There are some truly brilliant people in our industry, and the week before last, I was fortunate to hear two of them present in a webinar: JD Supra's Adrian Lurssen and Hellerman Baretz Communication's John Hellerman. The webinar addressed the topic of using editorial focus and insights to create content that gets noticed.
They kicked off the webinar with the advice that we should be looking at the world from our audience's point of view. Since there's a lot of meaty information in the webinar recap, I'll break the post up.
"That's what She Said"
To illustrate the idea of looking at the world from the audience's point of view, Adrian and John talked about "That's what she said," Ford & Harrison's employment law blog. The blog came from a failed media pitch - Hellerman Baretz pitched the idea to NBC to have a labor & employment attorney on every Friday morning after The Office had aired, to talk about the ramifications of the politically incorrect behavior on the show. NBC passed on the idea, and a blog was born.
John called this an example of "fame-jacking" - seeing what's out there that is culturally popular, and leveraging the excitement and interest that surrounds it.
This blog was unique for a number of reasons:
- Initially, the firm couldn't get a wide number of participants, so a young woman partner was the first author (this was also a play on "that's what she said," a famous line from The Office's Michael Scott).
- The blog was only published once a week, on Fridays.
- It isn't hosted on the firm's website - instead, they went to a labor law publisher and asked them to host it, as they knew traffic wouldn't be driven from the firm's website.
- The hook is that there's a litigation price tag on each episode.
So what are the takeaways for the rest of us from this success story?
- Find your niche and go deep on it - you don't have to be clever (like "that's what she said"), but you do have to be focused.
- People are busy and live in an age of saturation of information. The trick is to insert yourself into what people are already thinking. Become a part of the dialogue.
John and Adrian next looked at "Basis Points," a Bracewell and Giuliani blog that focuses on restructuring, distressed debt, and new investment markets. The blog is hosted by Evan D. Flaschen, who has a very unique personality and does valuable restructuring work. His bio on the site says:
As Blogger-in-Chief Evan Flaschen approaches his office in his signature Tommy Bahama shirt, shorts and sandals, the classic Ozzy Osbourne song “Crazy Train” is cranked to 11. With a 7-foot giraffe statue peering over one shoulder, a life-size Abe Lincoln cut-out over the other and Bloomberg news on his wall TV, Evan sits in front of his four computer screens, two speakerphones and wireless headset and takes on the restructuring world with a passion and a smile."
Why is this blog unique?
- It takes into consideration who the authors are, and doesn't try to strip them from the characters that they are.
- Evan likes to write poems about restructuring - that's the hook. It's even created audience engagement, with people sending him their own haikus, and journalists even trying their hand at it in their own publications.
It's Not About Dumbing Down, It's About Plumbing the Depths
So how can we take what Ford & Harrison and Bracewell & Giuliani have done, and create our own well-respected blogs? There are LOTS of topics that many people can write on (and do write on), so it's about figuring out what will drive traffic. There are two ways you can do this:
- Timely topics
- Evergreen content
With timely topics, news stories will come out, and you can write blog posts about those news items. For example, Adrian and John shared a blog that is dedicated entirely to HITECH - this is a great example of an attorney capturing and going deep into a niche - rather than writing on healthcare law as a broad subject, she's just focused on HITECH.
The key here is to shift from focusing on writing what you want to write about, to what your readers want to read. It can't be about you - it has to be about your readers.
I'll admit, I had to look this up. Evergreen content is content that is literally "ever green." It's topics that can live on your blog for the life of the blog with little or no updating, because they'll always have relevance.
As an example, Adrian mentioned Walmart's recent FCPA issues in Mexico. They had reached out to some JD Supra authors, who said that they can't touch the topic because they work with Walmart, which is absolutely fine. However, he said that considering evergreen content is a good way to work around this, because they can slice up the story and participate in the conversation without having to mention Walmart at all. Good examples of this would be "An overview of FCPA Reform - Who wants what changed, and why?" or "Characteristics of a good FCPA compliance program" or "Best senior management practices for FCPA compliance."
Again, it's about considering what is most useful to your audience, and finding ways to draw them in. The title can accomplish this, though the presenters pointed out that you don't need to be hip and cultural with everything, you just need to be granular with what you do.
Principles of Great Content
Adrian and John offered some principles of great content:
- Remember your audience
- Tell a story
- Simplicity (not too long - get to the core ASAP)
- Concreteness (explain ideas in terms of sensory information, paint a picture)
- Credibility (statistics, "proof," quotes from experts)
- Emotions (make your reader feel)
Most importantly - make it "pop!"
How can you do that? Adrian and John used a great example - a typical law firm press release might say:
On July 16th, the law firm of Boring & Dull will sponsor a seminar regarding the newest Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and their effect on corporations of all sizes."
This isn't going to catch anyone's attention. A more creative way of crafting this might be:
Sarbanes-Oxley regulations will cost American corporations more than $55 billion, and that’s only if they follow the rules.
"'The tab for even the slightest non-compliance will cost a company millions of dollars in fines and ‘fit-it’ fees,” explained Steve Exciting, a partner in the law firm of Savvy, Power & Wealth. “Companies can save themselves lots of headaches and lots of dollars if they know what to do.'
"On July 16th, Savvy, Power & Wealth will sponsor a seminar for GCs of mid-size companies ($50 MM - $500 MM) regarding the newest Sarbanes-Oxley regulations and what they can do to avoid costly fines."
This piece sells it like a news lead, and then puts in the announcement about the seminar - much more creative.
Content isn't just about blogging though, it can also be about video. Video is how people want to consume information these days, so there's a huge opportunity there for law firms. There are only a few firms out there that are currently doing this well, such as Womble Carlyle. Adrian cautioned that video doesn't replace text, it just makes people understand WHY they should read what comes next - it makes the content relevant and sticky.
The last point in the section about considering your audience was to stop "doing" public relations and start "using" public relations. It's not about creating content for content's sake - we need to be asking "how is what I'm doing going to help my firm create, influence, or maintain a lucrative relationship?" If it won't, tell your firm that you're going to save them money by spending its resources elsewhere.
Creating content is the intersection of law firm branding, and marketing the individual attorney.
Next up...think like an editor!