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Phoebe Netto: “Don’t give out more than you put in”

More than half of our clients have come from our own thought leadership. It would be more than that if we spent more time doing our own PR, but most of our time is spent doing it for our clients. The primary way we do that is by turning our clients into thought leaders. For example, […]

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More than half of our clients have come from our own thought leadership. It would be more than that if we spent more time doing our own PR, but most of our time is spent doing it for our clients. The primary way we do that is by turning our clients into thought leaders.

For example, after I went on a business TV program to share advice on how to sell through PR, we had a new business inquiry that has resulted in a regular client. Thanks to our work with them, they are now a thought leader on the issue their product solves. A by-product of this is that their product is mentioned across the media when their expertise is featured, at events where they speak and by potential clients who are researching solutions.

An industry body’s thought leadership on legislative loopholes can open doors for influential meetings with decision-makers. A business professional who believes their competitors’ operations are ineffective and dated can position themselves as a leader in their industry. A plumber with high customer satisfaction rates can become an advocate for better customer service so that they’re the first plumber that comes to mind when someone needs to hire one.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phoebe Netto, founder and Managing Director of Pure Public Relations. Phoebe honed her PR skills working with agencies large and small but felt frustrated that small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profits couldn’t access the expertise that big budgets could. Founding her own PR agency was the natural next step. She started the business in 2010 after spotting a gap in the market, but also because she wanted to do things differently, where results were the only KPI worth measuring. She has a reputation for securing excellent media coverage for topics that are not obviously newsworthy and an impressive track record for issues management and crisis communication.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Phoebe! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

My childhood was far from boring. Both my parents are pastors and the founders of an incredible charity that provides homes for at-risk families and individuals. We almost always had other people in our home — young people who needed some care and support, borders, foster children and other guests. It enriched my life and taught me empathy and perspective. And all of this was backed financially by my father’s business that he founded, so being a business owner runs in my family!

All of this informs my PR business, where we work with small and medium-sized businesses and not-for-profit organizations to provide “big business” expertise in a far more agile way.

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

My PR agency turns many of our clients into thought leaders. PR goes hand in hand with thought leadership by helping business leaders educate, inform, support and grab the attention of their marketplace. It does more than drive awareness; it brings the power of third-party endorsement. My work involves helping others craft a narrative that hits the right notes for their business, without it sounding like a sales pitch.

Alongside helping my clients become thought leaders, I share my own expertise in PR with articles and interviews in major outlets — just like this one.

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

I never grow tired of seeing my clients in the media or hearing politicians, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and charity leaders, giving interviews or speeches using content that I have written. I have been doing this for over a decade and it is still a thrill to me. Any interesting story that comes to mind is based on that!

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?

That would have to be not hitting the mute button while burping my newborn daughter during a board meeting via conference call. During a presentation from one of the board members, everyone on the call heard the distracting sound of my daughter’s very noisy wind. It elicited many laughs, but that memorable board meeting has meant that I am now always very careful to press the mute button when not speaking on conference calls!

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 uses their expertise to share bold positions and advice on best practice. They believe that their view is either different from common practice or that they can shed light on an area that an audience wouldn’t understand.

It’s the leader of a homelessness organization that shares insights into problems or preventative measures that most people do not know about. It’s the business expert explaining how to identify cash flow issues that most businesses haven’t considered.

Their influence is focused on what they know, while an influencer is focused on who they are. There is certainly some crossover, but a thought leader shares their expertise, experience, and opinion to add value to others and not for immediate profit. When done well, thought leadership certainly benefits business, but they are usually not being paid for their opinion.

An influencer shares their personal preferences, practices, and recommendations for immediate profit. This requires people to be very interested in them as individuals, which would rule out a lot of leaders.

The good news for business owners, experts and leaders are that what they have to say provides more value than what their daily life looks like. This provides room for a real opportunity to create change, understanding, awareness, and a reputation that simultaneously benefits their organization.

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?

If your organization or business is mentioned in a respected media outlet that targets your ideal clients, it will have a much greater impact on your reputation than an advertisement in the same environment.

Businesses can promise a lot and say a lot of great things, particularly if they have great marketing, but you can tell far more about an organization by getting to know the people behind it. Increasingly, people are looking for authentic stories, opinions, and voices and to establish trust in a brand.

If you already have strong opinions and good advice about your area of expertise, you’re already halfway there.

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?

