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.
As we bid farewell to our summer interns, we’re publishing a series of posts they wrote based on interviews with Infinite Global staff.
How can we become better writers? Mostly by writing. But we can also read books about good writing. Andrew Longstreth, head writer at Infinite Global, is a self-proclaimed “nerd” when it comes to the genre. While not exactly ideal beach reading material, we asked him for his favorites, and why he loves them.
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.
Since the creation of our Content Center in 2012, we’ve provided website content consulting to law firms ranging from litigation boutiques to some of the largest firms in the world. We’ve learned a lot along the way, both in terms of process and product, resulting in many battle-tested best practices.
Law firms still have a few months before Chambers & Partners, The Legal 500 and IFLR legal directory season kicks into high gear, but proactive planning now will help make the submission process a bit less painful.
Developing valuable, proprietary content remains one of the most effective ways to establish credibility and gain exposure to clients, prospects and industry peers. It’s paramount that your firm’s content projects – industry reports, white papers or webinars, even bylined articles – speak directly to target audiences and provide them with useful information. However, a key audience often overlooked is the press.
In last week’s blog post, we looked at how legal awards can benefit a firm and its lawyers. But deciding to pursue legal awards is a bit like opening Pandora’s box.
Ah, autumn. It’s the season when our thoughts turn to football, family-filled holidays and … legal award nominations. If there are three questions every law firm PR and marketing person dreads, they are: Why weren’t we nominated for this award? Why didn’t we win this award? And do you have time to write up one more award nomination … that’s due tomorrow?
Most large law firm marketing departments have a strong understanding of the burgeoning world of legal rankings and awards, but it can be overwhelming for small and mid-sized law firms. These firms frequently turn to us for help creating award calendars, assessing opportunities, identifying candidates and crafting compelling nominations.
Why do publications love awards? As the former managing editor of several legal magazines, I’m well qualified to answer that question. Among other things, it’s an easy way for the media to generate content. It also helps publications build relationships with potential sources. After all, once a publication has honored a lawyer, a reporter might have an easier time connecting with that lawyer for a quote. And, it provides free publicity for the media outlet. If your firm has gone to the trouble of applying for an award, then you’ll probably announce it to the world if you win. In some cases, they also generate ad revenue and award ceremony sponsorships.
But what’s the real value to the law firm award winners? Do they merely serve to boost lawyers’ egos? Can your firm’s lawyers derive any value from these accolades? The answer is a qualified “sometimes.”
An award is unlikely to result directly in new clients, but it may result in your firm or individual lawyers being added to a prospective client’s short list. Those who do a lot of work in the appellate arena, for example, can probably name several of the nation’s top Supreme Court lawyers. But a small company that suddenly finds itself embroiled in a case with thorny legal questions that could go all the way to the Supreme Court may not be well versed in the world of appellate law. Enter National Law Journal’s Appellate Hot List or Law360’s Appellate Practice Group of the Year. That company now has a short list of appellate lawyers to consider hiring.
But how would an award benefit your firm if the firm is already on the company’s short list? In those instances, certain awards may help validate a prospective client’s decision to hire you. Suppose the potential client has a bet-the-company case. A pro bono award, for example, is a bit meaningless in that context. But if the general counsel has to justify his or her selection of counsel to the company’s CEO, it never hurts to be able to mention, “And The American Lawyer has twice selected this firm as Litigation Department of the Year.”
While a pro bono award may not help land new clients, it can provide other value to your firm. Awards focusing on pro bono, diversity and the like help illustrate the firm’s culture and its values. Those can be a tremendously helpful way to differentiate one law firm from another when recruiting new associates and laterals. And clients such as non-profits and social enterprises may also take note.
In each of these cases, an award can be a valuable credential that is one factor among many in a hiring decision. Legal awards can also help boost the law firm’s overall marketing strategy.
When writing articles about law firm award winners, many media outlets link back to the winner’s website – be it the home page, the practice group landing page or the individual lawyer’s bio. Google and other search engines like inbound links from quality websites, so an award may provide a bit of an SEO boost. Many outlets also promote award winners on LinkedIn, Twitterand Facebook, which your social media team will appreciate.
Clearly, legal awards do have their benefits. Next week we’ll look at the trickier side of legal awards: Determining which law firm award submission are worth the effort, and which ones you should skip.
Jennifer King is a Content and Client Strategist at Infinite Global. She is based in Chicago.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Your magazine ruined my profession.”