On writing books and overcoming obscurity: Rusty Shelton’s insights about getting noticed | The UnNoticed Entrepreneur — step into the spotlight.

Jim James
10 min readMar 2, 2023

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur .

Rusty Shelton is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Zilker Media . He has set up multiple businesses and sold one after six years only in the author marketing space.

In the new episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, he talked about how entrepreneurs can punch above their weight through books and become an authority. He also shared how servant leadership has changed and how unnoticed entrepreneurs need to change how they behave in that aspect.

From Intern to PR Agency Founder

Rusty spent his whole career in the thought leadership space.

It started back in college when he interned at a book public relations (PR) firm in Austin, Texas. He spent the first seven years of his career at that firm and learned a lot about how to go out and really use books and content to make an impact, teach, and drive authority and visibility for a business.

After a couple of years of talking himself out of it, he launched his first agency in 2010. It was called “Shelton Interactive,” a book marketing and PR agency that launched 35 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers and some of the biggest business books in the world, including “ The One Thing .” The emphasis for that book was to go out and help books make as big an impact as they could.

The agency was fortunate enough to get acquired in 2016 by Advantage Media Group and Forbes Books . Until now, he still does a lot of work with them.

He launched his current agency, Zilker Media, in 2017.

The Impetus to Write a Book

Rusty’s got two books, “ Authority Marketing “ and “ Mastering the New Media Landscape .” He’s also spoken at South by Southwest .

However, books, for most entrepreneurs, seem just out of reach because even writing a blog post can be challenging. So are books necessary for business owners in order to establish their authority?

For him, books do more for authority and thought leadership than almost anything else. And it’s because of the significance we attach to somebody who has written a book on a certain topic.

About 90% of adults want to write a book at some point in their life. Nonetheless, most people don’t ever get over the hump because of the perceived enormity of the project.

But how do you eat an elephant? It’s one bite at a time. It’s a process. About 45,000 words can be four to six months of consistent micro-writing that happens on a daily basis.

Writing a book has a lot of perceived friction around it; it certainly takes time. But once some momentum gets built, it’s something that can be done.

Why Tap Co-Authors?

In his case, having a co-author has always worked best because the idea is to bring different expertise and give a full view of the topic area. He wouldn’t go out and get a co-author just to help him with writing — there are plenty of ways to get the writing done.

Where he thinks a co-author makes sense is where it’s strategically important for the business not only in the sense of having that relationship or that partnership but also in bringing unique perspectives to the table.

On Servant Leadership

Rusty also has another book coming up. It’s called “ The Authority Advantage: Building Thought Leadership Focused on Impact Not Ego ,” and it’s around servant leadership. His last two books have been marketing-focused, and what he felt was needed with this new book was more about having a leadership book.

We’re in an environment right now where statistics are telling us that trust in institutions and businesses is at its lowest level on record since they started doing the poll.

The reality of that for you as an entrepreneur and a leader is that nobody trusts your business or institution the way they used to. If someone hears from your business or your institution, they are immediately sceptical of the message that they’re getting.

What disturbs and gives Rusty a lot of concern is that most entrepreneurs still lead with the corporate brand in everything they do. He’s getting an email newsletter. He’s hearing messaging from the business. And the problem with that is every dime you spend marketing and generating messaging around the business — where you lead with the business — you’re getting a fractional return.

His encouragement is that although nobody trusts your business anymore, they’re willing to trust if you’re visible to them. If you’re an entrepreneur, the best thing you can do is shift the perception of you from an operator with something to sell to a mission-driven thought leader with something to teach.

You need to lead as somebody who people can learn from versus that brand of being a business operator (where the market’s perception is you have a commodity and something to sell).

What Should You Write About?

A lot of leaders discount what they have to offer. It’s been Rusty’s experience that high-performing leaders, almost without fail, have more imposter syndrome than anybody. For many high-performing leaders, in terms of being the author of a book, speaking on stage, and teaching at more scale, some of that syndrome holds them back.

However, the things you’re doing right now behind the scenes — the teaching you’re doing in your boardroom with your team, the work you directly do with clients — that content right now is content you’re already delivering. It’s just that you deliver it in an environment where it’s one-to-one or one-to-a-few.

Whether it’s with a book or a blog or a podcast, take that content — content that could make a much bigger impact and also help you build your business and help you punch above your weight in terms of visibility — and move it upstream at scale.

Whether it’s somebody who’s thinking about accepting that job at your business or a customer who’s thinking about whether or not they want to raise their hand and learn more about working with you, these are people who are interested in getting to know you before they deal with you directly. They are interested before they walk in the door for that interview or raise their hand for that proposal.

If there’s no way to get to know you beyond a resume-style LinkedIn profile or a basic biography on your website, you are missing a golden opportunity to differentiate yourself from the other options that are out there.

