How CEOs Like Andi Owen Can Recover After They Mess Up

Finishing Up 2022

Pete’s 2022 End of Year Overview

Redefine Your Reputation with a “Savvy Sacrifice”

How Thought Leaders Use This Bold, Counterintuitive Move to Reset Expectations and Reshape Their Field

by Pete Weissman, Founder, Thought Leader Communications

I’m excited to share this guest post by Dana Rubin of rubin&co and VizibilityLab.

Dana is the founder of the New York Speechwriters Roundtable.  She attended a half-day program on Thought Leadership that I taught at the Professional Speechwriters Association’s World Conference in Washington, D.C.

In the session, I showed communication pros from several countries how to use thought leadership to help their executives gain more visibility, respect and influence.

One idea I shared really caught Dana’s interest – my concept of a “Savvy Sacrifice.”  In fact, she decided to write an article about it.

Below, reprinted with her permission, is Dana’s post.  She does a great job explaining the concept and walking through the examples I shared.  Enjoy!

The Savvy Sacrifice: When trust is broken

by Dana Rubin

How does a company make a comeback from a terrible mistake? Let’s say, for instance, a trusted global retail bank is caught creating phony accounts to hit sales targets? Or a supposedly green automaker cheats on emissions tests?

How can a badly tarnished brand regain public trust?

Communications and thought leadership consultant Pete Weissman says sometimes a bad situation calls for a gesture so bold and counterintuitive that it transforms public perception.

One way to do that is through what he calls the “Savvy Sacrifice.”

That’s when a company makes a policy change or takes an unexpected step that seems to run counter to its commercial interests, but actually sets the company up for an entirely new role in which the gains outweigh the losses.

A Savvy Sacrifice generates opportunities that the company would not otherwise have by creating new networks, supporters and advocates, and enlisting them in a new mission. The gains of a Savvy Sacrifice extend beyond the company’s bottom line by bringing larger benefits to society.

Weissman considers this a thought leadership strategy because it allows a company to lead through its ideas.

He gives three examples of companies facing reputational issues, and how a Savvy Sacrifice paid off each time.


In February 2014, CVS became the first pharmacy chain to ban the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at its more than 7,600 stores.

Why would a company stop selling such popular and lucrative products? The company warned it could take a $2 billion annual hit in sales, and in fact its first quarter sales dropped by 8%.

But CVS understood that its industry was changing, and that its future growth would not come from filling prescriptions and selling products. With healthcare spending on the rise, the larger play was in healthcare delivery.

After the ban, CVS gained a reputation as a committed public health advocate. “By eliminating the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in our stores, we can make a difference in the health of all Americans,” said CEO Larry Merlo.

The company founded the CVS Health Research Institute, launched a national smoking cessation campaign, and funded a tobacco-prevention curriculum in public schools.

Now Merlo and other executives are leading the national conversation on health and wellbeing. They give speeches and lead discussions at the most prominent healthcare conferences. They’ve created new partnerships with global health organizations. And the company has won awards and other accolades.

Instead of peddling “death sticks,” they’re on the side of angels.


Tesla Motors had been manufacturing electric cars since 2008, but the market remained small.

Company executive knew that if their sales were to grow, the market for electric cars had to grow as well. The entire electric engine sector had to dramatically expand.

But for such a niche product, there was little incentive for other manufacturers to develop the infrastructure, including better, less expensive batteries and electric charging stations.

In October 2014, chief executive Elon Musk announced in a blog that the company would be “open sourcing” its patents – that is, pledging not to sue any party that used their patented technology for electric vehicles.

Patents are usually considered invaluable – a company’s crown jewels – and giving them away for free might seem like madness.

But in this case, Musk realized the patents were holding back the marketplace. By releasing its intellectual property, the company spurred others to invest in new technologies. Letting others expand the market made sense.

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform,” Musk wrote in his blog.

With one gesture, Tesla opened up a world of new opportunities.


A decade ago, the New Hampshire-based manufacturer of leather boots and outdoor apparel knew the materials that went into their bootwear weren’t exactly environmentally friendly.

For a company whose products were purchased by nature lovers all over the world, it was an opportunity to differential Timberland from the competition, reinforce its brand promise, and do some good for the planet.

So the company decided to take the lead. In 2006, Timberland created a green packaging initiative – with a pledge to reduce their environmental impact and put a “nutritional label” found on every shoe box that listed where the footwear was manufactured, how it was produced, and its effect on the environment.

The following year, Timberland created the Green Index label. “Our goal is to reduce our impact on the environment while engaging consumers to take action,” said Jeffrey Swartz, Timberland’s president and CEO.

By putting the information at the point of sale, Timberland was giving its customers a choice – to buy from a company that was transparent, or one that was not.

It was a counterintuitive move, broadcasting to the world that their products were making a real environmental impact, albeit not an entirely beneficial one. With one transparent stroke, the company changed what consumers in the outdoor gear world expect.

In the months and year that followed, Timberland continued to improve its environmental record and worked with more than 40 brands as part of the Outdoor Industry Association to create an index measuring the environmental impact of outdoor products.

Timberland’s leaders spurred a new approach in their industry and changed the conversation – another example of leading with a powerful idea.


