The week before last, my colleagues and I were lucky enough to attend the Thomson Reuters Marketing Partners Forum in Terranea, California. Arguably the premier Business Development and Marketing event for Professional Services firms in North America.
There was a wealth of content on hand, but this post just looks at one particular session moderated by Passle's Chief Marketing Officer, Connor Kinnear and with the following panelists.
David Bruns, Director of Client Services, Farella Braun + Martel LLP
Gina Carriuolo, Chief Marketing Officer, Robinson+Cole LLP
Adrian Lürssen, Co-Founder & Vice President, Strategic Development, JD Supra
John W. Sterling, Chief Strategy and Practice Development Officer, Chapman and Cutler LLP
The panel sought to discuss Law Firm Content Strategy and the Evolving MarTech Stack. I have tried to cover off the main points below.
Pillar #1 Strategic Creation
John Stirling suggested that the starting point for all content should be your strategy. Decide the strategy which you are pursuing and even ask the question "What do you want to be known for?" to the individual lawyer, practice group, wider firm etc. Your content should then feed into that broader strategy. John further gave the example of ESG and how that permeates everything they are doing and is massively important to their clients: "It touches every angle of industry we play in. It's important to our clients. We better produce content on that."
Guidance for your Authors: Adrian suggested that attorneys who stick to the following tend to get the most out of their writing and are often the most consistent:
- Direction: they know what they want to be known for.
- Relevant: they make sense of current affairs and pertinent news for their clients.
- They look at the data: If something performs well, they aren't afraid to rehash it or update it as time goes on.
- They start with the question, "What am I often asked?" and this serves as the basis for a lot of their content.
Style, length and frequency
Again, coming back to the idea of joining up your thought leadership strategy to your broader firms goals: Short blogs can be used to facilitate interest or stay top of mind; long-form reports to dive deeper and provide more in-depth analysis; speaking slots can be a great way to promote your individual and team brand or to release a big report; and maybe some video / podcasts to provide another channel for the users to engage on a topic. In short, there is no right or wrong answer to what your content should look like.
An interesting point from the panelists was about the balance between responsiveness and considered content creation. Dave Bruns gave the example of his own firm: "Understand where you sit in the market. We are a wine and cannabis law firm. There are very few places we are expected to be first to market" and Gina quickly backed that up, pointing out that you need to approach each practice group or industry with a fresh set of eyes. e.g. in some areas it might be more appropriate to be more visible and write about the news every single week whilst for other groups it might be one newsletter written once a month etc.
Pillar #2: Governance
Just like the 'Creation' piece, the approval process needs to resonate with the broader strategy. Connor kicked this section off with his favourite joke which taps into every law firm's fear: One of their lawyers having two bottles of Rioja on a Friday night and wheeling out their most contentious, litigious opinion.
Simplicity: Knowing 'what happens next' is really important for everyone involved. Set expectations of what you want - Dave Bruns emphasized the importance of a style good to "establish what ‘good’ is and what is expected at your firms" - and what happens once those standards are met (e.g. publication, feedback etc.)
Empowerment: The keys in this section were that Governance and Approval should be there to empower your team as opposed to hold them back. Indeed, Gina made a great point that often an approval process can often be seen as something to get bogged down, which hinders lawyers, whereas in reality it can truly have the opposite effect and can drive the motivation as well.
Value add: Moreover, if as the first section states, your team is all aligned behind the direction of that team, industry, sector etc. then the BD & Mkg team can add value at this stage: "Hey why don't you add in this section to give it another twist" OR "Great work, make sure you send it on to Client X who was talking about that just last week!"
One size does not fit all: Legal content is more thoughtful than 'first to market'. Put the infrastructure in place so your approval processes and content strategy match up with the content type.
Pillar #3 Create Once, Publish Everywhere
It was the wonderful Brenda Plowman (CMO, Fasken) who first coined the phrase to me last year of 'Create Once, Repurpose Everywhere'. When this mentioned on stage, every single panelist agreed wholeheartedly.
The question is how to get your team engaged? Well, Gina sees much better engagement from her lawyers who create their own content in the first place a sentiment Connor echoed, citing one of Passle client's Ropes and Gray, whose lawyers who write content are 720% more activity than their peers who do not author insights.
Why? Gina put it perfectly, "Nobody will connect with you unless you do the outreach" and that can be difficult for lawyers. But, "Business Development in Professional Servicesis really simple: come up with pretext to be in touch with people. Content is a great pretext.”
Stop reinventing the wheel: Repurposing
- John said "Don’t be embarrassed about shamelessly repurposing your content till the cows come home. As many places as possible so as many of your potential clients can read it!"
- Gina Carrioulo's firm shares content with every single person in the firm: “modify this and send it along.”
- Dave Bruns' team will look to tweak client alerts across each vertical to give it a bit more context whilst the core message will remain the same.
- Adrian Lurssen went further when talking about a successful idea: Take that idea and turn it into a blog post. Share it to LinkedIn. Bulk it out into a webinar with follow-up video and audio clips to be shared with your audience. Link it with Business Development and have every lawyer send that on to their clients with some added context on top.
Curation and being the center of conversation:
- Not everything needs to be an original blog post: Dave Burn talked about “Microdosing the content etc.” 1 to 2 things that are of value. A really interesting new thing. 2 sentences are a great LinkedIn post.
- Another tact was to think, I can be an industry curator: doesn't always have to be you creating the thought leadership, but just being at the centre of it all. e.g. the ten articles should be read this week
Pillar #4 Feedback
The last pillar is the all important feedback. The fuel which keeps powering the thought leaderhsip engine.
Simplicity: Gina mentioned that firms can get really bogged down in the numbers. the simpler, the better e.g. Who has read their content; providing a list of new followers each week and circling who is important. Dave Burns put it succinctly: "your job is also to connect the dots and see the path. Give the lawyers the linear path."
Consistency: John Stirling's approach was really nice - a little bit of feedback immediately, a bit more in-depth on a monthly basis, analysis of the numbers each quarter then some internal recognition annually.
Public recognition: John S. then bestowed upon us a great anecdote about Napoleon: "Men would die for medals and ribbons." Partners want that recognition more than anyone. Find out ways that you can do that. It will go a long way to change the culture. An approach backed by Dave Bruns and the team at Farella.