Taking Care of Business: Growing your business and your brand with content marketing

Issue January/February 2018 By John O. Cunningham

Legal service providers are joining the growing ranks of content creators who are utilizing ubiquitous modern channels for connecting with content consumers, including potential clients and referral sources.

So-called “content marketing,” which consists of creating and delivering content to a target audience, is now one of the most effective tools for business development when executed effectively. 

According to one recent survey, 80 percent of business decision-makers rely on substantive content more than advertising, and 50 percent say that content can influence their decision to hire a professional service provider. Decision-makers also spend roughly 20 percent of their total internet time surfing for useful content, and they like being able  to see how a potential service provider thinks and communicates.

Thus, it is not surprising that so many lawyers have turned to content marketing in the  form of blogs, client newsletters, “how to” publications, LinkedIn posts, JD Supra articles, Facebook publishing tools, YouTube videos, and so-called “white papers” that provide thought leadership on issues that involve public policy and law.

What kinds of content do prospective clients like?

In surveys I have done, prospective clients indicated the following are of interest to them:

• Practical tips or action checklists for readers to consider when confronted with a common life event that may have legal overtones, such as the death of a loved one, the sale of a family business or the aftermath of a vehicle accident;
• Tips on how to make or save money as a result of changes in laws;
• Industry-specific content about legal problems, solutions and trends affecting their particular industry or professional occupation;
• Practical tips on how to deal with new legislation or court decisions in a way that will prevent or minimize potential liabilities for them;
• Charts or summaries that illustrate all of the key changes associated with legislation, or all of the different regulations or legal decisions interpreting legislation; or
• Explanations that make complex legislation or regulation simple and easy to understand.

Legal content creators say they sometimes get stuck on coming up with ideas for fresh  content, but the potential number of topics are as unlimited as a writer’s imagination. For instance, content publishers can offer to readers:

• List articles, such as “Five Opportunities Presented by Recent Tax Law Changes,” or “Four Ways to Protect Yourself from Premises Liability;”
• Timely news analyses of major court decisions in a recent term;
• “Keys to Victory” stories, offering practical analyses of how and why headline legal victories were achieved; 
• Technology stories that explain how technology can be used to improve the efficiency, quality and cost of legal services; or
• Anniversary  stories, examining the impacts of a historical ruling on its anniversary.

Many lawyers already have an abundance of potential publication fodder right in their offices. PowerPoint presentations, trial briefs, research memos, seminar speeches and 
other work products can be adapted for content marketing. 

In fact, most publications can be “repurposed” in one way or another. A  blog  post  can  be expanded into an article. An article about an industry can be put into a client alert or  newsletter directed at potential clients in that  industry. A legal brief that summarizes the  law of a complex topic for a judge can be distilled into a chart that demystifies the law for ordinary readers. All of those publications can also be easily posted on Twitter, LinkedIn and other forms of social media that have viral sharing potential. 

Legal service providers can also broaden their reach and double their potential content  marketing impact by doing “partnered content” with others. For instance, here are a couple of real-life examples of partnered content publications that have proven effective:
• An employment law firm teamed up with an insurance company to write a “desk guide” to risk management and liability prevention for their combined audiences.
• A law firm’s intellectual property group teamed up with some patent brokers to write an  advertorial on how to find and exploit valuable patents available for licensing.

Perhaps the biggest problem with content marketing for lawyers is getting the product out quickly. We, as lawyers, tend to be professionally cautious and ponderous. But good content marketers know that nobody wants to read an analysis of a headline case six months after it is newsworthy, and nobody reads the seventh newsletter they receive covering the same “new” legislation. 

Lawyers who are frustrated writers just have to shed their legal robes occasionally and energetically seize the opportunity to be the editors-in-chief of their own publications. They can decide which stories to cover, they can add those fresh perspectives they  always thought were missing from traditional media, and they can give to the world that which is uniquely them and cannot come from anyone else. They can even win more clients if they’re effective communicators. 

John O. Cunningham is a writer, consultant and public speaker. As a lawyer, he served as General Counsel to a publicly traded company and to a privately-held subsidiary of a Fortune 100 company. For more information about his work in the fields of legal service, marketing, communications, and management, check out his website and blog at: johnocunningham.wordpress.com.