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| 17 minutes read

CMO Series EP112 - Ashley Horne of Womble Bond Dickinson on Taking a Campaign Approach to Legal Content Marketing

Creating engaging content is one thing, but producing a stand-out campaign that delivers added value to your clients is the key to legal marketing success. 

Today’s guest joins the CMO Series to discuss her unique process and the success stories and learning she has taken from taking a campaign approach to content marketing. Ed Lovatt is lucky to welcome Ashley Horne, Chief Marketing Officer at Womble Bond Dickinson (US) to the CMO Series to discuss this very topic.

Ashley and Ed explore: 

  • The traditional approach to content marketing at Womble Bond Dickinson 
  • The moment Ashley realized there was an alternative way of doing things and identified a campaign-led approach to content marketing
  • Why an Editorial Board, that brings attorneys together, has been pivotal to this approach
  • The headline campaigns Ashley is working on and what they look like at a tactical level
  • How the firm's traditional business development activities align with those banner campaigns
  • The highlights of taking a campaign approach to content marketing and how to measure success
  • Advice for marketing leaders looking to take a campaign approach to their content marketing


Ed: Today on the CMO series podcast, we're going to be talking about taking a campaign approach to legal content marketing. The guest that we have on today's CMO series is an amazing guest. We met back at MPF in the lovely Terranea Resort back in January, I think. I'm really pleased to welcome Ashley Horn, the Chief Marketing Officer at Womble Bond Dickinson to discuss this topic. Welcome Ashley.

Ashley: Thanks so much, great to be here.

Ed: So we met, as I said, back in January, at the Sunbleached Resort of Terranea - it was so beautiful. Just for the listeners… Could you give me a little bit of background about to start with how you became uh to be in the role that you're in? But then also tell us a little about the traditional approach to content marketing that you've taken at the firm as well. It's a two-pronged question.

Ashley: Absolutely. A little bit about my background… I came with a kind of PR communications background and was always drawn to content from the very kind of early start of my career. I went into professional services marketing and spent a number of years at KPMG and a smaller consulting firm and found, you know, the art of content marketing and really serving up value to clients through meaningful relevant timely content was, you know, that was kind of a product for us. So, that brought me to Womble. Womble was looking for a CMO four years ago. Honestly, I led with my vision and point of view on campaigns and how they can bring groups like attorneys together to collaborate and go to market together. And so that's what landed me the CMO role at Womble. So I've been here nearly four years, you know, I'd say when it was a little different going from consulting into legal marketing, into a law firm. In a consulting environment, I felt that folks were a little bit… it was more natural for them to collaborate on content topics. And when I entered into the law firm world, content marketing really was all about, you know, client alerts and attorneys spending a little bit of their time to get out a quick, relevant client alert, but there wasn't as much teaming and there weren't as much thematic campaign approaches as I was accustomed to. So I would say, the traditional approach has been more siloed, more based on that one attorney's specific experience. And certainly what they see in the marketplace. I really look forward to working with my team to change that approach. It was a huge challenge, but it was one that we were excited about.

Ed: Interesting because I remember sitting in on your session at MPF and that was when I first heard you talking about this campaign-led approach to content marketing. Can you remember or is there a specific sort of point that you think you realize there was an alternative way of doing things? And recognizing that that campaign-led approach was more effective than perhaps others, there may be more than one moment that you can think of.

Ashley: Yeah, you know, you're probably right, There were kind of a dozen of, you know “ahas” along the way. But the one that I go back to in my memory would be when the pandemic hit, I think the second everything began to transpire, we realized as a law firm, we had a lot of knowledge to provide to our clients and we needed to do that in a really rapid fire way and we needed to do it in a very well coordinated way. So it couldn't just be, you know, every attorney again in a silo providing that knowledge from their own vantage point. We needed to come together to collaborate with one voice and provide again the really meaningful, thought leadership that our clients needed. So during COVID, we had somewhat of a task force, a cross-practice, certainly a cross-industry group of attorneys, who met very regularly. And they, you know, not only reviewed all the content that attorneys wanted to publish, but they also banned kind of clients sentiment, what are folks, you know, wanting to hear more about and what should we be publishing on? So that was the first start to realizing, gosh, this is so much more effective. It's more valuable for our clients. And it also again, creates that teaming atmosphere across, you know, the attorney base.

Ed: The task force sounds makes it sound quite serious and almost like a police force. I'm assuming it's not quite that serious.

