Being able to demonstrate and share the knowledge of your firm is at the heart of professional services marketing.
On this episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Ed Lovatt is lucky to explore this topic with Angela Pandolfo Roy, Chief Marketing Officer at Gibbons Law. Together, they delve into Angela's background, how her firm approaches content management, and what firms should consider when it comes to the role of content in their marketing efforts.
Angela and Ed cover:
- How Angela came to her role at Gibbons and the point in her career journey she realised how key content management is in legal marketing
- What content management means and why it is "the linchpin" of legal marketing
- How the Gibbons team approach content management and what those processes look like in practice
- How to keep tabs on the competition through content
- How Angela’s background in journalism has helped her in her legal marketing career
- Advice for legal marketers looking to succeed with content
Ed: Today on the CMO series, we're going to be covering content management, the linchpin of legal marketing and business development. Being able to show the knowledge of your firm is at the heart of professional services marketing and we're lucky today to dive into this topic with Angela Pandolfo Roy, the CMO at Gibbons Law. We'll dig into Angela's background a little bit and how her firm approaches content management and what firms should be thinking about when it comes to the part content plays in the success of their firm.
Welcome to the Passle CMO series, Angela!
Angela: Thank you very much. Very nice to be here.
Ed: Now, you and I have managed to get to know each other over the last, it's probably nearly nine months or so. And we've had a couple of really good conversations. So for the benefit of the listeners, could you please inform them and let them know how did you come to be in your role at Gibbons? And when was it in your career journey that you came to see that content management was so key to legal marketing?
Angela: Gosh, for this question we'll have to go on a journey back to the years beginning with the number one rather than the number two. Gibbons was actually my first job out of graduate school. I started in 1993. I had just gotten a Master's in journalism with a focus on Corporate Communications. Gibbons was hiring a second person for a two-person marketing department. There was a Director of Marketing and that was it. And so, they were basically hiring a Jack-of-all-trades to be that person's Assistant Director. That's what I became. At the very beginning of law firm marketing, which in 1993 kind of was it. It was certainly a formal function that was I think less than a decade old. Back then most of what was marketing was content. I mean that was the birth of websites, for example. That was a huge content project and it was the beginning of getting together marketing materials and describing our practices somewhere. Putting together pitch books and, so much of what we were doing right at the beginning. Getting out regular newsletters for all of our practice areas. So much of what we were doing was content back then. Even though I learned a little bit about everything I became a bit of a generalist just because that was the nature of the practice back then, I did really hone my content skills and my communication skills.
I moved to Boston after three years with Gibbons. I worked at a huge firm there for three years. Got married and decided when we had a family that we wanted to come back to the free babysitting. So we moved back to New Jersey. I consulted just to stay part-time to raise my kids and keep control of my schedule. I had a consulting practice for about seven years. After seven years, the Managing Director (at the time) of Gibbons was somebody I had known as a young Associate during my first time at Gibbons. He called me when his second-in-command in his marketing department left and offered me the job. He said, “I know you, I know you wanna stay part-time and I know that you could do this part-time.” The same job that somebody else was just doing full-time. He said that to butter me up I guess, but I came on and I did that until 2021. In 2021 it was time to hire a new Chief Marketing Officer. So, that's what I did and I became the CMO. It's been about a year and a quarter that I've been that.
I just want to throw in a little plug to grammar schools and high schools everywhere. Well before any career was on my mind, all the nuns and the non-adjacent lay teachers in my 12 years of Catholic school drilled into me the critical importance of words. And said to us time and time again, no matter what you want to be in life, whether it's an astronaut or an engineer, a doctor or a mechanic, you need to know your words when you communicate clearly and correctly, that's the first sign of professionalism, it's how you present yourself and it's a key to success. So that really prompted me to follow words into my career.
Ed: Fantastic, Angela! So it sounds like you've been there quite a long time. I know, I think you've mentioned it to me before. How long have you been at Gibbons now?
Angela: This second round, it was 15 years in September. So it's about 15.5 years, the second round and then I was here for almost three years back in the nineties.
Ed: Wow. So it sounds like you really found a really good corner of the market to get into. It's obviously a place that you would enjoy working at as you've come back to it and you've stayed.
