Law firms today need creative and relentless media outreach efforts to position themselves. Among the strongest trends in business communications is content marketing.
While by no means a new practice, content marketing -- creating, repurposing and redistributing content across media channels -- has never been more prominent. Expect that trend to intensify in the year ahead, as more firms embrace blogging, online publication and social media. A clear focus and consistent messaging also set firms apart in today’s expansive media arena. It’s no longer acceptable to cherry pick speaking and interview opportunities.
With these challenges in mind, here are 13 tips to amplify your communications programs to meet the challenges of 2013 and beyond.
1. Conduct a fresh assessment
As firms regain their financial footing post-financial crisis, now is a good time to take a step back and consider the communications program as a whole. Ask more questions, including: Does the current media plan serve the firm’s business development goals? Has the firm identified the target audiences it wants to reach in 2013? Is it reaching out to them with messages that will drive buying decisions?
Often, law firm communications are more driven by tradition than strategy. For example, many news releases are perfunctory exercises to acknowledge recognitions and accomplishments rather than messages that have been carefully crafted and strategically distributed to reach to clients and prospects. Law firms should develop a process to coordinate communications across PR, web and e-mail marketing, social media platforms, events and collaterals to leverage the content they develop and send consistent messages.
2. Create a wish list
Once the program has been audited, create a wish list of specific areas to target for improvement and expansion. Consider the firm communications efforts, as well as the efforts of practice groups and individual attorneys.
Look at which practices make the most sense to promote, and whether these efforts can be better leveraged. Blogs with great content can be better publicized, and content can be repackaged as newsletters, e-mail alerts and publication opportunities.
3. Try something new
Staying relevant in today’s marketing requires constant adaptation.
For example, there is an increasing trend toward creating infographics as blog posts. They are attractive, easy to read and easy to forward. Tumblr and Pinterest are easy ways to leverage content. Industry groups are always looking for firms to help sponsor events, and reporters are always looking for new sources.
4. Publicize your wins
In both deals and litigation, it’s often challenging for law firms to publicize their wins. As a result, many simply don’t do it or don’t do it well. But a major difference in billing rates comes down to the perceptions clients have as to how effective firms are at obtaining results.
There is a disconnect between an attorney’s understandable desire to avoid compromising a client relationship and a firm’s need to publicize its successes. Yet, there are specific steps firms can take to improve efforts to publicize wins, including educating attorneys on how other firms publicize their successes.
5. Prioritize thought leadership
With the explosion of media channels and outlets, it has become increasingly challenging to reach specific target audiences, and hard to be heard over the din of competitors. It’s no longer effective to just get a firm’s name “out there.”
Content marketing distinguishes a firm and its professionals from competitors by connecting the firm’s name with specific messages as to how attorneys solve client issues. Thought leadership, through published articles, speaking engagements and targeted press opportunities, credentials the firm and its lawyers.
6. Identify marketing stars
Touch base with the firm’s marketing rock stars those who love to market, have a clear plan and always deliver. Make sure they have the tools they need to deliver their messages effectively.
This is Step #6 rather than Step #2 because marketing stars are often some of the busiest lawyers in the firm, and they are likely to appreciate that their marketing team has done some independent thinking about the coming year and have ideas for them to consider.
While all firm lawyers need marketing support, obtaining buy-in from firm’s marketing stars is crucial to prioritizing resources.
7. Identify future stars
With an entire generation set to retire soon, succession planning is a major priority for many firms. Identify the partners who are working toward becoming tomorrow’s marketing and business development superstars, and meet with them as well. Whereas current stars often have approaches that work for them, the up-and-comers are likely to be more receptive to trying new approaches.
8. Talk more, email less
When servicing professionals who keep varying schedules and are frequently out of the office, it is tempting to over-rely on e-mail. Fight this temptation. Talking in person and over the phone builds a bond that cannot be developed over e-mail. E-mail does not convey tone, so an e-mail that is meant to be explanatory can be perceived as condescending. E-mail often is a terrible way to try to make strategic decisions the chains become so long and disjointed that no one is quite sure if all of the relevant factors have been considered.
9. Create client-focused messages
Once a new plan is in place, focus on the messaging. For every project, identify upfront the target audiences and the platforms intended to reach this audience. These decisions should drive the messaging. With every client alert, news release, event invitation, etc., make sure the information clients want to see is up top, and the marketing information about the firm is lower down.
10. Leverage your content
View content development as a key investment in building a communications program. When creating content for a client alert, consider editing it to create an article for submission to an industry publication. Can the same content be used to create a seminar presentation? Does the topic offer an opportunity to speak to the media?
11. Look for support
With so many options for communicating with clients and prospects, firms are finding they can’t do it all themselves. Increasingly, clients are asking for broader support, and looking for new ways to partner with service providers. This sounds a bit selfserving coming from outside providers but we have noted an uptick in requests by clients to go beyond providing a specific type of service (such as PR), to help them create cohesive communications strategies to accomplish their business goals.
12. Communicate progress
Don’t forget to communicate successes internally. Have systems in place for regular communications (written and oral), but also make sure to reach out when there’s a big success, such as when a firm attorney has been quoted in a high-profile publication.
13. Track success
With pressure to increase profits and reduce costs, there is an increased expectation to measure results. Expect this trend to continue with a vengeance. While measuring results in the area of communications is challenging, there are ways to track success, both statistically and anecdotally. Have systems in place for gathering both types of information and do not ignore the latter, which can be compelling.