Elana Margulies-Snyderman is a director and thought leadership expert at EisnerAmper, a global audit and tax firm with offices worldwide and throughout the US. She hosts two podcast series, one dedicated to financial services and the other focusing on private equity deal-making. She also contributes to the firm’s content management by maintaining a financial services blog and overseeing content across various industries and service lines.
Elana has a wealth of experience in creating thought leadership and the management and strategic thinking required to ultimately leverage it to drive value. In today’s episode, Elana shares her inspiring career journey with us. Tuning in, you’ll hear how she built a career and a network in this space despite having no financial education and overcame her challenges. She shares helpful advice on networking, moderating panels, driving engagement, excelling at live or recorded content, understanding your audience, and other elements of becoming a successful thought leader.
Key Points From This Episode:
- An introduction to today’s guest Elana Margulies Snyderman.
- The career journey that led her to this point.
- How she was able to build a network and consume knowledge in this space despite having no financial education.
- Some of the challenges she faced in networking and how she overcame them.
- Advice to young professionals who are starting out and trying to build relationships.
- Elana’s definition of thought leadership and the value of sharing information.
- Some of the unexpected benefits of creating thought leadership elements.
- The benefits of moderating panels, the importance of engagement, and how she gets the audience engaged.
- The starting point for anyone who wants to be a thought leader.
- What Elana does to be successful in live or recorded content like videos and podcasts.
- Understanding who your audience is and where it’s worth placing your effort.
- How producing content has helped Elana grow her network and build relationships with other professionals across the industry and how it benefits the guests as well.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: Elana, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m excited to have you here today.
[00:00:24] EMS: Thank you so much, Alex, for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:00:28] AD: Why don’t you start off with just sharing a little bit about yourself, so our audience can get to know you a little bit better?
[00:00:33] EMS: Absolutely, Alex. So to kick off the conversation, my name’s Elana Margulies-Snyderman. I’m a director at EisnerAmper. We’re an audit tax firm, global. We have offices around the globe and throughout the US. In my role, I manage thought leadership for the firm. I have two of my own podcast series, one focused on financial services, including hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, and other alternative investments. I also have a Private Equity deal-making podcast, where I talk about M&A and transactions. In addition to my two podcast series, I also have a financial services weekly blog, and I help the firm manage content across industries and service lines.
[00:01:19] AD: You are just the thought leadership expert that I wanted to have on here to talk about the topic. It’s exciting because you have a lot of experience around not only the creation of thought leadership but some of the management and strategic thinking that goes into really creating it and then ultimately leveraging that to help drive value, which is where I want to take us from a conversational standpoint. But before we go into that, how did you get here? How did you get into the role that you’re doing today? Take us through a little bit of your career journey.
[00:01:44] EMS: Yes. Interesting answer, Alex. So I graduated undergrad Brandeis University outside Boston, and I knew I wanted to go into journalism. I thought maybe I would go to Washington, DC, and do political journalism. But as you know, sometimes life has other plans for us that you don’t know about. So I started my journalism career actually my senior year at Brandeis. I did freelance writing for some of the local town newspapers, which is a great experience, attending town council meetings, and just writing about local news and a few towns outside Boston.
Then when I graduated Brandeis, I worked at a local newspaper in New Jersey where I grew up. I went to high school. Then I knew I wanted to move to New York City, so I needed to expand my horizons. My first job in financial journalism was at Institutional Investor on some of their newsletters. So that’s where I learned about the hedge fund industry. With zero financial journalism experience, I was assigned to a newsletter formerly called Alternative Investment News, where I would just go to hedge fund conferences, networking events, just call people up to ask them to meet, so I would learn everything about the hedge fund industry. I would tell them I’m new. I don’t know anything. I’ve met some great people who I still remain friends with today, and that’s how I worked extremely hard to build my network in the space.
Then after less than a year at Institutional Investor’s Alternative Investment News, Hedge Fund Manager, Week Magazine based in the UK. They are part of a company now called With Intelligence. It was formerly called Pageant Media. They wanted to build their US presence, so I was poached by them less than a year after I was at Institutional Investor to build their US presence. So I worked for them. For eight years, it was a great ride. I built the US journalism for them for the hedge fund industry. Then the last few years there, we launched a breakfast series where I moderated panels every month with hedge fund professionals. We hosted dinners for hedge fund chief operating officers. So there, I really enhanced my network as well in the space.