Angela: Yeah. I love this place. It's hard not to love it. If you had ever met Judge Gibbons who's sort of our standard bearer, he's now deceased. But, when he was here it was, you know, he was a rock star. You know, he was just a rock star in the legal community and it was just, everybody got so proud of being associated with him; and the pride carries on in his name, even with him gone.
Ed: I think it's a real breath of fresh air to hear people say “I love it here” because that really makes a huge difference when you want to go to work in the morning, doesn't it?
Ed: And every week, every month. So yeah, I think that's a nice thing to hear for sure. Angela, the next part I suppose, which you touched on as well, the content management piece. What does it mean specifically? And why do you think it's the linchpin of legal marketing?
Angela: Well, content management to me, it's always meant getting the most bang for your buck out of the words you use to describe your services, your service distinctions, and your successes. Getting the most bang for your buck out of the words you use to show thought leadership, inform and educate your different audiences. It means, for example, seizing on a topic and then utilising that for a blog and then maybe a client alert. Then an article in a business publication, and then sharing links to the blog and the alert, and the article on your social media platforms, and posting them on your website, using them as handouts for seminars or fleshing out proposals and pitches. Making the topic the theme of a presentation of a webinar or a podcast, and then building an expert positioning or media outreach effort around your mastery of that topic. Then make sure the mention of that topic works its way into the practice descriptions of the relevant practice areas, and your bio, et cetera. It means drafting, polishing, and saving marketing content. Such as practice descriptions, representative matter write-ups, and general firm info. Then categorising it all, so you can use it over and over, and mix and match copy in custom ways. But like I said, just creating something, a wonderful piece of content and getting 36 different things out of it. To me, that's what content management is. But even more broadly, it's also about clarity, consistency, and creativity in the content you use throughout your business development and client service initiatives. It means understanding, for example, the greatest three-year strategic plan will fall flat if you don't communicate its components and its implementation in a way that engages your constituencies. It's in a voice that sounds like your firm and it clearly conveys your message. It means recognising that words, they're really the best tool we have to market professional services. I mean, the product we're selling is a bunch of lawyers. So before someone purchases our product, they can't really try it out. You know, they can't pick it up and shake it and see if it's sturdy. We don't have teams of product designers like Apple does to make, you know, to make everything sleek and attractive to consumers. I mean, our lawyers are clean and they come to work clothed, but that's really all I can ask. With selling legal services and the marketing of legal services, there are no money-back guarantees, no coupons and things like that. They literally have to take our word for it that we are who we say we are. That we are a product, the stellar product that we say we are.
Ed: It's a good job that they do turn up clothed, otherwise that'd be a major issue. But you're, you're very right. The product is the people, their knowledge, and what they have they've learned from experience.
Angela: Yeah, they really do have to master the words they use to convey what it is that they do and the successes that they've had. It really is all about words, whether it's our words, whether it's some reporter who's writing about a matter that we successfully closed or whether it's another client using words to describe us to another potential client by recommending us and referring us. What we do is best captured really in words.
Ed: Within your team at Gibbons, the point of content management. Is it something that you all deliberately think about and have processes in place for? Is it something that you're constantly pushing or is it just something that you think happens quite naturally? How does it happen within you and your team?
Angela: Oh, that's a good question. I think it's both. It started happening naturally and then we sort of retro-fitted processes to make sure that, that this sort of thing happens. A good example is my two person communications team.That team includes a Communications Project Manager who actually leads all of our content on the various journeys that it takes. I have a writer, editor, a creative person who does the actual drafting and polishing of the lawyer copy, then proofreading and editing. They work together really well. But it's really my Communications Project Manager who follows this process from start to finish.
