How to plan an expert content strategy for your law firm
Without a shiny product to sell, the marketing of legal services has always had content at its core in parallel with face-to-face business development. Legal content has long been an effective tool to demonstrate a lawyer’s expert knowledge and to open the doors to new relationships and new opportunities.
However, there have been key changes over the last few decades including an explosion in the number of types of content in the knowledge economy (35+ at our last count) alongside a diversification and personalisation of marketing channels. These have meant that lawyers can no longer rely on contributing a chapter to a leading text book or speaking at a conference, and then sit back and wait for the phone to ring.
Common questions lawyers ask about content marketing
When talking with law firms about their marketing strategies, we often hear questions like these:
- How can we position ourselves as experts in XYZ practice area?
- Why aren’t we recognised for our strength in ABC sector?
- How can we publicise the arrival of this new lawyer with interesting expertise?
- How can I become the ‘go to’ lawyer for PQR niche?
- Why aren’t we at number 1 on Google?
- Why don’t we get any/many enquiries from our website?
- How can we get more instructions from social media?
Although content is not mentioned explicitly in any of these questions, it is at the heart of every answer. And one of the reasons why law firms sometimes fail to achieve the benefits of content marketing is because they do not truly understand all that is required to achieve a return on investment.
Why law firms get content marketing wrong
In many firms there is a perception that it is just about writing blogs, the actual content of the blog is largely irrelevant and the way in which it is written is of no importance – so the task can be given to anyone. That person simply looks at a few competitor websites to see what they have written about and drafts something similar (or worse, copies it). This is often just ‘filling space’ or ‘spraying and praying’ it will work. There is little or no alignment with the firm’s growth plans or strategic objectives. It fails to appreciate that effective online content requires more than just legal drafting – it also needs to be appealing to the reader (so in plain English, in a journalistic style) and if you wish to be found online, then it needs to be optimised for internet search engines.
Some firms recognise that they do not really understand content marketing, or they admit that their lawyers are not great at writing for the internet, so they outsource this but still don’t see any results. Sometimes this is because they go for the cheapest possible solution, which is a student or a low-cost provider overseas, neither of which have sufficient knowledge of the law or the firm that is being promoted. Fee-earners soon get frustrated when they have to spend time correcting basic errors and rewriting poor quality articles.
Other firms can be seduced into spending huge sums of money with SEO consultancies who are more used to working with vast consumer marketing budgets and have cool or cute cuddly characters to work with as part of their communications strategies. These businesses can struggle to apply the same techniques to the law, where detail, accuracy and gravitas are important.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is absolutely no point uploading lots of content to a low-quality website. This includes sites which are not mobile friendly, do not have https security, or where the blog section is non-existent, or hidden away and so provides a poor user experience.
How can you tell if content marketing is working?
Often, content production or distribution is seen as a standalone marketing activity within a law firm – separate (and less valuable) than networking or business development. This ignores the various roles which content plays at the various stages of the sales and marketing pipeline in building awareness and understanding of your skills and thereby creating opportunities for relationship-building with clients, prospects and intermediaries.
Different types of content perform different functions as the sales relationship progresses, as shown on the diagram below:
Some law firms seem to struggle with capturing all their enquiries (whether via phone, email, website or social media) and then tracking whether they convert to instructions.
Consequently, there is a significant and important gap in the management information that will tell you exactly which types of content are yielding the most profitable enquiries. The firms that master this are those which know how to maximise the return on investment in all their marketing spend.
What should a law firm marketing content strategy include?
Your content marketing strategy should set out how your firm and your lawyers will use content to deliver the objectives in your firm’s business strategy in regard to:
- Growth – from which practice areas and which sectors?
- Enhancing the profile of the firm, its practice areas, sector expertise and individual lawyers.
The strategy should at a high-level detail:
- Who are your audiences? What are their personas?
- Where are they? Local? National? International?
- What are you selling? What is your USP?
- Why have you made these choices and why do you expect these issues to yield profitable work?
- How will ROI be tracked?
Your content strategy should go beyond marketing communications to clients, intermediaries and prospects, but is also likely to cover how content can support other management teams, such as:
- HR – how will content support the recruitment programme?
- Regulatory – how will you ensure all content is compliant with the latest SRA guidance, such as transparency, diversity?
- CSR – can content play a role in your corporate social responsibility strategy?
- Finance – for listed law firms, content will be required for investors and analysts.
One of the biggest benefits of having a written content strategy is that it provides clarity and a frame of reference against which you can assess any new ideas. If a fee-earner proposes an initiative, you can quickly verify whether this meets the stated objectives and give it the thumbs up, or you can remind them about the strategy to explain why it does not.
What should a law firm marketing content plan cover?
While the strategy enunciates the big picture objectives, your plan will detail how these can be achieved and answers specific tactical questions:
- What evergreen content do we need?
- Who will be responsible for knowledge management - research and planning content for future legislation or new rules which will be coming into force? Who will research keywords?
- Who will be responsible for drafting (lawyers, PSLs or legal copywriter), editing (plain English and SEO), approval, quality control?
- Which formats does it need to be produced in – text, design, audio, video?
- When - is there a deadline or is this evergreen content?
- Where will this go - are all distribution channels mapped for the firm?
- How will it be shared and amplified?
We recommend that your content plan covers a time frame of three to six months. It should be reviewed monthly to ensure that the next three months are always rolled forward and planned in detail, and that content production is on track.
Keep a separate sandbox for embryonic ideas and horizon scanning for dates.
How can Berners Marketing help a law firm?
Berners Marketing has been helping solicitors, barristers, patent and trade mark attorneys to use content marketing to position themselves as experts for over 15 years – and our managing director has been doing this for even longer.
Whether you are setting up a new law firm or you are wrestling with hundreds of years of history and some slightly dated culture and technology, we can help you to start winning new business from your expert legal content.
We don’t promise any quick-fix solution. In fact, it might be an uphill climb if you are starting from scratch and are in a highly competitive practice area. Think of it as more of a long-distance hike than a sprint!
We can help and support your firm with the following:
- developing a concise content marketing strategy;
- advising you how your content strategy can dovetail with your other marketing and business development plans;
- clarifying your target market personas;
- refining your USP and your key messages;
- developing a content production plan to meet your objectives;
- developing a realistic content plan that is achievable with your budget and your resources;
- bespoke copywriting and legal ghost-writing;
- providing an independent assessment of your website and recommendations;
- helping you to map all your communications channels and introduce a system to ensure you maximise exposure via all routes to market; and
- helping you to introduce a system to track and report on all opportunities arising from your content marketing.
For a no obligation informal discussion
If you have any questions about any aspect of marketing for your law firm or would like to discuss how we could help with your content marketing strategy, please get in touch via the link below.
We are always happy to have an informal discussion with no obligation.