’ll surpass 100,000 views by the time this publishes. People are stressed and obsessed about getting into good schools. I think I know the secret sauce.
By the way, I believe these topics I am known for are highly intertwined: UC Berkeley, elite colleges, PR for startups, future of work, living and working in the Silicon Valley. Did you know that two schools known for producing the most founders are Stanford and UC Berkeley?
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Immediately after graduating from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, I started work at that Gloucester PR firm. It had the most interesting range of clients, like Teradyne automated test equipment, Unitrode integrated circuits, a local whale watch, and a high caliber Haitian musical group called the Magnum Band. Day to day work was fascinating because of the Gloucester environment. My office was in a mansion recently featured in Architectural Digest. Once a neighbor knocked on the door and handed me a live lobster as a gift.
My first boss who was whip-smart and a firecracker in meetings met the Haitian band leaders while on vacation there. She came back to the office and said, “Let’s make Haitian Compas music as big as reggae in the U.S. I’m bringing the Magnum Band here.” We introduced them to the Boston press and booked gigs for them. My first business trip was to the World Music concert at the Palladium club in Manhattan. That’s like the Studio 54 of concert venues.
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?
Sure. I dressed up as the tech beat reporter at the top Silicon Valley local newspaper and won a PR firm’s Halloween costume contest. Winning was a boost to my popularity at the office but my costume choice was, in hindsight, poor taste. Later, I had more and more friends in that newspaper and then eventually felt bad that I made fun of one of them. As background, the writer was pretty mean when we at the agency pitched his stories. But two wrongs don’t make a right, and in all fairness, he did write decent stories and covered my ideas sometimes.
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 educated and informed on a particular subject. It could be, robotics, quantum computing, print management, 3D printing, baking scones, elite college admissions, or business ethics. They have 10,000+ hours of experience in something. A thought leader is an expert among experts.
I don’t think influencer is different than a thought leader.
I’ll use people I know, admire or follow examples: take a former coworker Bob Sutor who runs IBM’s quantum computing practice. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton, which to me proves his brainpower, and he has been working in this field for quite some time now. He often discusses quantum events, breakthroughs and news on social media and is an IBM spokesperson on the topic.
Oprah Winfrey is a thought leader in living your best life. She obviously has a huge global following. She’s one of the wealthiest women in the world.
LeBron James is a great role model for kids. He’s a leader on being successful and overcoming adversity. The guy is in my humble opinion the most talented basketball player of all time and a devoted family man, but he started his life in extreme poverty without his father in his life. And on top of this, he has a lifetime contract with Nike and a bunch of movie credits, e.g. he was the purple monster in Little Foot.
Vaclav Muchna, the CEO and co-founder Y Soft, which is my client, is widely quoted on growing successful companies and innovation in areas that Y Soft is good at like print management, scanning, and workflow. (Workflow is the automation of business processes where tasks, information or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a list of rules. It’s a big deal and Y Soft has aced helping companies excel at it.)
NASA folks are thought leaders in space exploration. Warren Buffet is the thought leader in successful investing.
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?
Simple. Your business or project has 100 times more likelihood of being successful if you are a thought leader. You have a 100 times higher likelihood of being elected to office if you are a thought leader. If eWeek or TechTarget quotes you in a story about cloud computing solutions that help streamline manufacturing processes then managers who want to accomplish this task will read your intelligent advice and then get in touch for a product demonstration. Being a thought leader gets your project exposure. People buy your product. You make money. That’s what makes a business tick.
The PR and tech industry blog on my website michellemcintyrecommunications.com is syndicated by Business2community. When people see all of those expert tip stories on there, they get in touch to talk about my PR services. Being a thought leader gets you exposure and leads.
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?
First, refer to the Richest People in the World lists. Think about successful company founders: they are thought leaders in technology and successfully growing a business. Shout out to Bill and Melinda Gates who have transformed into Mr. and Mrs. Philanthropy. Others include Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla, and Mark Zuckerberg. Michael Dell was a hero when I first got to the West Coast. A young guy at the time, he had started a PC company from his college dorm. How cool is that?
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. Pick a timely topic and don’t stray.
Karen Lachtanski, content director for Y Soft is published in CMSWire. Before that, she contributed to the Entrepreneur. With the exception of a few San Francisco Giants’ mentions here and there she’s an ace at sticking to her digital workplace and future of work themes. Her employer Y Soft makes technology that helps businesses print and capture images smarter. In her articles, she sticks to topics like remote work best practices and robots at work — good or bad? She says, good, by the way. Ms. Lachtanski says robots will take over menial tasks and help us focus on the more interesting parts of our jobs. Y Soft growth has beenbig both in terms of sales revenue and new customers. What she writes about positions Y Soft as an expert in the office and workplace. But she knows the topic well, is passionate about it and has some of Y Soft’s own data to share.
2. Don’t say the “T” word: getting political dilutes your message. Political comments can muddy your main theme message. Saying you like or dislike the highly controversial U.S. president can lose you a lot of followers and prevent many people from liking you. Notice how I did not say his name because I don’t want to dilute my message. Of course, saying he’s awesome or a bully could get you more followers, but they may be the wrong kind, ones that only want to ramble on about politics and not share or like whatever you want to discuss as a thought leader, e.g. like artificial intelligence, 3D printers, elite colleges or sustainability? Unless you are in politics, just don’t say the T-word. You will lose followers.