Then EisnerAmper reached out to me in 2014 because they wanted someone to manage content initially for their financial services group focused on hedge funds, private equity, and other alternative investment asset classes. I started out in the financial services group in a hybrid role with content, marketing, business development, planning different thought leadership, and networking events. Then I got transitioned to the marketing department to help other industries and service lines come up with a content plan, given what I built for the financial services industry. But my background in my network is still mainly in the hedge fund and financial services industry as well.
[00:04:56] AD: So you had no plan of working in financial services when you started off on this journey, right? You ended up there. You said sometimes that the world has different plans, and that sometimes those are the best plans, right? It doesn’t seem like they’re the time always, but they tend to lead to really great opportunities. It sounds like that’s what happened for you. Take us through a little bit of networking and learning your way through that. Tell me what was challenging. What did you do?
Really, for our listeners who are sitting here saying you did not have the financial education but yet were able to teach yourself through networking and learning and consuming knowledge from folks, right? Take us through what that was like and what you learned through all of that.
[00:05:34] EMS: Yes, absolutely, Alex. So one of my – I remember clearly back in 2005, 2006 when I joined Institutional Investor Alternative Investment News newsletter, and my boss is like, “Hey, sign up for this financial services industry conference in New York City.” I didn’t know a soul, but I would force myself to meet people, introduce myself. Then I also think that the follow-ups are important and also during the coffee breaks, during the cocktail hours at the end of each day. Then also, the conference, it was about two or three days. Just listening to all the panels and listening to the industry trends is key and then, like I said, set follow-up meetings after for coffees, lunch, dinners. That’s how you build your network.
I remember every time I met someone, I always ask that person, could you introduce me to two or three other people that you really respect in the business? That’s what I did. So it was just organically building over time.
[00:06:35] AD: So in that process, you were seeking out knowledge from people, right? So in some ways, you were in a unique role because an interesting role compared to maybe someone else approaching networking at a conference because you were there trying to learn and ultimately report on it. But what challenges did you have around that in asking for whether it be introduction to other folks or building some of that trust and rapport? Just share a little of some of the challenges that you faced and how you overcame them.
[00:06:58] EMS: Great question, Alex. So I would say, overall, I’ve met some or mostly amazing people in the hedge fund industry. But, of course, there are others that did not care to talk to a reporter because a lot of hedge funds due to the regulations, they are taught not to speak to the press. So I’ve had some people hang up on me or say, “We can’t talk to the press.” I said, “Could you just meet me, off-the-record conversation?” They still said no. So I would say that was the biggest challenge, but I didn’t let that discourage me because I’ve learned.
Also, we didn’t talk about this, but I went to Columbia Grad School of Journalism to get my master’s the same time I was at Institutional Investor. It was a part-time two-year program. I remember one professor. He told me, “Don’t take no for an answer.” That still resonates with me today.
[00:07:54] AD: I completely agree with that, the mantra behind that. What’s your advice to someone today that’s younger starting out, regardless of the career path? But that’s trying to build relationships and trying to not take no for an answer. How do you embrace that as a young professional?
[00:08:07] EMS: Absolutely. It’s definitely different now coming out of COVID versus when I started almost 20 years ago. I would say my advice for young professionals now, given the work environment, is different, whether it’s hybrid or remote. I would say that young professionals should reach out to people on LinkedIn. As always, it’s best to meet in person. But if they don’t want to, they could do a video call or a phone call to try to expand their network that way.
[00:08:42] AD: All right. I think that’s great advice. All right, let’s shift directions here. Let’s go into thought leadership. Let’s get to the core of the conversation. So talking about thought leadership, share a little bit more about what your role entails today in terms of thought leadership. On top of that, maybe actually before we even got on that, what do you define thought leadership as? Just give us your – how do you define it, and what value does it bring?
[00:09:03] EMS: Absolutely. So my definition of thought leadership is information or intelligence that could give a reader or a listener some value-add information that they couldn’t find elsewhere through an article, blog, podcast, video, whatever medium.
[00:09:24] AD: Why are you sharing that information? What’s the value for you? What’s the value for them? What’s the reason for doing it?
[00:09:29] EMS: So in my seat at EisnerAmper, if I put out a podcast, an article, blog, or video. So that way, if the consumer use, listens to this information, that way, they could keep EisnerAmper top of mind if they could use audit, tax, or other of the services that we offer.