More than half of our clients have come from our own thought leadership. It would be more than that if we spent more time doing our own PR, but most of our time is spent doing it for our clients. The primary way we do that is by turning our clients into thought leaders.

For example, after I went on a business TV program to share advice on how to sell through PR, we had a new business inquiry that has resulted in a regular client. Thanks to our work with them, they are now a thought leader on the issue their product solves. A by-product of this is that their product is mentioned across the media when their expertise is featured, at events where they speak and by potential clients who are researching solutions.

An industry body’s thought leadership on legislative loopholes can open doors for influential meetings with decision-makers. A business professional who believes their competitors’ operations are ineffective and dated can position themselves as a leader in their industry. A plumber with high customer satisfaction rates can become an advocate for better customer service so that they’re the first plumber that comes to mind when someone needs to hire one.

All of this can be done through articles and interviews in the media, speaking at industry events, organizing your own events, receiving endorsements from influential people and awards, sharing your expertise in social media, releasing content such as whitepapers, research, and ebooks, and collaborating with complimentary well-regarded and well-known thought leaders.

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.

  • Ask: what do you do well? Then narrow that down to what you can have an opinion on, based on your experience, expertise, and what you consider best practice in your area.
  • Identify why this matters to others and why they would care. If what you are sharing and standing for isn’t valuable or sought after by others, then you aren’t leading anyone. Anyone can have an opinion or thinks they know something that others don’t, but if it doesn’t answer common questions, it’s basically a self-aggrandizing soapbox.
  • Lead before you speak. Before you can be well-known as a thought leader, you need to already be a leader. For example, don’t share your view on business success without having achieved business success yourself and without already helping others to achieve success.
  • Make sure you have credible proof points. You need to have a reputation that matches your position, so people know you can be trusted. For example, use case studies, reputable endorsements, research showing trends that match your statements, well-known connections, or your years of experience to prove your expertise.
  • Choose the right avenues to share your message. Where are the watering holes where your key stakeholders congregate and go to for credible information? Be there.
  • Be generous. If you are stingy in the quality and quantity of advice and insights that you share, people will notice. Zig Ziglar explained, “You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” There is a misconception that you can’t give much information away because people will no longer need to pay for your expertise. The truth is, when people see value in your approach, they will still want you to apply it to them. It’s not like you can wrap up all your many years of experience in a few pieces of content.

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.

Marcus Buckingham, an author, speaker, and talent expert. He teaches how to cultivate your strengths and manage your weaknesses. Besides his transformative message, he is an excellent thought leader.

  • He makes his message relatable and accessible — you can gain value and applicable insights from short videos, presentations, and interviews, as well as his longer books. Thought leaders should make their key points digestible, understandable, relevant and applicable. They should communicate in multiple mediums so that every person has the opportunity to hear their message.
  • His advice and recommendations are based on his proven expertise and experience. He has earned the right to speak.
  • His points are backed up by credible data. He has actually commissioned his own studies which have led to his insights and these are backed by lots of real-life experience.
  • He is an excellent communicator and you can hear his message in multiple influential platforms. You can have the most important things to say, but if no one hears you or is interested in what you have to say, it doesn’t have much impact.

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

Being in public relations, I do hear the term a lot, and that can diminish its meaning. I also see it misused when anyone with an opinion calls themselves a thought leader. But for someone to have longevity as a thought leader, what they say needs to be based on lived experience, proven expertise, and a desire to share what they know in a way that will help others (and not just benefit themselves.)

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

Don’t give out more than you put in.

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. 🙂

It doesn’t take a lot of wisdom to say that things are not good. Don’t give voice to the problems — give voice to the solutions.

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

“Your life is always moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts.” — Craig Groeschel.

Being more intentional about what I fill my mind and heart has given me a greater capacity to come up with new ideas, not take on so much stress, and to not fall into the trap of having my thoughts focused on myself. It also allows me to be more intentional and proactive in keeping the ‘main things’ the main things.

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. 🙂

Melinda Gates. She is driven, highly motivated, and uses her prominence, connections, knowledge, resources, and passion to make an exponentially positive impact. I admire her focus, her stubborn determination to not be held back by others perceptions and challenges (including as she started her career as a woman in tech), and her ability to be family-focused while busy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/phoebenetto/
https://www.facebook.com/PurePRAust/
https://www.instagram.com/phoebenetto_purepr/
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