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| 12 minutes read

CMO Series EP109 - Alison Janzen of Torkin Manes on Building an Integrated Approach to Content Marketing

Gone are the days when a website is merely a law firm’s online storefront. Clients now anticipate a higher level of engagement. They seek tailored content, consistently delivered, addressing pertinent topics relevant to their businesses.

In the latest episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Eugene McCormick is delighted to host Alison Janzen, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Torkin Manes. Alison delves into the firm’s integrated approach to marketing and discusses how switching to a content-forward strategy has helped differentiate their lawyers in the market. 

Alison and Eugene explore: 

  • The moment Alison realized the importance of content marketing and why taking a content-forward approach would be pivotal to her work at Torkin Manes
  • How the landscape has changed for legal marketers with the evolution of content marketing and the changing client expectations
  • How a content-first approach aligns with the other marketing activities at the firm 
  • Success stories from taking an integrated approach
  • The challenges of getting the lawyers and different practice groups on board with creating content and taking a content-led approach 
  • Advice for other marketing leaders looking to take an integrated approach to their content marketing


Eugene: Hi folks and welcome to another episode of the Passle CMO Series podcast. Now, a website is no longer simply a shop window to advertise a law firm's services. And with the evolution of digital marketing clients expect more customized content that is topical and relevant to their business.

So today, we're lucky to welcome Alison Janzen, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Torkin Manes, to discuss their integrated approach to marketing and how switching to a content-forward strategy has paid dividends at the firm. Alison, Welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast.

Alison: Thanks so much. Happy to be here.

Eugene: Delighted to have you. Now, we're going to get stuck straight in. Was there a moment in particular when you realized I know content marketing is incredibly important for you and your firm? Was there a moment that you realized the importance of content marketing and that a content-forward, content-first approach would be pivotal to your work at Torkin Manes?

Alison: Yeah, at some point in the distant past, I attended a Legal Marketing Association pre-conference and it was an in-depth session on content marketing. It had to be more than 10 years ago, I think it was the Legal Marketing Association Conference, maybe the first one of the Aria Hotel, and in Vegas, maybe 12 or 13 years ago. And that session was a real light bulb moment for me.

Well, I've been preaching for years that we needed to write articles so we could be seen as thought leaders and so that we could raise the profile for our lawyers and for our firm, I hadn't really tied all the aspects of content marketing into a specific strategy. So when I started at Torkin Manes 10 years ago,  content marketing was a key priority. You know, it was sort of perfect timing for me to come in with a clean slate and be able to focus on this.

And we started by making sure that we had all the building blocks that we needed. We built a new website we put in a CRM system. We signed on with several content aggregators. And we spent a lot of time talking to the lawyers about the importance of writing. We set up internal seminars to sort of train people on it and how important it was for them to generate content so that they could be seen as subject experts. So we generated that content not only through client alerts and newsletters but also through videos and we pushed all of it out through our email distribution list, our website social media and we found that the extensive LinkedIn networks of our lawyers were extremely valuable when it comes to getting the word out. And we've continued to encourage our lawyers to build those networks.

Eugene: So you have that content-first approach, and you mentioned that that sort of came to you 10 years ago at the Legal Marketing Association conference, how do you think the landscape has indeed changed for legal marketers in the context of content marketing, and have client expectations changed as well? You know, when we first met, you talked to me about, how I'm building this content-first website. How have the client expectations changed in line with what you're trying to do as well?

Alison: Yeah. Well, you know, certainly as we were thinking about, as you mentioned, we're building a new website now, you know, back when we built the last one and we were thinking about lawyer profiles, you sort of thinking about where they went to school and what they do and that sort of thing. But, you know, what's really differentiating the lawyers now is what they have to say. So if we can present, so if a client or a prospect comes to the website and looks at a lawyer's bio, I'd like for them to be able to see more than just their credentials and stuff but really more about what they do and through content, they can sort of prove their expertise and experience and if there is regular content being generated, there's something interesting for people to be going back and looking at and like I said, weaving it in, through social media and that sort of thing, you know, as they might, they might get a notice on LinkedIn and that might drive them to the website to read more about that article which might drive them to another one. So it's all interrelated.