Ashley: It wasn't. I have to constantly remind our attorneys we're not seeking to police or be, you know, kind of the "No committee... No, you cannot publish that."  We're just seeking to improve and to help. But that's funny. I think the word task force probably does have that connotation. 

Ed: I'm sure it does to some people, but also it's necessary to have it in place.

Ashley: That's right. I totally agree.

Ed: You also spoke previously about the Editorial Board and bringing the attorneys together, was that a significant moment in this campaign and perhaps quite unique for the marketing team and attorneys to be working together in that way?

Ashley: Yeah, absolutely. And so truly, our COVID task force evolved into a firm-wide Editorial Board. So we realized the gold that we found with this cross-practice team of attorneys. And we said, "Gosh, why don't we do this for all, you know, campaigns if you will", of course, didn't call it that at the time. But for the content, we go to market with. So we developed this editorial board. We have a terrific chair in Mark Enriquez. He is a very marketing forward leader and he runs his own podcast series called In House Roundhouse. He's just a terrific kind of gifted attorney we love working with. So we developed this Editorial Board with the main objective of saying, what are the major topics that we want to go to market with that we want to kind of expand on when it comes to really interesting thought leadership. And this team of attorneys, the Editorial Board, then really thinks through who are all the attorneys who could talk about this and they kind of do a lot of the leg work and thinking: “Hey, you know, I think this attorney has the perfect experience. They worked on this kind of client.” And that peer-to-peer ask is so much more valuable than marketing saying: “Hey, can you write, you know, a white paper on this?”. I mean we just… the buy-in was at such a rapid pace versus marketing trying to shove a campaign at, you know, a ton of very busy lawyers.

Ed: Did you find it a bit of an uphill battle or was it pretty simple to get the attorneys to be buying into this concept as well?

Ashley: You know, it really was not an uphill battle just if we think about, ok, what are the first things you did? We, of course, built the editorial board again, we had a really passionate cheer and Mark and then we thought “OK, we need a diverse group of attorneys, so let's look through, you know, who from corporate, who from this geography?” And then we really went to a layer of and how active are they on LinkedIn. Are they sharing content? Are they, you know, are they passionate about content marketing? So then once we have that editorial board formed the next challenge, ensuring that other attorneys kind of buy into the campaign process and that they help the editorial board actually develop the content. And you would think that would be quite tough too, but it was as simple as Mark sending out somewhat of a, you know, a brief, a creative brief if you will. This is what we're gonna have the first campaign center around. Here's kind of the topic, here are the clients that would be interested. Here are some of the topics we imagine that our clients would want to hear about and we actually survey our clients to get to that granular topic list. And then we send out kind of a firm-wide communication that says, do you want to be part of this? And the number of lawyers that come back to the editorial board raising their hands, saying I'd love to write on this or do a webinar on this was pretty impressive. Certainly, there was a little bit of chasing where we said “Gosh, we know we need this supply chain topic and we know this team of attorneys are the best ones. They're really busy, so we're gonna have to chase them a bit.”. But I would say generally it wasn't an uphill battle. It was a lot easier than I ever expected it would be.

Ed: I think that's probably quite a relief to you as well, isn't it?

Ashley: Oh yes, it was. Again, when you have that peer-to-peer ask it is a lot easier than a functional head begging people to do something. So, it was great. 

Ed: And I think also the importance of knowing what the client or potential client wants to see read here, is it occasionally forgotten? And that's the important place to start is what did they want and then base it around that.

Ashley: This is exactly right.

Ed: Yeah.

Ashley: Actually, with the current campaign we're running we could talk a little bit about that called Growing Global. We did send the end-of-the-year survey to our client base and asked them, you know, to remind them that we are very dedicated to providing relevant and thoughtful thought leadership. So it was somewhat of a marketing tactic. But then too, we wanted to hear from them, what are the topics that you're most interested in the coming year? And so we, our current campaign really is totally custom built around those topics that we heard that our clients were most interested in.

Ed: I'm glad you said that because I was going to ask if there were sort of any headline campaigns that you were going to talk about - that you could talk to us about?  What do they actually look like at a tactical level? And from your team's point of view, is there a set plan that you have of going about it or does it vary a little bit with each campaign?

