Lawyers, it’s time to embrace content marketing

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“I noticed you haven’t posted a new blog for a while. How come?”

I was speaking with a lawyer I have known well for years who wanted to expand his practice into sectors where he had not done much work. From the outset, he saw “content marketing” as an effective way to build a profile, establish his expertise and develop a reputation with the targeted industries. But he hadn’t written much in the past few months.

“I wish I could write more,” he admitted, “but nothing is happening. No significant court decisions, no new regs that will affect the companies I want to attract, and there’s nothing in the legislative hopper. I’m stymied for ideas.”

Many lawyers are stymied by the same writer’s block. It happens when they define what they can write about too narrowly, forgetting that a blog or article can be about more than decisions, regulations and laws.

In fact, executives, general counsel, entrepreneurs and managers want to read about emerging business issues that may have a legal implication – and are delighted when their lawyers bring a topic to their attention.

It is not enough to tell interesting stories at a blog; it’s also vital to engage readers, giving them something new to think about that will help them in their job and business.

Scrap the Traditional

Drawing readers with compelling content that isn’t linked directly to a law-related topic – and attract new clients as a result – was first proven in 1992.

At the time, blind market research revealed to a Toronto law firm that the multiple newsletters and bulletins it produced every year, which took hours of non-billable time to write and edit, was read by less than 3 percent of the roughly 7,000 recipients. In other words, only about 200 individuals were reading any of the firm’s attempts to use a costly communications tool to build their relationship.

The problem wasn’t limited to just the one firm; the same research also revealed than no one was reading what their lawyers sent out, regardless of the law firm. To counter this, the firm took what was considered a revolutionary step: It scrapped all of its traditional newsletters.

Instead, all of them were replaced with a glossy, four color, quarterly, 32-page business magazine that read more like Fortune rather than something from a gaggle of lawyers. Articles stayed away from writing about strictly law-related topics, instead covering emerging business issues and opportunities that hadn’t been covered widelt in the business news media.

Readership jumped immediately to over 65 percent and grew with successive issues. More important, the magazine led directly to major new clients such as a global car maker, an original equipment manufacturer, a household name in the soft drink business, and the management company for one of the world’s best known rock groups, among others.

Ironically, the firm created a social media strategy two decades before social media became synonymous with marketing. But by bringing business topics into the view of clients and contacts, the lawyers writing “content” for the magazine were positioned as thinking about issues clients needed to consider for their company.

Where’s Waldo?

Coming up with topics is much simpler than finding Waldo. Indeed, the news media is happy to provide a raft of blog ideas daily.

Every B2B lawyer ought to be reading the business section of the local newspaper each morning. As well, along with the B2B News Network smart lawyers should check out the Business Day in The New York Times and at least the front page of The Wall Street Journal every morning. It’s also important to thumb through BusinessWeek and The Economist each week. Online subscriptions are relatively inexpensive and may be tax deductible.

Beyond suggesting blog topics, such news surfing provides two crucial benefits: It provides a quick glimpse into broad business issues all businesses are facing which may suggest help a client might need for something they hadn’t considered; and when a story appears that is about a client or its industry, sending a link to contacts at the business demonstrates that their lawyer is thinking about them even if there is not an active file being worked on.

Indeed, it is simply another example of how social media has changed law firm marketing and lawyer business development.

Leveraging For Lawyers 101

To maximize the impact of a blog, it is crucial to leverage the effort by using the article for more than just the website.

For openers, within a day or two of posting the blog, lawyers – or their firm’s marketing department – should put every piece they pen on LinkedIn’s Pulse. It will appear on both the lawyer’s profile and firm’s “company” page. Given that LinkedIn has become the primary go-to resource when a prospective client is checking out a firm and a lawyer being considered, this demonstrates how lawyers think about business issues that go beyond the files on their desk at the moment.

But the most important add-on is to send an email to the firm’s entire email list once each month. Don’t send entire posts; instead, use the headline and create a two-to-four sentence summary of all of the items posted during the month with a link to each full article at the website. Writing more than once a month is likely to irritate recipients but monthly alerts are within tolerance levels so the firm won’t come to be viewed as a junk mailer.

The e-lert serves two purposes: First, it reminds people of the posts. If they didn’t read it after it went live, an e-blast will remind them that it was something of value. Second, even if they do not read all three or four items produced during the month, the e-lert will put the firm and lawyer’s name in front of them again. Third, it reinforces the firm’s brand as thinking about business issues that are important to the client.

Think Like a CEO

There’s no reason law firms need to limit the  subjects they cover  when writing for a blog or an article for a relevant business publication.

The secret is for lawyers to think like a CEO, a division manager, the general counsel or an owner-operator. Then, it becomes easier to come up with topics that they’d want to know about as they faced the challenges of running a company. Once lawyers do this, chances are an unlimited list of possible topics will come to mind.

Newspapers may no longer draw the eye of masses of commuters heading to work on a train. But putting strong content in a content marketing initiative is likely to get readers firing up their phone or tablet as they head to or from the office.

Flickr photo via Creative Commons, via user massdistraction

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Jim Bliwas

Jim Bliwas

Jim Bliwas has been helping law firms with a range of marketing, business development and management challenges for most of his career