While the concepts of paid media, owned media and earned media are well known, less well understood is the relationship between the latter two
When Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”, he was not of course discussing the merits of a well-crafted content marketing strategy. And while a link with one of the better-known quotes from the father of Indian independence may seem tenuous, it seems an apt way of summing up some of our advice to law firms in recent months.
On 30 November, Lynn Dunne, Ashurst’s co-managing partner for London, was quoted in an FT article examining the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the office rules of UK companies. “We are monitoring the situation very closely and … have made certain changes in policy,” she said.
Why was Ashurst the only law firm approached for comment? Perhaps it was because Dunne was known to the authors of the article (who did not respond to requests for comment). More likely it was because ‘Coronavirus/Covid-19’ is one of nine dedicated Content Hubs on the firm’s website providing regular and helpful content for clients and prospects.
Ashurst, like many firms, is well-aware of the value of content marketing and has invested heavily in it. As a means of building trust with a target audience, it is a method of marketing that is about as sophisticated as it gets. Rather than preaching about your own product or service, providing content that is of value to your clients – whether it be entertaining, insightful, or useful content – and without any obligation for anything in return … works. Being interested, and demonstrating that interest, in what your clients are interested in … works.
In addition to securing the ‘quality eyeballs’ of clients and prospects, valuable content also serves another useful marketing purpose. In an informal survey carried out by our good friend – and recent Byfield hire – Michael Evans in August last year, Ashurst featured strongly in a six-month review of mentions in the Financial Times. Evans only included mentions where partners were quoted talking about trends impacting clients or where a firm’s research or thought leadership was cited. “These are key indicators of proactive profile-raising efforts,” he says.
Another firm that featured strongly in the survey – and outperformed many larger firms – was Pinsent Masons. Its lawyers are also prolific in commenting on business issues across different sectors and regions. And the firm uses in-house business journalists to assist with crafting headlines and editing copy. Matthew Magee, head of digital content of Out-Law, the publishing arm of Pinsents, recently outlined to my colleague Mark Agnew how the firm’s approach to content marketing has led to new business and other less expected results.
A lack of content on your website and social media makes it difficult to attract media interest. While it is important for firms to consider which types of media they are targeting (for example, legal trade press coverage can be important for referral opportunities and hiring the best talent, while premium business press exposure can help with raising awareness and brand building), it is the firms that are active in creating content and thought leadership that get the best results.
While media releases have their role to play, trade and business journalists thrive on being put in the know on trending topics. Working collaboratively with our clients, Lextel’s process involves identifying trends, backing these up with experts from your firm, and suggesting or introducing other sources (if possible, backed by original data) to help amplify a journalist’s story. By being proactive, we can influence journalists to reflect your messaging but also build long-term relationships for reactive media opportunities.
There are of course plenty of other challenges to securing mentions in either legal trade press or premium business press – including PR fundamentals such as identifying and training key spokespeople within the firm, creating ‘hymn sheets’ for them, and ensuring the consistent use of LinkedIn and other socials to position said spokespeople as active commentators in the market. But this can perhaps be the subject of another blog.
In practice, firms tend to flood their own channels with news about their own cases and deals. And while this is better than not creating any content at all, most of this content type will only ever make the legal trade press. “Which is ok but it’s the industry talking to itself,” says Evans.
Does that mean that commenting on issues and trends or other news about your own firm can be classified as more valuable PR than coverage of your cases and deals? “They are all important,” says Evans. “If you haven't got the basic building blocks of your own firm’s news in place you are unlikely to have a credible platform from which to talk about things impacting your clients. For example, for fee-earners, it can be massively helpful having coverage of your deals or cases in the press as well as being a thought leader on issues and trends, particularly if you are building your practice and client base.”
In short, any good communications function has to be able to cover all three areas effectively. Or, as Gandhi once said: “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”