1 million fake 'thought leaders' accidentally shine light on real experts

16 January 2024 | 4 min read | PR
Portrait photo of Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

There are 1.11 million people on LinkedIn with the job title ‘Thought Leader.’

That’s 1.1 million people who truly believe that their customers, prospects, and peers all consider them to be among the most admired, insightful, and influential people in their space.

It is arrogance personified and most of these people (I was tempted to say ‘all’ but I’ll warrant that one or two are bona fide, if not ever-so slightly deluded) are self-aggrandising idiots without an original thought of their own yet have a phenomenal talent in knowing how to Google other people’s ideas and pass them off as their own.

Harsh? I don’t think so. Thought leadership status must be earned. It is for others to describe one as such, not for the individual to do so.

Any business can claim that its senior people are ‘experts’ in their field. It’s super easy to do. They just say so and create a plethora of content to show it. Whether that content is actually any good or not is a very different matter and there is research that looks into this very point.

Indeed, a McKinsey study revealed that just 10% of executives who produce thought leadership content (articles, videos, podcasts, etc) scored above 5 or more on a scale of 1-10 for expertise.

Our own research of 500 C-suite executives echoes this. We found that:

  • 40% rated the quality of thought leadership content they read, watch or listen to as ‘bad‘ or ‘poor‘ at best.
  • 59% said the content ‘lacked originality‘ – it simply regurgitates what everyone else is saying.


Knowing their stuff inside and out is all very well, but if business leaders cannot communicate their insights in a way that resonates with their intended audience, it is a waste of everyone’s time and could come at a cost to the business itself.

Poorly created written and verbal content can have a more serious impact. It not only damages the reputation of the leader, but it will also negatively impact the perception that customers and prospects have the organisation itself. And that could see them lose favour when it comes to tenders and pitches.

If done right, how can thought leadership make a difference?

A report published by LinkedIn and Edelman this year found that:

  • 60% of business leaders say that thought leadership helps to keep a company’s brand and capabilities top of mind with prospects and customers.
  • 50% of C-suite leaders say that good thought leadership content has more influence on purchase decision making during testing economic conditions.

Our research also revealed that 1 in 5 C-suite leaders have done business with a company on the back of being impressed by a piece of thought leadership content they produced – something that we have benefitted from ourselves:

We practice what we preach and in 2019, we won a new client on the back of our newsletter, which contained links to articles that provided insights and tips to help businesses improve their public relations and content marketing.

The prospect had been receiving it for several months and when the need arose for them to appoint a public relations and content creation agency, we were front of mind.

They remain a client today and only this week we have agreed an extension to- and increase in the value of- their contract that will now run until January 2024. What is more, they are now one of our top three highest spending clients.

The demand for industry thought leaders has been rising sharply over the last two years as businesses and customers seek sense and answers to the challenges they face.

Sound thought leadership content positively reflects how brands and business are perceived. That in turn leads to it creating a positive impact on the bottom line. Simple.

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Need a steer or support with the thought leadership content creation element of your wider promotional plan in 2023? Email me anytime on paul@clearlypr.co.uk