3. Don’t rave about your favorite sports team. Post something nice on social media about the Pittsburgh Steelers more than once and you will lose me as a follower. They are a rival to my birthplace sports team the Cleveland Browns. However, a mention is okay when the team is globally newsworthy. An example is Lebron James taking the Cleveland Cavaliers to a national championship in 2016. This event is okay to mention because it’s like the birth of a royal baby. It can give the world including non-fans hope for the future. However, constantly cheering for your team on Twitter or Instagram will lose you followers because most people in your feed do not care about or like your beloved team or even that sport. An example was when I first rambled on about a remarkable Browns NFL football win: sadly, I lost 20% of my followers in five minutes. If someone roots for the New York Giants, they will not want to see a bunch of pro-Eagles mentions in a feed.
4. Do the 10,000 hours test. Do you have 10,000+ hours of expertise in something? Talk about a topic if you are indeed an expert. I was on the IBM collaboration and social business software team for many years and now I’m a collaboration and future of work thought leader but as an independent consultant. I’m an expert due to having spent more than 10,000 hours in this arena. I could have picked astrophysics due to a personal interest in that, e.g. is their life out there in space, etc., but I don’t have expertise in it. I see some snake oil salesman types drone on about certain topics on Twitter like software as a service or quantum computing but when I read their profiles they are just into. It’s like they picked a random topic they have no experience in. I’d rather follow someone like Bob Sutor of IBM or a college professor when it comes to quantum computing, not some random yahoo who sells services.
5. At least once a year speak or publish a story on the topic. Being an award-winning public relations pro, I often blog about successful PR methods. By the way, PR to me means public relations or press relations. The most typical PR role is pitching journalists and convincing them it’s a good idea to cover whatever it is that you are pitching them. Anyway, the Business2Community site syndicates my PR firm’s blog that gives tips including specific things you can do to get an editor to pay attention to you. They’ve been publishing my stories for years, like The First 3 Steps in a Startup’s PR Journey. I share the story links on LinkedIn and Twitter and then company founders and VCs get in touch asking about my services.
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.
My favorite thought leader is Dr. Phil. He did “good PR” for himself around 20 years ago when he scheduled an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her show. He soon started his own TV show which won a bunch of viewership awards. His expertise seems to be fixing broken people, raising decent children and helping people communicate. He developed a platform, the show, somewhere he could further develop his thought leadership. I lifted my son using his lessons and it worked. Any business leader can use his tips to succeed.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I try to see things through a journalist’s eyes. To me, “thought leader” is a fairly conservative term relatively speaking. Journalists typically can’t stand kitsch-y words like “guru” or “doctor.” So like “Bitcoin Doctor” to me sounds tacky. But Bitcoin Thought Leader sounds journalistic. I do come from a tech background so I’m a bit more conservative then someone says in entertainment. Maybe a pop culture YouTube star would like to be a “guru” in something.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
Arianna Huffington is right: sleep is God. Never get fewer than six hours of sleep at night. Sleep affects your mood, creativity, productivity, and ability to manage and project lead. Next, don’t work every day: it leads to burn out. Take a break, people! Or else your creativity and productivity will suffer greatly.
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. 🙂
As a future of work thought leader, people ask me about whether robots will be good or evil. I learned from a scientist at a company called NNAISENSE that you can program artificial intelligence and robots to be good just like you can teach children to be good. As a background, the company’s VC was my client. I’d influence the technology industry, from the industrial designers to the mathematicians to the software coders to build more groups to make robots good. Maybe the robot helpers have to pass an ethics exam or something. There is some work being done now but I think it has to be bigger. Otherwise, who knows what could happen. So, people, please make nice robots. Otherwise, kaput! There goes the human race.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My dad, may he rest in peace said, “Do your best and forget the rest.” I get stressed like everyone else when I’m doing something important like pitching a prospective client. However, following this mantra means bouncing back after failure. It’s also the key to success in press relations. If a writer says, no thanks, maybe the next will say, “Yes.”
Whatever work you do, know that if you did everything you could, you can feel good about yourself. Feeling bad about yourself is usually what hurts people. “Do your best” is my advice on Quora to teens trying to get into their dream schools or parents worrying about it. My son goes to the University of California Berkeley, the number one public university and a top-five in mathematics, his intended major. He got in with almost no help from me but I saw how hard he worked to build his CV so he would be accepted. It turns out this is highly sought-after information.
The secret to getting into a good college, or achieving any goal is to try your best. And if you shoot for the moon and don’t make it, maybe you will reach a star instead. What if your goal is an Ivy school and you “only” make it into UCLA? UCLA is very difficult to get into. It’s a hot school. What if you get rejected by all targets and go to community college? Well, then you can transfer to UC Santa Barbara, Colorado State U.. or Northeastern and still be successful. What if as a startup founder your goal is 10 new clients in six months but you only get seven? That’s still great.
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. 🙂
To increase my chances, I’ll give three names of people who live in California like me: they are Lebron James @KingJames on Instagram, Dr. Phil @DrPhil and Chancellor Carol T. Christ who runs UC Berkeley @UCBerkeley. I’d interview one or all of them on how they define success. I’d ask them for advice on achieving goals. I’d write a blog story and post it on my website.
Why James? Lebron James has won several NBA championships. The Cleveland Cavaliers win helped give the world hope for the future: I liken it to Prince William and Kate getting married. He’s an enormously successful businessman, invests in startups and gives millions to kids so they can go to college. He is partnering with the University of Akron, where my brother got his business degree, by the way, to send 1,000 kids to college. I’d like to ask him, how does he maintain this positive, can-do attitude?
I used Dr. Phil’s advice on how to lift a child and mine turned out pretty good. I’d like to personally thank him. And regarding Chancellor Christ, she runs the university where my kid goes.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Twitter @FromMichelle.
Follow my syndicated Business2Community communications tips column here: https://www.business2community.com/author/michelle-mcintyre
Check out my views on Silicon Valley and getting into an elite college here on Quora: https://www.quora.com/profile/Michelle-McIntyre-4
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.