Eugene: And you're almost trying to keep them, as you said there, it's something to keep the people coming back over and above. You've got a nice headshot and a nice glossy website, and a nice profile. There's actually something tangible up to the minute. How does that content-first approach align with your other activities? You mentioned after the first question, you mentioned the building blocks and the basis of your marketing strategy, you know, you got your alerts and newsletters, your videos. How does this content-first approach, and indeed the new website, how does fit in with your events, your webinars, your conferences, and everything else? How does that fit in with those other activities?

Alison: Well, you know, I find that that most marketing initiatives are opportunities to generate more content. These days social media, like anything that our lawyers do, can be turned into a story and it all really boils down to storytelling. Whether it's about an award received, an example of giving back to the community and the impact of the DEI initiative, or a successful client event. There's always a story to tell and if we can make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity and that lawyers are able to easily share things and post items that would be of interest to clients and prospective clients.

Eugene: Indeed. And in terms of the integrated approach, and you said, making it simple and easy for the lawyers, are you expecting the lawyers to generate that written, video, the podcast content to supplement those events and webinars or is it sort of do as they please, or is it a fully integrated approach or do you give a lot of that license to the lawyers to decide what they should do?

Alison: So currently we have a coalition of the willing, we have a lot of lawyers that like to write, but the other lawyers see their success like we have some that regularly write and they become seen as a subject matter expert and they are contacted regularly by the media and so it's all had a snowball effect. So we sort of use those champions to help spread the word, you know, get more people engaged and find that the more that we are putting out the more interest that it's generating amongst our other lawyers. 

Eugene: It's really interesting. You mentioned the coalition of the willing we always talk about, you need to have your champions when you're launching any sort of project, start small build with the champions. This content-first approach is something I'm hearing more and more of and this integrated approach as well. Can you give us a few examples of where this has been successful for you and your team at Torkin Manes?

Alison: Well, like in particular, when we started our cannabis group several years ago, one of the first things we did was we set up a cannabis blog, and the lawyers on that team were writing regularly and posting things on a daily basis because there was so much happening in the industry at that time. There was lots to write about, there was lots of stuff to share and, you know, it was so important that he was posting, that team was posting all of the time and we grew that group very quickly and became known within no time. And I would say that that push of the content and getting involved with others that were doing the same made such a difference for that group. In addition, when COVID hit, we suddenly had that fire hose of information that we had to send out. And so because we had all those building blocks in place that I was talking about earlier, we were quickly able to adapt the website to feature those materials. We had good mailing lists for targeted distribution. We had a content committee in place and this consists of several lawyers from the firm and they're ready to review articles, like to make sure because, you know, one of the problems when you got that much information suddenly going out is where's the control? Because you do have to make sure that there's a level of control about what's going out, you know, and we also had a tool in place to help our lawyers easily share this information on social media. So we were in luck that we were prepared when a situation like that came up. 

Eugene: It's interesting you mentioned about the um tools to share, but also an ability to control and review and just give a little bit of central oversight. What are some of the challenges which you've experienced when it's coming to getting, you know, lawyers, different practice groups to adopt that content-first approach? And you mentioned the cannabis group, does it vary from group to group? Do you have some groups which are absolutely fantastic and others that are rubbish? Could you talk about some of those challenges?

Alison: Yeah, we have some lawyers that write all the time and others that never write. In some cases. It depends on their area of practice. Some areas lend themselves much more to regular updates. For example, in our labor and employment law during COVID, there was like lots of stuff going out and so they had lots to do. So it does depend on the person and the practice area with some, it's a little bit of a tougher nut to crack looking at what might be good items to write about and maybe coming at it from a slightly different direction. So those are things as you're considering how to promote a certain group, how do you send out content that's relevant to the clients of that particular group?

