Law firms and legal marketers are spending tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of placing their content on third party publications or distribution services. The reason law firms are willing to pay for this is to expand their reach.
These publications and services have created extensive distribution networks and are (at least in theory) widely read by in-house counsel and others in the legal industry. They promise to expose content to the law firm’s target audience and reach thousands of eyeballs.
The problem with this approach from our perspective is that law firms are paying these publications and services to help build audience for the third party publishers but not for the law firm itself.
Without valuable law firm content these syndication services would not exist. Even trade publications like The American Lawyer and The National Law Journal would be much flimsier and skinnier publications without law firm contributors, as round after round of editorial layoffs have left these publications increasingly dependent on externally sourced content.
Technology and the advent of social media have enabled any law firm to become a publisher in its own right and to cut out the middle man. Creating a blog is straightforward and inexpensive; promoting your blog through social media does not require any outlay beyond a modest investment of a person’s time and effort.
These trends are evident in the fact that many Fortune 1000 companies have significantly reduced their advertising spend in recent years and instead have opted to invest resources in building their own media channels through which they directly distribute proprietary content.
These companies now develop their own rich communications, with total control over what gets published, when it gets published, and how it looks and feels. And the biggest advantage is that it enables the company to develop its own distribution network and mailing list instead of just helping puff up the value of the syndication service or third party publisher. This is not only the case with B2C companies, even B2B companies are building their own media channels and bypassing traditional trade publishers.
For example American Express OPEN forum which launched in 2007 provides small business owners with a wealth of content and resources created by American Express. The overall strategy of the site today supports American Express’ mission to help small businesses flourish. AmEx’s internal editorial team works with editorial partners to create original content. AmEx also works with a mix of contributors, who are all business owners who share their stories so others can learn from them.
Another example is SAP, the enterprise software giant. SAP discovered through their experience that thought-leadership content drives much higher response and better conversion rates than more sales-driven targeted content. According to Michael Brenner who was SAP’s CMO when they began to integrate content marketing into their marketing strategy, thought leadership content is “…kind of counterintuitive, but it is what the data showed us,” Brenner said. “The conclusion was if you create content that’s helpful to the largest group of people, you will end up creating affinity, affection, and, ultimately, conversion.”
Another content-marketing lesson SAP learned that is especially important in B2B where high-value deals are typically involved, such as law firms servicing corporate clients, is that building a relationship is the only way to close a deal. That is why SAP began to shift its marketing model and scaled down their advertising (both native and traditional) investment and instead focused on building its own content distribution channels and creating thought leadership content that ultimately resulted in new revenue through lead generation.
Law Firms have an incredible opportunity to follow this same approach in building their own distribution channels. They have the capability and specialized knowledge to create highly valuable thought leadership content sought after by their clients and prospects. By creating owned media properties, law firms can own their relationship with their audience. They can cross-sell services more effectively and start to build a sense of trust with their readers.
Instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars to traditional trade publishers and legal content distributors, law firms should invest that money into their content marketing strategy. They should invest in the right resources, tools and processes that will enable them to create their own publishing platform. With the right platform in place, law firms will be able to create deep and meaningful relationships with their target audience. It gives law firms an opportunity to provide customized content and information and to measure, analyze and experiment with different content types and methods. See: COPE-ing Strategy for Law Firm Content: Create Once, Publish Everywhere.
Building an audience takes time and effort, but once a law firm has developed a loyal audience of readers, it can leverage this audience to generate real business results. Law firms need to consider the content they create as long term assets. The more law firms invest in building these assets, the higher the return on their investment. It’s time for law firms to foster and cultivate their own relationships; it’s time for law firms to build their own distribution networks. Law firms that do will reap rich rewards.
Updated and republished May 19, 2017.