By Aileen Hinsch, manager of practice group business development and management at Crowell & Morning LLP
Legal marketers and business development professionals know it can be a challenge to develop a robust content marketing program. Generally, if lawyers are busy, their billable work will take precedence over non-billable tasks, which means client alerts and articles often get put on the back burner. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, things changed. Lawyers began writing as never before. In fact, at my firm, we wrote more alerts in the first four months of 2020 than we did in all of 2019. This sudden shift has given me new insight into how to approach content development, both now and in the future.
1. Specific Topic + Clear Business Opportunity = Content Gold Mine
Depending on the practice area, it can be a struggle to identify newsworthy topics to write about. Novel, client-impacting issues don’t arise every day. However, when COVID-19 hit and states began shutting down, there was a tsunami of new legal issues across multiple practices with direct and immediate impacts on the business community. And lawyers took notice.
Without any prompting, client alerts came at me from every direction. For the first time ever, I had to juggle publication dates to avoid hitting our mailing lists too many times in one day. Some attorneys had two alerts on different topics pending at the same time. Lawyers who had never written a client alert suddenly started putting pen to paper. Yet these lawyers were busy, exceeding their billable targets.
What this clearly demonstrated to me was that if we can uncover hot-button issues and connect the dots to business development opportunities, lawyers will be motivated to develop content, no matter how busy they are with billable work. While these opportunities may not be as obvious as those that have arisen through COVID-19, clients will always face issues that impact them. It may require digging deeper — tracking industry news more closely, reviewing earnings call transcripts, and paying closer attention to the questions clients are asking lawyers. But if you can uncover topics and make a clear case as to why they are worth writing about, you will have quality content throughout the year.
2. Don’t Create Content in a Vacuum
Before the COVID-19 crisis, when it came to discussing content development, I would usually talk with attorneys about topics individually or at the group level. At the outset of the crisis, small groups of attorneys began partnering to cover topics that impacted their practices. Some shared the same practice area and niche focus, while others came from different practices and wove together their perspectives under a common issue. They also embraced different approaches, sometimes asking an associate create an initial draft and other times enlisting a partner to develop an outline and assign parts to group members.
All of these approaches have been successful. Some of these strategies help get content created even when partners are too busy to draft content themselves. Other approaches help ensure that a topic covers the appropriate angles and doesn’t omit key areas of law. There are many ways to create content, and these options for developing it are worth adding to your toolkit. If you’ve struggled with getting attorneys to write, consider these tips:
- Discuss topics in small, focused groups that share common goals and interests.
- Consider internal relationships – group lawyers who have similar practice/industry focuses and client targets to develop content together.
- Suggest different ways to approach developing content so the process is manageable.
3. Bringing in New Work from Articles Creates Content Ambassadors
Over the years, I’ve gathered examples of content marketing success stories and they usually demonstrate an indirect connection to winning new business. For example, a relevant article may have been part of a larger, multi-pronged business development strategy, or it may have solicited positive client feedback that helped strengthen a relationship.
COVID-19 legal issues have made the pathway from content to hire much more linear. Once our attorneys began churning out multiple articles a week on the hottest, most relevant topics, we started to see direct ties to new business. This includes conversations that start with, “I just read your client alert,” and end with, “We want to hire you.”
I recall a standout moment when a well-respected partner at the firm admitted to not believing in the power of content marketing until he authored a COVID-19 related article and got hired from it.
These results show the value of combining quality and quantity. As business resumes under a new normal, I expect the extraordinary volume of COVID-19 related content will subside, but the value of using content as a business development tool will remain steady. To motivate lawyers to continue writing as content ambassadors, it is important to track the results that content brings to firms. Consider these best practices moving forward:
- Actively track down content successes and keep a list to reference. Use specific examples when talking to lawyers about writing.
- Share these success stories with authors and others at the firm. If your firm has regular partner meetings, consider asking for an agenda spot to highlight content marketing successes.
- Keep your mailing lists up-to-date, ensuring that new clients and prospects are added to expand your opportunities for developing new business.
We are in the middle of a unique opportunity to provide value to attorneys by staying on top of news, litigation, regulations, trends, and other developments. It is also a time to embrace the primary purpose behind content marketing — demonstrating legal expertise as it relates to issues that matter most to clients. And we can roll this approach into our ongoing communications with attorneys so issue-spotting, writing, and monitoring successes become a routine part of our business development activities.