Obscurity, Not Confidentiality, is the Bigger Enemy

When it comes to externalising what you’re doing internally for future and potential audiences, Rusty says that the bigger question is not “Is somebody going to steal my ideas?,” but “Is somebody going to my ideas?” In other words, obscurity is a much bigger enemy for entrepreneurs and leaders than concerns around confidentiality.

There may be certain pieces of the mix that you don’t want to include in a book. But, in his experience, the best books are not about your story or particular insights. It’s about a framework that you could be creating that somebody can take and personalise for their business. You’re giving them the ability to take something — a framework — that becomes about them.

This is one of his favorite things about the book “The One Thing.” Written by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, it is essentially the story of how Keller Williams was built into the biggest real estate company in the world. However, the book was formatted in a way that for every leader and entrepreneur that reads it, it becomes a framework that they can take and personalise with their PR agency in Austin, Texas, with their global consultancy out in New York, or wherever it might be.

His advice for people who are thinking about writing a book or creating content is to create something that’s not about you but a framework that somebody else can take and personalise.

Breaking the Ego-Centric Idea about Thought Leadership

The reality is that servant leaders are focused on empowering their teams and operating at a high degree of excellence. The mindset has always been, “Put my head down behind the scenes and over-deliver for my team, for my customers, and for my partners.”

It doesn’t need to be changed. You got to continue doing all of those things. But, if that’s all you’re doing, you are limiting the impact of the leadership itself. Because, today, the first place that potential customers, talent, and partners are going to interact with you is not going to be direct, it’s not going to be in the boardroom, it’s not going to be over the phone — it’s page one of Google. If you’re lucky, it’s on your website or your LinkedIn profile.

When servant leaders hear “thought leadership,” “authority marketing,” or “personal branding,” there’s often a visible response. For most leaders, their thoughts immediately go to people building ego-driven, hey-look-at-me brands.

But when talking about building thought leadership, what Rusty wants is for you to be the messenger, not the message. In other words, if you have a message to get out from your business, institution, or your nonprofit, and if you are communicating that message through the corporate brand, you are making it much harder on yourselves than you need to.

Know that the speed to trust you as a mission-driven thought leader and as an individual is dramatically quicker than it is with your business. And so, if you’re not willing to step out alongside the company, you’re not serving your team and your business in the way that you could be.

There is a corporate brand, whether that’s on LinkedIn, a company page, a Twitter account, or a corporate website. Then we got the CEO or the entrepreneur who’s taking a significant backseat in terms of visibility to that corporate brand. Rusty is encouraging not getting out front of the company or the institution — it’s actually out it as an on-ramp back to that institution.

The algorithm, whether it’s LinkedIn or other social media channels, gives individuals a lot more organic reach than company pages. And so when talking about “visibility,” just pure and simple numbers, you will get much further with your individual brand than with the company.

Auditing Your Online Brand

Tactically speaking, you must also do an online brand audit.

Think about this: Someone has been referred to you; they got your name but don’t have your email and website address. If they have your name and pop it into Google, think about whether you can be found or not. If the answer is no, there’s one of two reasons.

First, you’ve just intentionally been a ghost (and if so, hopefully, this podcast episode can get you over that hump). The second reason, which is much more common, is you share a name with a very famous Olympian, a football player, an ex-murderer from the 70s, or a lead singer of a very popular band (as in the case of “Jim James”).

Entrepreneurs and leaders must make a decision: Do you need to change your name? Do you need to add a middle initial or a middle name?

For example, David Meerman Scott , one of Rusty’s favorite PR and marketing authors (he wrote the foreword to his upcoming book). His name is David Scott, and he recognised early in his career that it was a name he was never going to own search for. Adding that middle name became an important way for him to own search and convert some of the referrals he got.

Getting Noticed as an Entrepreneur

In terms of getting noticed, what worked for Rusty was leaning on teaching.

Teaching, for him, is the motivation to get out and get on stage and do things such as podcasting and writing books. The motivation there is that many entrepreneurs are making it much harder on themselves than they need to be in leading their companies.

If he can go out and grab them by the shoulders and show them a way to do it — a way that’s focused on impact, not ego — then he feels like he can help many of them unlock many opportunities in their businesses.

When a voice gets into his head saying, “I don’t want somebody to think I’m doing this for visibility or for ego or for his personal brand,” he’ll always go back to this: If the focus is value and teaching, he’s going to lean into that and he’s going to leave people better off as he does that.

Thinking like that is a more effective motivation for anybody with such self-talk.

To find out more about him, go to www.rustyshelton.com . Meanwhile, www.zilkermedia.com is the website for his agency. Forbes Books is another site where he does a lot of work, and it’s for people who want to learn more about getting a book published.

The UnNoticed Entrepreneur podcast is sponsored byProwly, the all-in-one software for leveraging PR activities. Boost the media relations game for your business — get more coverage while saving time and money on everyday tasks.

This article is based on a transcript from my podcast The UnNoticed Entrepreneur, you can listen here.

Originally published at https://theunnoticed.cc on March 2, 2023.