Legal Brand Journalism: The Future of Legal Marketing
By Keith Ecker, Jaffe PR
Imagine a violinist playing Beethoven’s 5th on a busy street corner. Pedestrians are racing to their destinations, their minds cluttered with lists of things to do, not one of which is to pay any attention to the soloist. Despite his obvious talent for and unyielding commitment to the craft, the velvet lining of his music case is flecked with only a few crumpled bills, causing the violinist to rethink that degree in music theory.
Now envision that same violinist on that same street corner, but now he is accompanied by a 100-piece symphony orchestra. Everything comes to a standstill as the unmistakable “dun dun dun dunnnnn” of Beethoven’s 5th blasts forth. After the piece’s crashing conclusion, the throngs of onlookers practically fall over themselves to pull out their wallets and rain wads of cash down at the musicians’ feet.
Many lawyers’ marketing efforts resemble the solo violinist. They work hard, they have a passion, and they expect these qualities alone to attract new business. But what they neglect to understand is that people are busy. So although you do sport an amazing track record and an accomplished résumé, it all falls on deaf ears.
So what does the smart lawyer do? The smart lawyer breaks through the noise by adding to his marketing toolbox. Like the soloist who recruits the talents of flautists, cellists and others, the smart lawyer expands his marketing scope to incorporate articles, videos, blogs, press releases and social media. Backed by this multipronged marketing effort, he becomes impossible to ignore. And, if his message is as compelling as Beethoven’s 5th, his prospects will be willing to pay more than just attention.
This comprehensive and cohesive model is the future of legal marketing. It is a form of integrated communications that incorporates every asset imaginable, from digital to print to video communications, as well as every channel of distribution, from mainstream to social media. And, much like a symphony requires the gifted hand of a conductor to orchestrate the entire operation, this integrated marketing model requires a centralized individual or team to strategize an overarching plan and develop compelling content to distribute across multiple channels. These conductors are the legal brand journalists.
What is Legal Brand Journalism?
Legal Brand Journalism™ is a communications model that relies on a combination of traditional and innovative marketing tactics, technological savvy and, most importantly, a journalist’s high standard for quality content. It is the next evolution in integrated marketing; a buzz term that, simply put, means conveying a singular brand identity across multiple marketing channels.
An example of integrated marketing that almost every firm already incorporates is its logo. Your logo remains the same, regardless of whatever piece of collateral you tack it on, whether it’s your website, a business card or a sponsorship banner at a conference. This creates a cohesion that, although subtle, is significant in your prospects’ minds. The point is standardization and ubiquity. The hope is brand recognition.
Legal brand journalism takes this integrated approach and strengthens it up by drawing from core journalistic principles to create and curate content that is not just readable, but demands to be read. It is newsworthy. It is engaging. It is entertaining and thought-provoking. It is the story of your firm, of your attorneys and of your practice groups. It covers trends within your clients’ industries; it incorporates thought-leadership commentary; and it can even be imbued with a specific voice or personality.
Where Did Legal Brand Journalism Come From?
The genesis of Legal Brand Journalism has its roots in the Internet. As the 21st century ushered in the Web 2.0 era, people began digesting information in dramatically different ways than ever before. Newspapers and magazines had already suffered due to the advent of the 24-hour cable news network. Now the 24-hour cable news network was suffering due to the instantaneous communication platform that is the Internet and all that it entails, including social media and mobile applications. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of U.S. adults now get their news through a digital device. Furthermore, 23 percent get their news on at least two digital devices, including smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, the number of people who click on news links found on social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, is growing exponentially. In fact, news organizations have seen a 57-percent increase in incoming traffic from social media since 2009.
You might be thinking, “These are interesting statistics, but they speak only to news consumption. Surely, these numbers don’t reflect how companies digest information about law firms.” The truth is digital communications such as websites, blogs, mobile applications and social media are indeed widely relied on by corporate legal decision makers. According to a study conducted, in part, by legal magazine InsideCounsel titled “2012 In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey,” 76 percent of respondents attributed at least some level of importance to a lawyer’s blog when deciding which firms to retain. Furthermore, respondents said they read firm-branded and attorney-authored blogs slightly more than blogs written by professional journalists. So yes, the aforementioned statistics from the Pew Institute may speak to news consumption, but guess what? To your client base, you are the news source, and they are looking at you to fulfill their need for timely and relevant information.
Besides technological innovations that have changed reader behaviors, another catalyst for Legal Brand Journalism is the abundance of bad legal marketing. Law firms were once slow to buy into the concepts of marketing and advertising, but have since adopted many traditional tactics, from press releases to newsletters. This is certainly commendable, as it is a step in the right direction. However, these deliverables often are developed without much thought to strategy and content. As a result, client prospects are inundated with overzealous collateral that does nothing to encourage new business, while newspaper and magazine editors drop poorly crafted self-promotional press releases into their slush piles. In short, the oversaturation of low-quality content has grown to the point that key audience targets have become immune to the noise.
The fact is that audiences are more sophisticated than they once were, and their expectations for compelling content are high. If your news alert is the equivalent of you shouting through a megaphone about how great you are, nobody will care and, in fact, some may be outright annoyed. If, instead, you ingeniously find a way to couch that same message into something entertaining or newsworthy, you dramatically increase the likelihood that it will be read and retained.