Ashley: You know, I would say today, it's actually somewhat formula-built. Kay Newman, who is our director of communication and campaigns. Has it down to somewhat of a kind of science more than art, which certainly was more art than science at the beginning. But as I said, you know, how we involve the attorneys. And after we've kind of surveyed our clients on what they're most interested in. Then it really goes into somewhat of a white space analysis. So we do some competitive, you know, intelligence research to see where is our sweet spot with this thought leadership perspective, where can we Womble fit in? We don't want to be like the rest. So there is some of that analysis at the beginning and then we provide that brief to the editorial board on here are some of the topics, here's where we think we can fit in. Again, then it's, you know, going out to the masses and saying “Hey, we're running this campaign for four months.”. You begin really fundamentally to build a calendar, you know, one kind of tip and trick that we definitely use throughout the pandemic, but we find that it's a terrific way to go forward. And it's something that you're doing right now is attorneys find it much easier to kind of talk through topics versus always sitting down and, you know, putting pen to paper that just is a bit more labor intensive, right? So we always offer webinars and podcast recordings to kind of get the thoughts down. Then we utilize a staff writer to ensure that that's in all the different types of vehicles that our clients would be interested in. So whether that's kind of a written perspective piece or client alert, et cetera. We're even using right now voice generated AI so taking the written word - write a quick client alert and then turn that into a podcast recording. So those are some of the fundamentals of how we get the content built. And then from the marketing perspective, when it comes to amplification or activating the thought pieces, we have a terrific digital team, and we have a great BD strategy team. So that's when the entire team collaborates on: “OK What is our channel strategy? Where do we find that this audience prefers to consume their content?” We do, you know, even some A/B testing to understand; is LinkedIn the best channel for us or if should we consider more of a nurture email campaign? So that is all, you know, not formulaic that changes a little bit and it should as kind of a modern marketing team, but that's kind of a fun part where we kind of can go off on our own as a small marketing agency within a big law firm and kind of, you know, look at different approaches.

Ed: I'm glad that there are some fun parts to it. It's what keeps it more interesting. Also, I'm glad, you mentioned that you're using AI already, it's such a hot topic at the moment. And then I know that there are some people very fearful of it and some that really want to jump two feet first into it. So I'm glad you mentioned, that you're already utilizing it because there are many uses already. And there's… It's only gonna get better.

Ashley: That's right. And we have a terrific partner, Chris Mammen in San Francisco, who is truly a thought expert on that. And he came to our team, gosh, a few months ago and said: “Hey, could we give this a shot with kind of the voice generation?” and our digital director is just so terrific and said “Absolutely!”. And over a weekend, they kind of had a new process in place. So I always say that Womble is a very entrepreneurial atmosphere. I know every kind of professional services firm says that, but it really is true at a firm of our size. So it's been fun to experiment and not kind of have shackles saying “Oh gosh, no, we need that to be approved by, you know, 500 different divisions first.”

Ed: Maybe a leader in the industry, at least with the AI usage which is a great thing. 

Ashley: I hope so. Exactly. Yeah.

Ed: Do you have any highlights of taking this campaign approach to content marketing? Are there any real things that you can pinpoint and say? Yeah, this is one of the best things that's come out of it.

Ashley: That's a great question. I'm gonna go a little to the soft side and instead of the total kind of nerdy metrics of it, certainly, it's been a success with our clients. I mean that you know, but we all assume that we hope that what we're doing, you know, is important to our clients. So not that we take that for granted, but that absolutely has been the case. I'll say on the softer side, what I enjoy way about this campaign approach, about the Editorial Board, and about the firm's dedication to kind of this content marketing process is the teaming is the number of attorneys that we involve in the process. Certainly, there are programs like client feedback and you know, your BD planning where you are reaching out to a broad swath of attorneys. But really from a marketing perspective, this campaign approach is the most inclusive approach that we have and it's so fun to see attorneys who have never worked together. You know, one's West Coast, one is in Boston working together on this campaign, whether it's a webinar, whether it, you know, it's an in-person event or a white paper or a survey working together. And then we had our first all-attorney meeting in quite a while this year and seeing those folks connect and have that instant camaraderie, connection, and friendship and then seeing them go to market together and serve clients and think of each other when pitches are coming up and proposals that to me is the holy grail. It's been the most exciting part of this process for me to kind of witness that this is really a teaming and a collaboration vehicle as much as it is providing really meaningful value to our clients.

Ed: I think a key word there is collaboration and making sure that it is that joint effort rather than sort of marketing pushing the attorneys into one corner or the attorneys vice versa, sort of saying “No, this is how it's going to go.”.  I'm glad that, you know, that collaborative effort makes such a big difference.

