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Practice Management > Marketing and Communications

5 Steps for Becoming a Celebrity Thought Leader

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What You Need to Know

  • Financial advisors who can achieve celebrity status as a thought leader are poised to realize exponentially better business success.
  • Being a “thought leader” is not the same as being a “subject matter expert.”

Information overload is a phrase we all know and understand. The people we are trying to reach are bombarded with massive quantities of advertising and marketing, most of which they discount, little of which they trust.

Anyone can self-publish — and that’s all well and good for search engine value and “owning” your space on the digital assets you control. But, let’s face it, not all content is good. Much of it is rehashed and unoriginal, a sad knockoff based on someone else’s thoughts and perspective.

Hopefully, you are not feeling a tinge of guilt right now, but if you are, it’s time to up your game. In this noisy digital world, each of us must work harder to stand out as different and better. How do we realize that distinction as professionals?

While creating content and building credibility through working with the media are helpful techniques that I’ve addressed for many years within the financial services profession, they are not enough.

If you really want to soar as a financial professional, you need to become a thought leader. Being a “thought leader” is not the same as being a “subject matter expert.” According to, a thought leader is “one whose views on a subject are taken to be authoritative and influential.” 

Here is another definition, according to Russ Alan Prince and Bruce Rogers, co-authors of Profitable Brilliance: How Professional Services Firms Become Thought Leaders: “A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.”

They go on to say that “Thought Leadership is the key point of differentiation for professional services firms and the true path to superior profits.”

A Key Point of Differentiation

John Bowen, founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a coaching firm for financial advisors, says, “With investment management becoming increasingly commoditized, the most successful financial advisors will be the ones who are extremely capable when it comes to business development.

“They will be the ones with sterling professional brands; they will be thought leaders. These financial advisors will also be able to source new and ever wealthier clients by creating strategic partnerships with other professionals such as trusts and estate attorneys and accountants who have high-net-worth practices,” Bowen explains.

Prince and Rogers make yet another distinction: “It is quite possible to go beyond being a thought leader and become a celebrity thought leader.” Bingo! In my 30 years of working with independent financial advisors and thought leaders within the financial planning community, this rings especially true to me.

According to Prince and Rogers, celebrity thought leaders are industry-eminent. “They’re exponentially better established within their field with an exponentially shinier halo than a thought leader. In effect, celebrity thought leaders are thought leaders to the thought leaders. They’re the recognized elite that potential clients turn to first.”

What can you as a hard-working financial advisor do to become a thought leader — even a celebrity thought leader — in your own right?

5 Steps to Thought Leadership

1. Advance the conversation. Becoming a thought leader will require some serious thought. Think hard about the profession as a whole, your business more specifically, and the people you serve with a passion—not just once in a while but all the time. Converse on a regular basis with others you consider to be thought leaders and celebrity thought leaders.

What mental cobwebs can you shake loose together? Write down, internalize, and then share those insights with the world. Don’t just repeat what others have repeatedly said; advance the conversation with your thoughts and opinions. Take a risk. Put yourself out there.

2. Master the art of storytelling. People love good stories—especially stories that make an interesting or even profound point about being human. The earliest men and women drew pictures on cave walls to communicate and to tell stories; people still respond to good visuals today.

Oral storytelling can create a strong connection, even a bond, between the storyteller and their audience; it works today just as it always has throughout the history of human beings. Stories keep us entertained, informed, educated and engaged.

Emotional, awe-inspiring stories are more often shared, verbally and in the digital realm. Study the best storytellers and emulate their strengths.

3. Be seen in the company of other thought leaders. Don’t just hang out with people who are considered thought leaders and celebrity thought leaders, find creative ways to make it known to your clients and centers of influence that you were actually in their presence.

If you are playing a role alongside the thought leaders or simply supporting their cause, use photos and videos, blogs and social media posts, emails, and mentions in your subsequent speeches and one-on-one conversations.

We are known by the company we keep. Make yours top notch—and make sure your clients and strategic partners know who you’re with and what you’re up to. This is not about bragging, it’s about being of service and letting your light shine as a contribution to a group of people.

4. Be more than professional, be passionate. Being authentic, warm, and compassionate—even a little vulnerable—is magnetic. Some professionals try to be so professional that they come off as cold and aloof. If you are funny, be funny.

If you have a loud laugh, don’t hide it. If you are analytical and sometimes misunderstood, be honest and transparent. If you have overcome adversity, share it.

If you can give a TEDx Talk or record something like that as a way to tell your personal story, you can use that video to create strong connections with the people who matter most to you. They can have their own experience of you without having to be face to face.

5. Don’t call yourself a thought leader. Nobody likes a braggart or a bore. Calling yourself a thought leader is as off-putting as saying how smart, successful, and good looking you are. Don’t do it.

Let others start calling you a thought leader and key contributor to a body of work or line of thought. As you become better known for a point of view or as a leading light within specific groups of people, you will enjoy elevated status—which will lead to interesting and often lucrative business opportunities.

More importantly, you will enjoy a higher level of personal satisfaction and see the potential for leaving a lasting legacy.

Longtime marketing communications professional Marie Swift and her team at Impact Communications, Inc. have for over 20 years worked exclusively with independent financial advisors and allied institutions. More insights are available at


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