[00:09:55] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.
[00:10:01] AD: I like that you used the top of mind. For our listeners, this is nothing that we rehearsed or kind of talked through beforehand. So it’s always interesting to hear some of this stuff come out in real time. The top-of-mind comment when you’re thinking about thought leadership, I think it’s one of the parts that can often get overlooked, right? Part of it is expressing yourself as an expert and making sure people look to you as being kind of the credible authority on certain topics. But another huge element of thought leadership is awareness, right? Just general simple awareness. That process of really putting yourself out there and generating some form of thought leadership content can be such a great part of that.
Now, for you and your role in creating and managing some of these thought leadership elements, what have you seen as maybe the most unexpected benefit or unexpected positive outcome in doing it?
[00:10:52] EMS: Yes, sure. So a few of my – or at least one podcast. I did a podcast probably about in May 2022. That’s when it went live. Some firm person had reached out to me because they were interest – they listened to the podcast, and they were interested in learning more about EisnerAmper’s services. So that was a direct benefit to get direct inquiries and be like, “Oh, I loved hearing this podcast. I love to learn more about how EisnerAmper could help me with my respective business.”
[00:11:28] AD: That’s exactly what the benefit is meant to be, right? So let me ask you this then. In terms of for you and yourself personally, what have you seen in terms of elevating your brand? Have you seen that, your brand awareness? Obviously, having someone reach out there was an example of that. But what else have you’ve seen through that process?
[00:11:49] EMS: Sure. So I’m not sure if this is the direct answer you’re looking for. But when I do my podcasts and blogs, I’m a very active LinkedIn user. So I post a lot, all my episodes on LinkedIn. Then I get a lot of opportunities to moderate panels at financial services industry conferences, which is a lot of fun because I love moderating panels, and it’s a great way to meet new people in the business and expand my network.
[00:12:20] AD: Let’s talk a little bit about moderating panels. This was certainly not something I – we thought we’d go down. But I think it’s an interesting part of being a thought leader, right? Whether – if you yourself can be on a panel and share knowledge as a thought leader or you yourself can sit there and help moderate a conversation. Oftentimes, the moderator has to be equally, if not more, in tune with the topic.
[00:12:42] EMS: Correct.
[00:12:43] AD: To be able to appropriately ask questions and like guide the conversation, right? Tell me, what have you learned in moderating? But also, what do you say to someone out there who thinks that they might be able to benefit from moderating? How do you get involved in doing more moderation?
[00:12:56] EMS: Yes, absolutely. I would say my advice is try to first attend some of the industry conferences to learn the format, the crowd. Then that way, the conference organizers will keep you in mind if you want to either moderate a panel or speak on a panel. Also, some of the most successful moderators that I’ve seen moderate panels and I like to do this practice as well is to really engage the audience. So ask polling questions.
That way, if it’s first thing in the morning, and people are just sipping on their coffee, and it’s the first day of a Monday morning conference, you’d be like, “Oh, by show of hands in the room, how many of your firms have done this,” and you know. How many of your firms are thinking of doing this? How many of your firms have done nothing at all with respect to this topic? So that’s a way to wake up the audience.
I like when I moderate panels, some people wait till the end of the panel to get audience questions. I like for audience members to ask them throughout. So that way, it keeps them on their toes, and they’re not just sitting there, playing on their phones during the panel.
[00:14:06] AD: It’s driving engagement in the conversation, right? So one thought – this is probably broadly across thought leadership creation but in particular around live events, whether it be moderating or presenting. Recognizing that the only goal that you have is to engage your audience, right? When you create any kind of content, going back to what do we want someone to do, that thought leadership content is to consume it and then ultimately take action on it one way or another.
But the engagement element of that is so critical, and what that requires, and I think you said this, is that it’s ultimately thinking about them and what are they doing, what’s important to them, and what do they want to hear about, and figuring out how to pull that into whatever work you’re doing.
[00:14:47] EMS: Exactly.
[00:14:48] AD: So a question then for you in terms of the being a thought leader and if you – someone wants to aspire to be any type of a thought leader. Where do they start? What would be the best place to start in terms of building your thoughts around kind of elevating your yourself?
[00:15:04] EMS: I would say a good place to start is maybe launching a blog.
[00:15:10] AD: Why a blog?
