What we’re reading: Dreyer’s English

Usage and style guides are like dumbbells for writers. If you don’t pick them up now and then, your writing can grow flabby.

07/29/2019

Why case studies belong in your law firm’s content strategy

It’s a scenario many legal marketers will find familiar: An attorney shares the details of a fantastic courtroom win. He is, shall we say, excited. “The world needs to know now!” he booms.

03/26/2019

Ghostwriting for lawyers: No objection

When I mention my work as a legal ghostwriter, the reactions I get fall somewhere on a spectrum from bafflement to skepticism. Some are not sure what ghostwriting is. Others are not sure it’s on the up and up.

10/31/2018

Grace Speights of Morgan Lewis on the New Rules of Crisis Management

A year ago this month, The New York Times published its first article in a series exposing movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual misconduct. That article breathed new life into the #MeToo movement and ignited a cultural reckoning that continues to this day.  

10/19/2018

Crisis communications planning for CMOs: Q&A with Deborah Farone

Crisis management is a now a major part of a law firm CMO’s portfolio. When things go south, management increasingly looks to the CMO for guidance.

04/12/2018

Why your content strategy should include a wildly ambitious project

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a new book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. As someone who often feels helpless to resist the siren calls of Twitter and other online catnip, I found its insights and recommendations for cultivating sustained focus valuable.   

01/18/2018

Why you should be in your next headline

In his fascinating new book, “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction,” Derek Thompson spends a bit of time ruminating on a perennial obsession among digital content creators: what makes a great headline?

At a time when millions of articles and blog posts are published every day, the question’s importance could hardly be overstated. Digitally native outfits like The Huffington Post have long understood the significance, having pioneered A/B testing methods to gauge the resonance of alternative headlines as a way to improve reader traffic. But the headline is still too often an afterthought for content creators.

A writer for The Atlantic, Thompson is intimately familiar with the market forces shaping editorial content. When the magazine introduced a new tool to measure the popularity of articles and how much time viewers spent reading them, he admits becoming obsessed, constantly monitoring the data, wondering what hidden secrets could be mined. What were people responding to? Could you accurately predict what would resonate?

Throughout his career, Thompson has developed a number of pet theories for the perfect headline. He’s also seen some fads come and go, like the “curiosity gap” headlines (“She Has a Horrifying Story to Tell. Except It Isn’t Actually True. Except It Actually Is True.”) made popular by Upworthy and mimicked by so many others.

But ultimately, as the genre became ubiquitous and predictable, readers grew tired of it.  “When the audience knows the formula a magic trick isn’t a magic anymore; it’s just a trick,” writes Thompson.

But Thompson noticed that stories about the mind and body continued to thrive at The Atlantic. And that led him to a fresh new operating theory: “A reader’s favorite subject is the reader.”

In the era of the selfie, we probably should not be surprised that we love reading about ourselves. Anecdotal evidence abounds. Just last weekend, the most emailed story on The New York Times website was, “Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich.”  

But there’s also real data to support our attraction to headlines about us. Recently, for example, the content marketing tool company CoSchedule analyzed nearly 1 million blog posts in its system to discern what makes for an enticing headline. Focusing on the 11 percent of posts that were shared more than 100 times (yes, the content business is humbling), it concluded that headlines with the words “you” or “your” were the most common.

Furthermore, among the top 10 stories on Facebook in 2004, nine had “you” or “your” in the headline. It turns out, there is something about being online that makes us look inward. A 2012 Harvard study, cited in Thompson’s book, found that we use conversations to talk about ourselves around 80 percent of the time online, more than double when we’re offline.

So, yes, headline writers would be wise to speak directly to the reader. But don’t stop there. One of the lessons of Thompson’s book is that “hits”—whether it’s movies, music or headlines—are familiar but not overly familiar.  

It is the grand theory first articulated by industrial designer Raymond Loewy who believed that American consumers preferred products that were innovative but comprehensible. He called it MAYA:  “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.”

To truly make a great headline, therefore, use “you” or “your.” But make it your own.
 
Andrew Longstreth is the Head Writer at Infinite Global, based in New York. He creates custom content for law firms and advises on PR strategies. Andrew can be reached at andrewl@infiniteglobal.com.
 
 

06/14/2017

Knowing where to play and how to win the content game

Life comes at you pretty fast. Especially if you’re in the legal industry in 2017.

Overnight, it seems, law firms were thrust into the content business, forced to compete for the attention and time of audiences in the daily digital mosh pit. To their credit, many are taking advantage of the ever-growing number of tools and platforms available to tell stories and communicate their messages. Newsletters, blogs, social media, podcasts, videos, interactive graphics — they’re all part of the content mix at many firms these days. Very soon, virtual reality will be added to the list.

But here’s an uncomfortable truth: The expanding volume of content makes it increasingly difficult for brands to distinguish themselves. The key decision-makers that law firms want to reach have only limited amounts of time to consume content. This means the investment required to get noticed and stand out is going up.

This is not an original insight. But given the limited resources organizations can devote to creating and distributing content, it’s a fact that must be confronted, lest a lot of time, money and effort go to waste.

The author and marketing strategist Mark Schaefer has argued that “content shock” could eventually render making quality content economically infeasible for some businesses, due to the prohibitively high cost to compete.

No doubt, this dynamic should cause concern at law firms, especially those without large marketing staffs or big marketing budgets. But it shouldn’t cause them to retreat from content as part of their marketing plans. There is no evidence that content is becoming less vital for firms to make connections with clients. In an increasingly competitive market, giving up on content would mean unilateral disarmament.

But it’s clear that in a noisy world with an unprecedented amount of free information available at our fingertips, firms need to articulate and execute a content strategy that sets them apart. It means that they’d better keep improving the quality of their content.

I would also argue that it’s important that firms decide what they are not going to do. This means choosing where to play a content game they can win.

An oft-stated aphorism in the legal industry is: Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The same approach should be applied to a firm’s content strategy. This may ruffle some feathers at some law firms. But the payoff can be large.

To understand what this sort of decision-making process looks like, consider The Economist, which has been around for more than 150 years and weathered all kinds of economic upheavals, including the digital transformation that laid waste to so many media companies. As told in The Content Trap by Bharat Anand, the magazine has institutionalized saying no, which allows it to play to its strengths. With a rather slim staff, it has said no to things like investigative reporting, breaking news, and interactivity. Nothing is stopping them from doing these things, but the company has decided others do it better. Instead, it focuses on what its readers want from the magazine: its view of the world in about a hundred articles every week.

As Economist Group CEO Chris Stibbs explains, the approach is supported by an understanding that the magazine will not appeal to everyone.

“If your belief is that the total number of people in the world who might be interested in you numbers around 65 million — as we believe is the case for The Economist — then you simply cannot be Google or eBay or Yahoo!, whose potential audience is five billion. You just can’t play a mass-market game. Our belief about our potential target audience puts us on a global leash.”

As noted by Anand, not many firms are willing to acknowledge the limitations of their appeal. But by doing so, firms can connect more deeply to their core audiences and win the content game that they choose to play.

Andrew Longstreth is the Head Writer at Infinite Global, based in New York. He creates custom content for law firms and advises on PR strategies. Andrew can be reached at andrewl@infiniteglobal.com.
 

05/26/2017

Creating a content marketing strategy? Take inspiration from Amazon

During internal Amazon meetings, CEO Jeff Bezos has been known to leave one chair empty to serve as a reminder of who’s boss and whose opinion matters most: the customer.

05/18/2017

Three reasons law firm leaders should consider writing on LinkedIn

“Your magazine ruined my profession.”

05/10/2017