A Savvy Sacrifice turns a bad situation on its head. It must be counterintuitive – surprising enough to break through the negative news and grab attention. And because it generates positive press, it has the power to alter public perception.

Instead of being tied to problems from the past, the company making the sacrifice associates itself with the future and transforms its leaders into visionaries.

Note that a Savvy Sacrifice is not just for a company in trouble. It can also help a successful company set a new agenda for the industry. “Why play catch up,” Weissman asks, “when with a thought leadership program, you can be the one driving change?”

What company wouldn’t want that?


Follow Dana

@VizibilityLab, and



For more tips on thought leadership and communication, sign up for our newsletter.

Two Myths about Thought Leadership for Executives

From the “How to Become a Thought Leader Series”

by Pete Weissman, Founder, Thought Leader Communications

Myth #1: A big idea is enough to make you a thought leader.

Congratulations. You’ve got a transformative idea. It’s new. It’s bold.

It will disrupt your industry and usher in a new future – with you and your organization leading the way.

Before you celebrate, realize that big ideas are necessary for a thought leader – but not enough.

Without action behind it, an idea is just an assertion. Rhetoric.

Think of what you hear companies assert:

  • “We put our people first.”
  • “We’re a green company.”
  • “We’re committed to our communities.”

Most people’s reaction is: Prove it.

They’re skeptical. Leaders don’t earn much credibility these days. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer [1] says:

“[A] ‘person like yourself,’ or an average employee, is far more trusted than a CEO or government official.” (Emphasis added)

Your big, disruptive idea must be paired with decisive action steps that prove your commitment.

  • An idea without action behind it is just rhetoric.
  • Action without a guiding idea is just random work.
  • But both together can be the foundation of thought leadership.

When real action reinforces your words, and people believe it, you win respect – which means you’ve won control. Right?

Myth #2: A thought leader controls the conversation.

Some executives believe the right big idea can stop dissent in its tracks. The media will fawn, former adversaries will rally to your side, and – Bob’s your uncle – you’re a visionary thought leader.

Not so fast.

You can’t control the dialogue.

More importantly, you shouldn’t try to.

The pushback you get – from those you’re disrupting, from the defenders of the status quo – actually elevates your stature.

Let me say that again another way:

  • When you trade big ideas in the public square, there’s bound to be conflict.
  • Controversy can spark media coverage.
  • That coverage can help “crown“ you as the leader and spokesperson for “your side” of the argument.

It goes back to something I learned studying journalism in college.

Fair, objective news organizations need to include both sides of an issue. That means someone is going to be quoted as the voice of one side and someone else (hopefully you) will be quoted as the voice of the other.

In any publication (trade, mass or elite), this effectively designates you as the champion of your cause. You look stronger and more persuasive when you’re winning an exchange than when you attempt control.


  • Your bold idea is just the start of becoming a thought leader.
  • Pair your idea with decisive, newsworthy action steps to make you and your organization credible leaders of a new way forward.
  • Don’t fear the conflict that taking a strong stand may spark. Harness the ensuing news coverage to stake your claim as the leading voice for your side of the argument.

Want help thinking through your action steps? Please drop me a line.



For more tips on thought leadership and communication, sign up for our newsletter.



Trouble at Halftime: Leaders, Don’t Make This One Presentation Mistake

A funny Onion Article Shows That
Inspiration Isn’t on the Printed Page

by Pete Weissman, Founder, Thought Leader Communications

The Onion strikes again! Those brilliant writers cracked me up with this article:  

“Jim Caldwell Provides Lions Players With Printouts Of Inspiring Halftime Speech”

But they hit on a larger truth that I see working with our executive clients.

(In fact, I had my graphic designer create the image above.)

The Onion’s premise is absurd. But how many times have you sat through a presentation where the speaker filled every inch of the PowerPoint slide with text and expected to somehow inspire you? In the setting of a football locker room, it is ridiculous. In the auditoriums of large companies and convention halls, it is all too common.

Too many executives think a speech is simply sharing information. They miss the power of a well-delivered speech to motivate and align their team. There is a performance aspect to any talk. Nail that, and you can unlock the full potential of your team.

The article also reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Roberto Goizueta, the legendary Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company.

“Communication is the only task you cannot delegate.”
– Roberto Goizueta

Mr. Goizueta understood that there is no substitute for talking directly to your team. (I had the great honor of working for another legendary Coca-Cola Company Chairman and CEO, and I was always amazed by his ability to engage and inspire his audiences.)

The Takeaway:  Before you give a presentation, ask yourself these three questions:  

  1. Does my speech have a good balance between appealing to the head and appealing to the heart?
  2. Will delivering this speech “rally the troops” much more than just handing them a printout of the text?
  3. Does the conclusion of my speech lift up the audience’s spirits?

An effective presentation is more than just a “data dump.” If you need help inspiring your team, whether on the field of sports or field of business, please drop me a line.

P.S. My all-time favorite Onion story is:

New Wearable Feedbags Let Americans Eat More, Move Less

For more tips on thought leadership and communication, sign up for our newsletter.

Thought Leadership Tip: Show Your 3.0 to Develop Your Vision