[00:15:11] EMS: I would say that’s a good way to raise your profile, and you could post the blog on LinkedIn if their respective company or firm allows them to do that. That’s a good way because LinkedIn has a wide reach. So I would say that’s good. Or they could do a YouTube channel. Or they could launch their own podcasts. There are so many different opportunities right now. Or create something like an Instagram page with doing Instagram posts and reels. There are so many different options. But I would say for professional people, I would say leveraging LinkedIn would probably be the best way.
[00:15:52] AD: I think that’s very true. Maybe tell me if you agree with this or not. The starting with written content often can be – so I’ll take you through my own journey for a minute. Maybe this will add some context to our conversation. So I started, like we talked about before jumping on to record here, I jumped into podcasting April of 2020. COVID hit. I was trying to figure out what to do. I always looked at myself as someone that was stronger in talking than I am in writing. It was easier for me to talk than it was to write kind of and create that. So I went down the podcasting route. It took a ton of time, effort, a lot of learning to kind of get to it. It is a much heavier production load than writing is.
In many ways, I wish I would have started with some writing and done some more blogging earlier on or some kind of short-form writing to drive some content value. Why I say that is I look back at the development that happens. I do a decent amount of writing today for other places and a ton of personal journaling around kind of developing my own thinking and preparing for shows like this and other elements. That process of writing does a lot to develop your own thinking process and your ability to communicate when you are talking or presenting on it and engaging in other conversation, right? So the value of it’s easy to get going. It’s easy place to start.
But the real – to me, one of the big values is that the development of your thinking that comes out of it. It happens, I think, with all forms of content. I’ve definitely seen it in podcasting. But it’s also taken 120 episodes or somewhere in that area right now. Writing 120 blogs is a heck of a lot easier than running 120 podcasts, just the difference there. So I completely agree. It’s an excellent place to start.
[00:17:30] EMS: Yes, absolutely. Now, I’m excited for your journey with the podcast and all your success you’ve had starting this in the beginning of the quarantine. I wish you much luck.
[00:17:41] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.
[00:17:48] AD: Thank you. So maybe a place to take this conversation from here that I’d love to get your opinion on is in leading the live content, I’ll call it. Not necessarily streaming live but to record it, the video content, the podcast content. What have you had to learn to be successful and even moderating the same thing? What have you had to learn to be successful to stay in your toes and to drive some of that? What’s your process to prepare for that to make sure that you drive good content?
[00:18:17] EMS: Yes, absolutely. For the podcast I do at EisnerAmper, my financial services podcast that’s weekly, so I like to plan ahead. That way, I have guests lined up for the next few months. That way, every Thursday, we have a new episode to drop. I like to send the guest questions ahead of time to prepare the answers. So that way, not like necessarily word for word but at least like bullet points of what to say. So that way, they’re not like stuttering or stumbling.
Also, given the regulations around private funds, they can’t really talk about performance. Sometimes, depending on their compliance officer, they can’t name the exact name of their funds. That way, if anything looks like maybe a little self-promotional, be like, “My fund returned 20%.” We don’t want – it’s not a sales piece. The podcast is a thought leadership piece. That way, I like to go over at least the talking points before the actual recording. So that’s one piece of advice.
[00:19:21] AD: I’m sitting here. I’m like smiling as you’re saying something like, “Oh, maybe I should do that more often.” We did do that for this. We tend to – we do a little bit of prep to lay down some framework for what it is. But I’ve always stayed away from specific questions primarily because I like to have the conversational element. I think it helps go down different paths.
But I think that you made a really good point that for listeners who are thinking about starting their own content or producing their own content is remembering who’s the guest, and what is the topic, and where do things like the regulatory FINRA, something compliance issue that might come in there. Getting ahead of that and recognizing for that dynamic, advanced preparation probably drives a lot of value in that place. It makes it more meaningful because of that structure.
But it sounds like to you, a big part of it is the planning, being thoughtful about what you’re doing, whether it be planning and having guests, planning ahead in the talking points. But just putting in the effort and the work to be thoughtful and plan the content before just going into it. Correct?
[00:20:19] EMS: Yes, absolutely. Then it makes my colleague’s life easier because she’s the one who records the podcast. Then we have another one of our colleagues edits the podcast as well. Then also, just as an aside, like for my financial service podcast series, back in 2022, one of my guests, he asked, do we have a video component. We said no since all of EisnerAmper’s podcasts have been audio-only. So spur of the moment, we tried a video component, and he was happy. Then as a result of that, we’ve gotten a lot of demand for guests who want to be on video during the entire podcast recording. I would say now, it’s half the guests want the final product on video, and half want it on audio.