Even a business development project like an RFP response. She will map out not only the process for submitting that response from the RFP receipt through the due date and follow-up, but also what happens to all of the content in that proposal. Once it's done, she categorises any new copy that was drafted for it and she gets it into our content databases. She determines where we can use it elsewhere. She'll look at a new matter right up and she can say “Yeah, we can share this matter on social media and congratulate our clients for its success.” She could send something to a business reporter hoping that, maybe we can garner some media coverage out of a matter. So again, there are processes, to-do lists, suggestions and checkboxes. We follow all of it. Again, when a lawyer drafts a blog post after our Director of Communications who does the polishing, refining, editing and proof reading. After my Director gets the project back into the Manager's lap, my Manager will post it to the blog, she'll blast the blog to the subscriber list. She'll cross-post it on our website. She'll update the author's bios to link to the blog and shares it on social media. She seeks out publications that might want to publish an expanded version of the blog. She'll pitch the article to those publications. She'll keep the attorney authors on schedule while they're drafting the article that started out as a blog.
She'll handle all of the internal approval approvals and the submission and then she'll start the sharing all over for the article version of the blog. So yeah, we're very deliberate about it. As I said sort of started out with “Okay, here's this piece of content, what can we do with it?”. It's also, on the business development side and the client service side, we always loop in the comms team to help us make sure that we are conveying to our Managing Director. For example, if we're submitting a report to him that we're conveying everything clearly and concisely and interestingly. Is this going to engage him? So yeah, there are all sorts of ways that we manage this content management process and it is very deliberate.
Ed: I think that's a nice segue into my next point which when we spoke before, I think I already kind of pinned this as a bit of a question but your answers kind of helped me get there quicker. You mentioned your unique process of keeping tabs on the competition through content - are you able to break down what you're doing there? Hopefully, it's not like a secret sauce that you don't want to spread.
Angela: No, I'm a spreader. I don't mind. We do for our Managing Director and our Executive Chairperson, we compile just sort of quarterly reports, analyzing our competitors, sort of everything. You know, we sort of try to take a quarterly snapshot of everything our competitors are doing. And so a lot of that does mean, who their clients are, what litigations are they involved in? What transactions are they involved in? But even more so we do track their content because their content tells us what they consider to be important to their clients and what those firms consider to be important news to share about themselves. So we developed a full-fledged process. Once again, we invested actually in a couple of subscription services. And so now we read all of our competitors' articles and blogs and client alerts. We follow their social media feeds, we track their media coverage and we read their press releases. We do really try to get an entire 360-degree view of their, you know, current positions in the market. And that really helps us benchmark a lot of our own efforts in addition to staying on top of what everyone else is doing. And so we wrap all of this research up in quarterly reports and we use them ourselves for all kinds of analytics. But the key point is that, you know, we're taking their content, we're learning about their content, we're absorbing their content, but then we're making their content a part of our content management program too. So yeah, it all comes back to, here are our processes and here's everything that we have in place to follow this, you know, to follow this piece through. And what's great, you know, for the profession I think is that pretty much everybody does this, you know, as we're following their social media feeds, we do see, “Oh, look, they placed an article in Law 360 on a topic that they wrote a blog about two weeks ago.” And so, you know, so we can sort of see that you know, we're not reinventing the wheel here. You know, people have naturally figured this out and people do it. I just really like that we formalise it and that it is something that we're keenly aware of that content management has to be something that's part of every project we undertake.
Ed: It's really keeping your finger on the pulse to sort of mark and keep track of what's happening outside of Gibbons as well. But also, I suppose as you mentioned, it kind of keeps yourselves in check to make sure that what you're doing is as it should be.
Angela: Oh, absolutely. You know, if four of our top six competitors have, you know, written on a topic or gotten all kinds of media coverage over something we'll say “Well, huh, we did something like that. Why didn't the media cover us?” And then we'll, you know, then I will try to go strengthen my relationships with certain reporters and certain publications or I will go, not me, my Communications Project Manager who is sort of designated Pitbull. She will go and just, you know, harangue attorneys to say, you know, to write about a topic because, you know, “we're falling behind, other people are writing about this and they're getting published on it and we don't want to be, you know, not be considered a leader in this area when I know that we do it.” So yeah it's very, very helpful to know what everybody else is doing.
Ed: I hope the designated Pitbull is not shocked when she listens to this.
Angela: I'm not even gonna mention her name because she's so fantastic that somebody hears her name, they're gonna try to get her.
Ed: Fair enough, fair enough. And again, this is going back a little bit to when we spoke before the podcast, your background before legal marketing was, I think you mentioned was in journalism. How do you think that that helped, or maybe even hindered, but how do you think that helped you in your career once you've been in the legal sector?
