corporate journalism for law firmsLast week I wrote about the 2014 digital and content marketing survey that was just released by Greentarget and ALM. This is one of the most informative bits of research available on the legal market (or more precisely on law firm marketing). As it only gets updated annually I thought it would be worthwhile to continue with the discussion this week.

But in this blog post I want to take issue with one of the major points made in the Survey. While doing a good job summarizing the current state of digital marketing practices, the Survey goes on to make a recommendation (which for some reason they characterize as analysis) that law firms should try to improve on their current marketing efforts by adopting the principles of Corporate Journalism in order to better stand out in the crowded digital landscape.

And what is this Corporate Journalism being touted by the authors of the 2014 Survey? They helpfully distill it down to the following three bullet points:

  • A journalistic commitment to accuracy, fairness and credibility
  • The critical notion that journalism serves its audience above all others
  • Direct, succinct, lively writing that favors plain English over industry jargon

This doesn’t strike me as analysis or sound advice at all. In fact, it sounds like something the authors could have cribbed from a college textbook on journalism or worse yet a CNN or Fox News promo piece. More importantly, I think the advice is misplaced and potentially misleading for law firm marketers.

Let’s be frank about this. Journalism is a struggling industry. Trade journalism in particular faces a crisis of epic proportions as its traditional audience is turning elsewhere — mostly going online — to get more quickly informed. So why should law firms think that the tenets of Corporate Journalism somehow hold the key to building an audience for themselves in the digital realm? Many other business and communication models leap to mind as more effective ways to establish a presence through social media.

Over the coming weeks and months I plan to write a lot more on this topic – providing my own suggestions about how law firms can go about building reach and engagement with their audience online. For now I only want to make a limited point. The Greentarget Survey’s enthusiastic endorsement of the tenets of Corporate Journalism as being useful for law firms is plain wrongheaded.

I should clarify that I have no particular problem with the second and third of their three principles — these are virtues we don’t consider unique to journalism. As business consultants, succinct and lively writing is the kind we aspire to ourselves and we encourage our clients to strive for it likewise. It’s really the first bullet point that seems problematic to me. Why should lawyers try to think or write like journalists? A lawyer, after all, is first and foremost an advocate, trained and more often inclined to get on one side or the other of any given issue. Fairness and accuracy only get you so far when the real task in hand is to be a zealous advocate.

So our advice to clients begins differently. Don’t worry so much about trying to sound like a journalist when you’re writing the next blogpost for the firm’s new microsite. It’s much more important to be and sound like yourself. Remember that engaging with an online audience starts by establishing trust, which is much easier to accomplish if you can figure out how to speak in your own voice, instead of hoping to channel the spirit of Henry Luce or Walter Lippman.

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