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.
But it’s the book’s underlying premise that I want to draw attention to for this post: Work of lasting value—the kind that our society (clients, too) values and rewards the most—requires a sustained commitment to deep work.
This is intuitive, of course. We instinctively understand that when, for example, Ron Chernow was writing his best-selling biography on Hamilton or his latest on Grant, he wasn’t simultaneously trying to maintain an active presence on Twitter or lower his golf handicap.
But here’s a slightly subtler point by Newport: In our digital age — in which we have so many options competing for our attention — this skill of extended focus has atrophied in many of us, imperiling our ability to achieve the kind of success we want.
Here’s how Newport defines deep work: “Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capacities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
As law firm marketers, this concept applies to us, too. Ultimately, the biggest rewards in our industry will not be reserved for those who can perform a lot of shallow tasks. They will be reserved for those who can conceive and execute grand projects that delight clients and provide them with value that they can’t get elsewhere. In other words, those with a deep work ethos will accomplish projects that people remember.
Now, let’s talk about how that applies to content. Some are predicting that 2018 will be a pivotal year in the evolution of law firm content. I hope that’s right. I also hope that more law firms realize the need to articulate and execute a content strategy.
But law firms should not interpret that mandate to mean simply producing more content, especially the kind that can already easily be found in the marketplace — the kind that does not require much deep work. That choice may allow firms to feel like they’ve checked a box, but it likely won’t produce lasting value.
The reality is that producing high-quality content that breaks through is getting harder as the volume and level of competition increases.
The Economist recently polled more than 1,600 marketers and senior executives worldwide about the state of thought leadership, and the results reflected this intense competition. It found that 75 percent of executives have become more selective about the thought leadership they consume, with more than 80 percent citing the increase in volume as the reason.
At Infinite Global’s Content Center, we like to talk about the signal-to-noise ratio. To stand out some firms may need to decrease the volume of content they produce to devote more resources to projects that require deep work but will cut through the noise.
In his book, Newport references work from the authors of The 4 Disciplines of Execution, who have noted, “The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish.” That’s why, they suggest, that organizations are better served when they focus on a few wildly ambitious goals.
That brings me to the title of my post. A law firm content strategy should largely reflect the strategy of the firm itself. For many firms, executing that strategy likely will mean producing content that fits the goals of key practice areas.
But a strategy should also contemplate a signature project — a wildly ambitious goal requiring deep work — that best reflects the firm’s brand, stakes out territory it wants to own, and provides its clients with real and lasting value.
It’s important to note what this type of content should not be. It should not be marketing puffery celebrating the firm’s accomplishments or mere summaries of industry events.
These kinds of ambitious projects must be laser-focused on serving clients with singular insights. While not an exhaustive list, here are a few elements to think about including in such a project:
Original data and analysis: This element can take a number of different forms: a survey, an index, original packaging of publicly available data, etc. The key is that the data be presented in an original format and that the data is accompanied with interpretation that tells the reader what it all means. Original research is also of inherent interest to the press, whose coverage can greatly increase the reach of the project.
Outside perspectives: These projects should be used as opportunities to highlight a firm’s experts. But there is no reason not to also include perspectives from people with no ties to the firm. Again, the primary focus should be on providing real value to the customer first, not promoting the firm.
Rich media mix with snackable content: Ambitious editorial projects need to contemplate a mix of available media. Today, an interview need not be just a written Q&A; it can also be a podcast or a video. Similarly, thought leadership is not simply a print product. Quotes, sound bites, data points, and other snackable content taken from the anchor piece can be repurposed through social media channels.
Want to talk with the Infinite Global Content Center team about your law firm’s signature content project?