Angela: Yeah, it helped in a lot of ways. I mean, you know. Yeah. And first of all, because so much of what we do requires communications skills and so many of our projects are content projects. It was a really natural segue into the career in general. And I did start, you know, I started off getting hired for the communications part, but again, being a bit of a generalist. But then after that, I went back and forth constantly. Sometimes I was purely communications. Sometimes I was a generalist, especially, of course, when I was consulting for seven years. But the journalism part has helped me in interesting ways too because I did get to understand what reporters think. And I did, you know, I did get to understand the whole, maybe the flip side of the public relations and media outreach component of law firm marketing. I got kind to live very, very briefly in a reporter's brain. But it's been helpful in a number of ways. But the biggest, again, the biggest thing is it just keeps honing my skills so that when I put, when I commit something to paper or screen, I read it three times, I go back, I read it backward if I want to make sure that there is nothing, you know, there's nothing wrong with it. And it's, you know, it gave me all of those little tricks just, you know, again, every time I draft something or every time I'm reading something that somebody else drafted
Ed: Angela, there's one more question that I wanted to ask you. Hopefully, it's an easy one actually, but it can be one of those ones that have multiple different answers. But what would be your one piece of advice for legal marketers looking to succeed with content management or just with content alone?
Angela: Well, not to bring up my team again. But my real advice and I think one of the reasons this is such a strength for my group is that, well, I did build a communications team that has two very specialised focuses so that I do have one person who focuses strictly on the creative side, on the writing and editing side and, you know, in developing relationships with reporters and with publications and, you know, and sort of that level of content management. But I also have a Manager and, you know, and that really makes the communications function, you know, flow here. It really makes it easy. I cannot tell you when I look at our list of open projects and I think they manage something like 100 RFP responses a year and probably 75 nominations, they, you know, single-handedly or double-handedly, the two of them, our entire Chambers nomination process, which usually includes about 25 Chambers nominations a year. They handle all of that. I know you through my Director of Marketing Communications, Ed, because, you know, she was charged with finding somebody like Passle, find, you know, go evaluate all of these services that are going to get us, even more, thought leadership presence. So they really, really work well together. But another thing and this is not something that can be planned, I don't think or if it can be planned, it's not the easiest thing to plan. But I made a point of hiring a Director of Marketing Communications who had no law firm experience because my Manager of Communications has only law firm experience. She's been with me from the start. I do like to help women get starts and careers. And so like my current assistant, my current manager started as my assistant when she too was about 23 years old, and we've been together ever since. So she's, we're going on nine years now next month. And so this has been her job, this has been her professional job after college. So you would be surprised how well that works. Having someone who's never written a law firm piece until she came and worked here to someone who's only written for law firms. That really helps because one of them knows, kind of this is what needs to be said because, you know, law firms are a unique environment and somebody else who can say, “yeah, but come on, isn't there another way to say we have extensive experience in” and sort of writing the way non-lawyers and non-law firm writers would write it. And that's worked again. That's worked incredibly. I think it would be very difficult to have Julie my Director here if she wasn't partnered with somebody who has such heavy law firm experience, but because we have somebody who does, it really does work very, very well. So my advice to anyone is: communications is important enough that within your communications team have different backgrounds and different skill sets, but keep your hands off of mine, they are not for sale.
Ed: I think that's a fantastic answer. And as I said, I've met some of your team before. So I fully understand why you'd be saying that it makes perfect sense. I wanted to jump straight in with the quick-fire round for the podcast. And so I've got five questions here which I'd like to just throw at you. So if we'll start off. What is your favourite business and non-business book?
Angela: My favorite business book is Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style, which, you know, many would consider not heavy business. That's, you know, that's a writing book. But my business, a lot of my business is writing and it's certainly the part of the business that I'm best at and enjoy the most. And I have used that book since, oh, my gosh. I want to say the 1980s, since high school. And I just keep updating my editions and it is a wonderful, wonderful guide. And anybody who has anything to do with writing in their business should have a copy of it. Non-business books are a little harder. I'm a huge reader. I read everything. I read a lot of novels and non-fiction and history and all kinds of things. so that's a little harder for me to limit. But I will say that there's one book that I reference more than anything else in the world. And that is The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer. Like the lessons in Strunk and White, the recipes in The Joy of Cooking are timeless and elegant. And I'm never without it.