Eugene:  Just circling back to this idea of the, of the new website Alison, you know, we've spoken many already about this idea of content-first. Do you think that building a website around what the lawyers have to say who they are and showing their expertise. Do you think that also contributes to getting them to take more ownership? So their profile page is no longer a static CV? Or this is the school I went to and so on. It's actually their opportunity to own a little bit of the real estate on the website, have something somewhere to direct their clients and keep them coming back for more. Do you think that's been a key part of driving the engagement in your firm?

Alison:  Yeah, I really do. Well, you know, because whenever I go to work on a new website, the agency, you know, I've been in this business for 25 years so I worked on a few and the first thing the agency says, you know, “the number one place people go is lawyer bios.” You know, that's the most important thing that you need to focus on because that's true, you need to look at, you know, so what's bringing people back and what is making one lawyer look like a better option than a lawyer, you know, on another law firm site? So I really do think that showing information about what they think and showing that they are up to date on what is going on.

So if they're sharing news items that are coming out, like if they're making sure, because, you know, a key priority is to ensure that their clients are kept informed of anything that they need to know, to make sure that their business stays successful and anything, you know, from a legal aspect that they need to be keeping in mind.

Eugene: I think it's a really good bit of advice that it sort of leads me on to probably one of my last questions and for other people in your space, you mentioned, you worked in illegal marketing for 25 years for other marketing leaders. What would be your one or two pieces of advice for people looking to, first of all, adopt that integrated approach, but also that content-first approach. What would you advise?

Alison: I would say to take advantage of all the tools that are out there, it's not enough just to post an article on your website and send it to some old mailing list. Make sure that your content has wings and that you do everything you can to make it easy for your lawyers to generate the content. So that they can get it out there in a timely fashion. There are like so many options to be able to do that. So take advantage of them because it will really, really make a difference. My number one piece of advice is to build yourself an amazing marketing team. I'm so thankful to have an incredible team of people working with me here at Torkin Manes. They make all of this possible and they better have listened to the podcast to the end so they hear.

Eugene: That's a warning to everyone involved, listen to the podcast or you're gonna be out on your ear. Alison, that was absolutely brilliant. I'm very, very useful, but we're not done with you just yet. Alison, we're going to get stuck straight into a quick-fire round if we can keep you for another couple of minutes. So first question, what is your favorite business and nonbusiness book?

Alison: All right. So, I'll start with nonbusiness. So my current favorite author is Mick Herron. Who wrote the Slough House series. It's great summer reading, really enjoying it a lot. They've also turned that into a TV series called Slow Horses. So, if you're gonna ask me later about a TV series, you've got that already. My favorite nonfiction has got to be our new client service manual. I read that a lot.

Eugene: Okay. I'll check out your client service manual. Alison, what was your first job?

Alison: My first job, I was a maid at the Holiday Inn and my dad worked in the head office and he got me that job. 

Eugene: Nice. I also worked in the service industry to begin with. And what makes you happy at work?

Alison: Being with people. I found it was tough during COVID when we were just all at home and my marketing team, most of us are in the office every day, and being here and interacting with people is fantastic. So as more people come back my job gets more and more enjoyable.

Eugene: I couldn't agree more. What are you listening to at the moment? Could be a podcast, music, audiobook, or anything in between.

Alison: My favorite podcasts right now are the Crooked Media Podcast, Pod Save America, Pod Save the UK, and Pod Save the World. 

Eugene: Apparently there was a CMO series podcast you could have thrown into the mix there as well.

Alison: Oh, yeah. Then there's the Passle podcast. I forgot.

Eugene: Thank you! Alison for God's sake.  And last question for me. What's your favorite place to visit and why?

Alison: Oh. There are a lot of great places to visit. Probably Scotland is number one on my list, closely followed by Portugal and Mexico.

Eugene: Okay. Wonderful. Alison Janzen, I just want to say a big thank you for your time today and for jumping on the Passle CMO Series podcast. It's been an utter pleasure.

Alison: Well, thank you,

Eugene: Speak soon.


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