[00:21:05] AD: No, it’s interesting. It’s definitely – I’ve seen some variation behind it. It’s also trying to figure out what medium plays, right? This is for anyone listening. If you either put out your own thought leadership today or you’re planning to put thought leadership content out, there’s different ways that content is consumed. Understanding who your audience is drives a lot of where it’s worth putting effort and where it’s not.
Video is a strong form of media, but it’s definitely a different level of – it’s kind of like podcasting is harder than writing. Video is harder than podcasting, right? Every step of that tier becomes extra work, and it’s always the balance of – it’s justifying the return which is arguably very hard to measure in any direct form. But just in general, it’s how do you keep consistent with it. How do you make sure you’re able to consistently be producing the content?
My last question for you that I want to ask because I get a feeling I know the answer to this. The producing content, especially when you’re hosting a podcast, is a great example. Has that helped you grow your network and build relationships with other professionals across the industry?
[00:22:10] EMS: Yes, absolutely. It has. Like I mentioned earlier in the conversation, I do get inquiries directly related to an episode of a podcast. Or sometimes, other people email me or send me a note on LinkedIn and be like, “Hey, I listened to your podcast. I have this amazing guest who would love to join your podcast-type thing.”
[00:22:33] AD: Again, the point that I’m making behind this for listeners is the value of doing this becomes you – in putting that out, putting yourself out there as the thought leader that’s producing the content, you are able to have that opportunity to build those relationships both with the people that you actually have on the show. But oftentimes, and I see this frequently as well, where someone wants to connect you with someone that they think would be a great guest for the show. It’s getting an introduction to someone that you otherwise might not have had any chance to meet. Now, you get an opportunity to talk with them and build a relationship with them through the content kind of recording and creation process. I think that’s a huge benefit that comes out of the thought leadership production as well.
[00:23:14] EMS: Yes. Alex, if I could say one more thing, it’s also a benefit to the guests I’ve had on the show because the podcast I do at EisnerAmper, they’re posted on Apple, Spotify, all the major podcast channels. Sometimes, allocators or investors are searching for a certain type of fun, whether it’s a woman-owned private equity firm. They’ll do a search on that at Apple. Then one time, one of my podcasts came up, and that allocator reached out to that firm, talking about doing a co-investment deal. So it definitely has benefited some guests too.
[00:23:50] AD: I’m really happy you brought that up because I should have highlighted that a little heavier earlier. One of the things that I do believe, especially if you do an interview-style thought leadership content, if the brand should be positioned around the individual that’s coming on there, that’s who you’re trying to highlight and promote. In doing that, you’re leveraging your platform to give somebody else visibility in the marketplace, and people will remember you for that, right? You’re driving value for them and helping them leverage some of the platform and try to show them up. That tends to pay off and come back and help you.
I always bring it back to what’s in it for me because, as you know, in doing this stuff, you have to have a real clear reason of why you’re doing it, right? It takes a lot of effort, a lot of work. You have to have the discipline to do it. When you’re clear about what the benefits are for who you’re helping and how that ultimately can help you, I think it makes it much easier to have that clear steady focus and know that it’s an evolution over time. You keep doing it, you change, you grow, and you learn along the way.
[00:24:48] EMS: Absolutely.
[00:24:49] AD: Well, for our listeners, how can they get in touch with you, and how can they find your content?
[00:24:55] EMS: Great question, Alex. So I’m very active on LinkedIn. They just want to shoot me a note to connect on LinkedIn. Happy to connect. Then my EisnerAmper content is on eisneramper.com. Then you could click on the podcasts button. Then you could filter and see my financial services and Private Equity DealBook podcast.
[00:25:17] AD: Awesome. Well, Elana, I appreciate you coming on here. Appreciate you sharing your thoughts on thought leadership. We’ll make sure to link your LinkedIn profile and a link to the website with the podcast content below in the show notes for listener. So make sure to reach out and say hi and consume some of the content in thought leadership that you’ve been putting out there. Again, I appreciate you being on here today.
[00:25:36] EMS: Thank you so much, Alex, for having me as a guest. This was a blast.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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