Law firm publishing efforts that are divorced from the firm’s business development strategy, or that take place within a firm that has no strategy at all, are in serious trouble right from the start. They might satisfy some lawyer’s itch to write, or look nice on a marketing plan, but they won’t deliver meaningful results.
The reason is simple: nobody really knows why the firm is publishing, what it hopes to achieve, or how to measure whether anything has been accomplished. When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.
Conversely, a publishing program that’s integrated with and supports the firm’s overall business development strategy has much higher odds of success. This kind of program knows exactly which audiences it wants to reach, why it wants to reach them, what kind of impact it wishes to have on those audiences, and what outcomes it is trying to generate. Most importantly, a strategic publishing program understands and explicitly states what constitutes “value” for each audience to which it is directed. It is disciplined, coordinated, specific, and measurable.
A law firm publishing strategy, therefore, is meant to deliver outcomes that enhance the firm’s profile and support the firm’s business development. It dictates and governs every element of the creation and distribution of a firm’s public-facing content. Here are what we believe to be the critical “must-have” features of a successful law firm publishing strategy.
- A restatement of the firm’s overall business development strategy. Lead off with this, and make sure you reference it frequently during the execution of the publishing strategy. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in content creation and distribution that you come to think of publishing as an end in itself. It is not: it’s a means to an end, towards the purpose of increasing business for the practice. So make sure this section identifies how your publishing strategy integrates with and furthers the firm’s business development strategy. Keep reminding yourself about how publishing fits into the bigger picture.
- A description of each market encompassed by the publishing strategy. Unless your firm is very small and serves only one specific type of client, your publishing strategy should address several different markets, industries, or practice group areas. List these markets and the specific types of clients within them that you want to reach. Depending on where you wish to focus your efforts within your markets, try to be as specific as you reasonably can. Don’t just say, “We serve elder law clients.” Focus your attention on, for example, “professionals aged 35–55 with parents in retirement residences,” or “single parents caring for an infirm older relative in their own home.” Paint a detailed picture of your target markets and the clients you wish to reach within each one.
- A realistic set of success metrics for each market. How do you know if your efforts are succeeding? Set specific goals for what you hope to achieve through your publishing efforts, and spell out those goals as concretely as you can for each practice group or market. Examples might include:
- X percent more work from existing clients;
- X new clients worth more than $X within the space of a year;
- X profiles of your firm by industry media within your target market; or
- X more speaking requests and business inquiries for a specific lawyer or practice group.
It’s not always easy to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI) of any marketing effort, and publishing is no different in this respect. So choose practical, realistic, and measurable goals.
- A detailed description of how content will be created and distributed for each market. This will be the longest and most important part of your publishing strategy: a detailed description of the tactics by which it is executed. We suggest that this description includes at least the following six elements:
- Your planned content: We don’t mean that you should list your entire editorial schedule here; that should be a separate document informed by this one and subject to contributor availability and breaking developments. This heading is meant to help you identify the types of content that you anticipate will have the most value to the target market. Will this audience be highly interested in case law summaries? (Pro tip: Probably not.) How about legal business updates instead? How-to guides? Risk management checklists? Public resources? (That’s more like it.) Consider the needs of each market and specify the types of content likely to have the most value to each one.
- Your preferred formats: Articles, newsletters, blog posts, presentations, e-books, podcasts, and videos are some of the most common formats in which law firms publish content online. Specify which combination of these formats you intend to use for each target market. It will be rare that a given market requires only one format; equally rare, however, will be the market that can sustain a demand for all of them. Assess the needs of each market and decide which formats would be the best fit for its existing content consumption habits, technological sophistication, multimedia affinity, and similar factors.
- Your publishing budget: Identify and budget for funds required to create content. This could apply equally to money spent to revenue forgone. For example, if a lawyer will devote ten hours a month to creating content, mark off that amount of non-billable time in the lawyer’s personal business development plan. If a full-time staff member is creating content, add that to the person’s job description and adjust his or her other responsibilities accordingly. If you intend to hire a full-time content creation professional or retain one on a freelance contract basis, figure out how much this will cost in a given year and budget for it. Lawyers are invariably the best source of content, but they don’t always have the time to create content, so you might want to use a combination of all three resources, as appropriate.
- Your publishing schedule: Publications that appear periodically (that is to say, periodicals) create an expectation among readers that new content will appear with at least some degree of regularity. In addition, contributors tend to produce better content if they know when they are expected to turn in the material. These are two reasons why you should create and stick to a schedule for gathering and publishing content. If you intend to publish an e-newsletter, decide how many issues per year; if a blog, how many posts per month. Then use this schedule to help determine how much content you require from contributors and how often, and strive to ensure your content appears regularly. A blog that goes months without a new post, for example, will lose regular readers and will struggle to regain them.
- Your contributor expectations: If publishing is to be treated seriously within the firm as a strategic component of growth and business development, then rewards (and consequences) must flow from adherence (or non-adherence) to contributor expectations, just as they do with billable work expectations. Determine and make clear what, if anything, is expected from each member of the firm in terms of supporting the publishing strategy. Also, make clear the specific reward attached to the fulfilment of these expectations and the specific ramifications that follow from non-performance of expected duties.
- Your editorial team: Someone needs to be in charge of the firm’s publishing strategy, and that person requires a team to help him or her execute the responsibilities outlined above. In larger firms, this person likely would be a Marketing Director or someone within the marketing department. In smaller firms, it could be a lawyer or staff member tasked with the marketing or communications function. A secretary or assistant will almost certainly be needed to help with administrative and procedural details. A senior lawyer should be asked to enforce content contribution expectations when necessary. The size of the overall editorial team will obviously depend on the ambition of the publishing effort.
That, in a nutshell, is your law firm’s publishing strategy: the “why,” “for whom,” and “how” of your content marketing efforts. Following this course of action should dramatically enhance the impact and effectiveness of your firm’s publishing efforts.
*** This book will be available for purchase at the 2017 ABA TECHSHOW. For more information about TECHSHOW or to register click here.
Publishing may very well be the oldest form of legal marketing, but because it’s so simple to do it’s easy to get wrong. Although almost every lawyer publishes, few lawyers do so effectively. A publishing strategy is the critical link between a law firm’s business development and its content marketing effort. A strategic framework is the best way to maximize the effectiveness, satisfaction, and measurable results of your firm’s publishing efforts.Read More