Ed: Two good answers there. The next question is maybe more interesting sometimes to find out. What was your first job?
Angela: Okay, when I was 15, I was a pizza slinger/counter girl at a local pizza place in Wanaque, New Jersey where I grew up. The pizza place was called The Shack and it was indeed a shack. After I left, when I went to college and moved away and then came back, I realised that they knocked down the shack, same owners knocked down the shack and built a palace and it was called Il Palazzo. And that still stands to this day and it's still very busy and great food and what have you. But I just loved that when I was there, it was a shack and then when I left it became a palace.
Ed: I like that story quite a lot. Angela, what makes you happy at work?
Angela: Oh, nothing makes me happier than my team in the marketing department here at Gibbons. They are just a brilliant collection of professionals. We're a team of six. I'm one, one woman on my team was here on the team when I got here. But then I hired all the other people on the team and um and it's worked out wonderfully. I have just the spread of talent on my team and the kindness and consideration that everybody treats each other with the respect we have for each other, the respect we have for this firm, the pride in this firm, we all have. I can't say enough. I mean, I hired somebody who literally has been here one week and he hit the ground running and he has taken projects over from me entirely. My 23-year-old Assistant is constantly coming up with ideas for making our projects better and stronger. I have a Database Manager who seems not only to know everybody who's ever worked at this firm but anyone who's ever been a client of this firm. I have a two-person comms team, they're just a brilliant combination of writing and editing and then project management and we just have a blast. We have inside jokes and we have our own sort of room here in the marketing department. And we're not teasing each other. We're just yelling out from our desks when we need to talk to each other. And it makes me happy to be in the office because I'm surrounded by these people.
Ed: Now, I've met some of your team as well. I think that's a very good answer having met them, Angela, what are you listening to at the moment? And that could be, maybe a podcast or even an album, or even some TikTok if that's the way you go?
Angela: I am a huge lover of podcasts, but I think listening to podcasts is might be my number one hobby. And right now I'm listening to just about every podcast that reviews and recaps episodes of the HBO show, The last of Us. You know, because when you look at a 53-year-old female marketing person, you immediately think, “Oh, yes, she's a video gamer and she, you know, she loves all this dystopia and end of the world and rebuilding of civilization stuff.” And I know that sounds like, you know, I'm talking about my own 22-year-old son, but that's me, man. And The Last of Us is a brilliant game and it is a brilliant TV show and it, you know, it doesn't help that, you know, Pedro Pascal is my husband. So, you know, getting to see him perform every week is lovely. But really, it's a brilliant show and there has to be, I mean, I can't possibly listen to all the podcasts about it because I think about 60 podcasts cover each episode every week. But I fit in as many as I can from Sunday to Sunday.
Ed: Nice to have somebody who loves podcasts on the podcast. Last of the quick-fire round Angela, what is your favorite place and why I could suck up to you and say that the UK is my favorite place and it kind of is, but nothing really beats the Maryland Avenue Beach in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. We have our summer house, we live on Maryland Ave and right at the end of our street is a beach and it's a quiet one. It's not one of those, you know, sort of typical Jersey shore-type beaches. It's got this great sort of drop-off shelf when you start walking into the water. And so it gets deep really quickly and the waves get really high because of the geography of it. And like I said, it's a walk away and I've been going there since 2004 and it's just my little heaven.
Ed: Thank you. Sounds like a very nice place to be. I'll have to try and explore it at some point.
Angela: Yeah, you should - Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey.
Ed: I've noted it down. Angela, it's been fantastic to have you on the podcast. I know it's something that we've been discussing for a while going to get you on. And so I'm really glad that we found a time to do it. I think we could probably end up talking for another hour or two, maybe. And there are other topics that we could definitely cover. So maybe watch this space, everyone for part two of Angela on the podcast. But thank you so much for joining.
Angela: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I hope it was helpful.
Ed: Absolutely. We'll speak soon.