Ashley: That's right. I couldn't agree more.

Ed: It's been fantastic to sort of dig a little bit deeper into this content marketing campaign that you have. And I remember listening to the session as I said earlier back in January and I immediately jumped on the opportunity to say “Ashley, we need to have a chat because it coincides with kind of where Passle is going as well.”. The interesting part when we get towards the end of this podcast is we then say, the question that we ask everybody is what would be your one piece of advice to other marketing leaders to take this campaign approach to their content marketing? And because of where Passel stands in this I'm going to be listening so intently to this answer.

Ashley: Yeah, I think the one piece of advice and not to sound duplicative of what I've said before, but is really kind of rally and inspire the early adopters and that goes for anything we do in marketing. But we found the most success in having an attorney-led Editorial Board that we're passionate about the process. Again, that takes that uphill right out of it and you're just skating once you can find kind of a group that is as passionate about what you are doing as you are. So that's just I think been the golden ticket for us is, you know, not trying to be marketing lead campaigns, but really firm led and it's a team sport. And so that would be my biggest advice. And that's where this Editorial Board has just been so helpful and useful. And it's what I talked to a lot of other CMOs about and I think all of our lights go off on how we could then, you know, thread this through other programs and initiatives we have at the firm.

Ed: It's great to hear you say these things because it's kind of as I say, the same drum that we may be beating at the same time. So Ashley, now we're going to do the quick-fire round with a couple of questions just to get a little bit more information about yourself. I'm going to start with, what's your favorite business and nonbusiness book?

Ashley: My favorite business book. I harken back to Good To Great by Jim Collins and it's such a basic book that we can all remember. But on the first very first board I was on we read it and there were just a number of huge "Ahas" for me. One is that Hedgehog concept and it's a concept I carry with me, you know, in my own personal life but then certainly throughout my career. In terms of my favorite nonbusiness, that's a tough one. I would say The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger only because it's the first book I remember just devouring. And really, you know, it was in high school, I think my AP English class, and it really just brought the love of reading into my life.

Ed: I think The Catcher In The Rye is a great choice. And I also think somebody else on our podcast has said Good to Great before as well. So that maybe is also a great choice as well. Ashley, this is always an interesting question in a quick-fire round. What was your first job?

Ashley: My first job other than babysitting, which I did from a very young age was bagging groceries at Publix and talking about, you know, becoming a marketer and learning the art of conversation. That was it.

Ed: Oh, that's an interesting one. Actually, that's interesting that you sort of put that flip side on it. That's where maybe the marketing and life started. 

Ashley: That's right.

Ed: What is it that makes you happy at work?

Ashley: Definitely working within a team environment. Makes me the most fulfilled. I think, working with my team and finding what drives them and how they can find their own purpose. That's what I love the most at the end of the day. 

Ed: I think that's such a great answer. It's definitely something that's come up before when people say the team and the people they work with. And I think that that's a really good thing that people say that. What is it that you're listening to at the moment? And that could be maybe a podcast, an audiobook, or music.

Ashley: Yeah, out by the pool my husband is a huge Grateful Dead fan. So I feel like that's all we've listened to all summer, but in terms of podcasts, I love HBR's Women at Work. I am an avid subscriber and listen to all their new episodes. And then I also love a good true crime podcast. So I'm listening to King Road Killings about those Idaho unfortunate incidents at Idaho University.

Ed: Yes, there seems to be a real kick on true crime at the moment.

Ashley: That's right.

Ed: Where's your favorite place to visit? And why?

Ashley: Generally the beach and I think it provides just that kind of relaxation for me while also keeping my two young boys occupied. Growing up, I went to this small little island called Balboa Island, which is in California. So that's kind of where I go in my memories I went there every summer with my dad and, you know, I have just fond memories of that place.

Ed: I think everybody loves the beach. I can't fault you for that answer at all.

Ashley: Exactly.

Ed: Perfect. Ashley. It's been utterly fantastic to have you on the podcast. I know it's been a few months in the making and I'm really happy that we got to sit down and have this conversation. I'm sure we could keep it going for probably another hour.

Ashley: Oh, it's been terrific. I appreciate speaking with you all. I love what you do and it's been just wonderful to think more about this, about what we've done. So, thank you.

Ed: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Ashley. We'll speak soon and maybe see you in Atlanta in a month or so.

Ashley: Perfect. Wonderful. Thank you so much.

Ed: Thank you.


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