Legal Brand Journalism is built on the foundation of crafting editorial-like content and using it as marketing collateral, as well as curating content from third-party sources. This content should be engaging; it should be informative; it should reflect the firm or attorney’s brand; and it should fall in line with an overarching strategy that sets out to achieve the firm’s business development goals.
How Does Legal Brand Journalism Work?
One of the great things about Legal Brand Journalism is that most firms already have elements of the framework in place, thanks to past marketing efforts. If you have a website, then you have the beginnings of a Legal Brand Journalism initiative. If you have blogs and social media accounts, that’s even better. Throw in some advertising, client alerts, newsletters, hosted videos, a webinar and media relations, and you’ve got yourself the major components of a robust Legal Brand Journalism effort.
The following are some of the core elements of a Legal Brand Journalism function:
- Website – This is the home base for your firm. It is where the vast majority of your prospects will find you and learn about you. It will also serve as the central Legal Brand Journalism hub.
- Client alerts/Newsletters – These are direct communications that you can tailor and target to specific client segments. The content can be curated wholly or in part from other internal and external sources, such as blogs. These are often used to establish a position of thought leadership and serve as a service to your readership.
- Social media – Social media sites like LinkedIn and Twitter serve as two of the most important distribution channels for brand journalism content. By distributing links to original and curated content, you can become an integral source of information while also drawing an audience to other elements of your brand journalism effort.
- Videos – These are examples of stimulating and easily digestible multimedia content. They can be hosted directly on the site, featured on attorney pages, used on blogs, and linked to in social media and in newsletters.
- Blogs – These are usually narrowly focused in scope and provide a practice group or individual attorney with the ability to demonstrate thought leadership through regular postings. They are also a great platform to convey individual personality, a critical element in building an attorney’s personal brand within a firm. Blog content can easily be distributed and repurposed across multiple channels, from social media to newsletters to bylined articles.
- Media relations – This brand journalism tactic relies on the pre-existing credibility and readership of a legacy media outlet, such as a trade publication or national newspaper. It can help a firm increase visibility for its own brand journalism initiative, thus converting the publication’s readership into the law firm’s readership. Further, successful media placements can be linked to on the firm’s site, on social media, on blogs or in print for use as sales collateral.
- Infographics – Sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 words. Infographics can tie together and explain complex concepts using visual indicators. A good infographic can gain viral proliferation through social media and blogs.
- Mobile applications – With more people owning smartphones, mobile applications are fast becoming the primary means of information consumption, especially for those on the go. Mobile apps do not have to do anything complex. At their most basic, they can serve as direct portals for mobile users to tap into pre-existing collateral, like your website and blogs. Plus, as the number of mobile app developers continues to grow, development costs continue to shrink.
How Do I Implement Legal Brand Journalism?
Strategizing, developing, executing and distributing these Legal Brand Journalism assets are the role of the core Legal Brand Journalism team. Depending on the size of the firm and its number of resources, this team could be solely in-house, partly outsourced or wholly outsourced. This core team should include technologists, such as developers and website architects; creatives, including graphic designers and copywriters; and marketers, publicists and journalists who understand the interplay between business development, content marketing, social media and journalism. You will also want to recruit the assistance of an analyst who can use various Web-based tools to track metrics, including unique visitors and click-through rates, that speak to the success of your brand journalism campaigns. These numbers should then be fed back to the core team to help guide the strategy, development, execution and distribution of new content.
Another major requirement of Legal Brand Journalism is to understand the firm’s brand and then convey that brand identity across multiple channels. One way to create this cohesion is to identify the so-called “voice” of the firm. In journalism, “voice” denotes the writer’s style, which includes such elements as degree of formality and word choice. By creating a set of rules for developing content, usually referred to as a style guide, a firm’s Legal Brand Journalism team can ensure that there is brand consistency across all elements of the initiative. That said, the firm’s “voice” may be tweaked depending on the platform in which content is published. Therefore, the medium, whether a white paper or a blog, may dictate such things as the formality of the content.
Of course, developing content is only useful if it is read by others. Professionals should consider leveraging marketing and journalistic strategies to develop teaser copy to entice social media users, website visitors, blog readers and newsletters subscribers to read and share content. Consider headlines that have grabbed you in the past. What made this copy so compelling? Common tactics used in the media include posing a question to your audience, creating lists and hinting at the benefit the content provides the reader.
Although building a Legal Brand Journalism function does pose an initial investment of cost and time, the long-term efficiencies generated by developing repeatable processes, creating a cache of original content and repurposing pre-existing collateral can actually serve to streamline future marketing efforts. Plus, the quality, usefulness and ubiquity of the content created through Legal Brand Journalism can lead to a greater impact and a broader marketing reach, which equates to a more significant effect on the firm’s bottom line.
So don’t be like that solo violinist, hoping that your good efforts alone will get you noticed. There’s just too much competition these days for that routine to work, and those who stick with business as usual are going to get lost in the noise. Instead, recruit a variety of talented in-house and outside experts who can orchestrate a virtual symphony of marketing tactics that can carry your firm’s message like a melody across multiple channels.
Keith Ecker serves as a Vice President of Public Reputation Services at Jaffe PR (www.jaffepr.com), where he consults law firms and legal technology providers on Legal Brand Journalism, media relations and social media. He previously served as an editor at InsideCounsel magazine and as an independent media and marketing consultant to legal service providers. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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