ALM's Global Newsroom, Legal Industry Trends, and Diversity with Molly Miller, Chief Content Officer for ALM Media LLC

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ALM’s Global Newsroom, Legal Industry Trends, and Diversity with Molly Miller, Chief Content Officer for ALM Media LLC

In this episode of On Record PR, we go on the record with Molly Miller, the Chief Content Officer for ALM Media LLC. Molly leads the Global Newsroom at ALM, where she has worked for the last eight years, starting as the publisher of ALM’s The Recorder in San Francisco and then moving into marketing, product, and content roles. In January 2016, she became Chief Content Officer. Before joining ALM, Molly spent 15 years at LexisNexis in editorial, marketing, and new product strategy roles.

What makes the ALM global newsroom unique in the legal space?

The global newsroom at ALM is something that we put together in the beginning of 2016, and about six months into my role of Chief Content Officer we launched it. It was a way for us to create this center of expertise across all of ALM. We had phenomenal journalists throughout London, Hong Kong, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, and Miami, but they were not connected. They were not speaking every day, working on stories together, or building an enterprise together. They were working publication by publication, and we saw this significant opportunity to bring us all together and have us work on establishing great journalism across the board to transcend the brands.

We saw that new readers coming out of law school didn’t know about the brands. They didn’t learn about the brands and they wanted content. They wanted information and they wanted insight from content. When we came together that way, we rebuilt Law.com. That became the central platform to bring all of this together. We also understood that the brands were critical. You can’t flip a switch and have content tomorrow. You need stability, consistency and connection to the communities, year after year after year. And we had proven that, but what we needed to do is show to the legal market, to the readers, that we had the insight that they couldn’t get anywhere else. That is what we delivered by bringing everybody together. What is unique is the quality of journalism, the commitment, and the fact that it is to serve their readers.

We’re not trying to get them to buy something else. We want them to be able to learn and operate together, improve their businesses, and think about their businesses based on what we’re offering, not as a teaser to get them to buy something else. It’s important that we are working every day in journalism to deliver information that meets the reader’s needs, not information that simply serves some other brand goal. That is important to journalism and important to the quality of the journalists that we hire and retain.

Gina Rubel: I have had the pleasure of working with many of the reporters, editors and other members of the ALM team over the years. One of the things I do love is the fairness to the stories, which becomes possible through balance. That has been something that every industry hopes for —  when both sides of the story can be told. I also love reading about what is happening in the rest of the world. I only read The Legal Intelligencer back when I was practicing law because that is all I had access to. Of course, everybody turns to page two to see what is happening with everyone else in the industry. Having the ability to read about what is going on with the firms, whether it is an am law 100 or the NLJ 500 has been very helpful.

What trends are you seeing in the industry and how do they impact your business or your audience?

The importance of the general counsel, the legal department, and the decisions that they’re making, the innovation that they’re asking for, and the standards that they’re setting for what they would like law firms to deliver is a big trend. It isn’t always completely clear to law firms. It is almost a movement. Those expectations have evolved, and they’ve established new ways of working for both the legal departments and the law firms. I’m sure you’ve seen the series that we launched under Gina Passarella’s leadership on the Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSP) series, Breaking Tradition: How New Law is Challenging Big Law and how ALSP has affected the legal market.

That has been fascinating because again, it doesn’t just happen overnight. You don’t see new organizations and new approaches come on to the landscape and suddenly everything has changed. It takes time, constant understanding, and collaboration to get to the level where, for example, the clients want the law firms and all of their vendors to “get,” from the law firm side, what we see. I find this fascinating. When I started in the industry, there wasn’t the sense that a law firm or its managing partners felt that it was acceptable to want to, in a transparent way, know what their colleagues were up to. They may do that in close circles with trusted colleagues, but now they’re very openly looking for understanding of what their peers are doing. They ask: What have they experimented with? What have they found from those experiments? First of all, that it’s refreshing. We’re seeing the traffic around stories like that just explode, and we see that tremendously through any time of crisis. We’ve seen throughout the pandemic that everyone is hungry to know what people are trying out and to learn from them. They are being very open about that. It is helping the entire industry to look to each other, share best practices, share learning, share stories about things that went awry, and learn from them. Clients are reading those as well. In-house clients are interested in the firms that are willing to be transparent and talk about what worked and what didn’t.

Transparency applies to diversity. It applies to how we respond to the pandemic, how we respond to working remotely, and how we respond to the need for different types of tools and services. I’m fascinated by the role that journalism can play in this by telling those stories. As you said, Gina, telling all sides of those stories, not going in with a presumption that it is supposed to work a certain way, will enable you to find the stories, the quotes, and the people that will support a point of view. It’s about going in with a blank slate. I remember talking to someone with the approach of the novice expert – know enough to ask the right questions but also be aware that I may find out something completely new. That is the approach that we try to take. That forces you to always look for the whole story. First, you understand as an expert that there are multiple perspectives, and then as a novice, you’re always curious and open to finding something new.

Gina Rubel: What is so interesting about the legal industry is that there is no one way a law firm is run. You have cultural differences and differences from the business of law and law practice management perspectives. Having a collaborative nature with, for instance, places like the Diversity Lab, where all the firms are coming together and making diversity pledges — this is making a difference. They are holding themselves and the industry accountable. The reporters and the editors also hold the law firms accountable. It is a much more transparent world that we live in now. That has been refreshing because we are moving the needle.

Do you anticipate reporting in 2021 on how things have changed from a diversity perspective because of Black Lives Matter, and will ALM be looking at the data of law firms to see what has changed?

Tied to that is this real emergence of the importance of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG). That’s where firms are facing reporting the data. Metrics are critical. There are two lanes: the diversity issues and the challenges that everyone has struggled with. A law firm may be working towards diversity, but the numbers don’t show it. Making concerted and tireless efforts is going to be critical.

We must hold ourselves and our readers accountable, our firms, and whatever company type we cover. We cover legal, but we also cover other markets including financial services, insurance, and real estate. This is something we have had to face and say, “Are we ensuring that we are being reflective of the communities that we are covering?” One of the things we have been talking about is it is not about writing diversity stories. It is about ensuring that every single story we write has diverse sources. That is something that we cannot be lazy about. You want to get a story turned around, so you call the people you know. I tell them to make sure they know a lot more than the people that they have known in the last several years. I make sure they’re constantly building that pipeline of sources and make sure those sources trust you enough to return your call.

They must know that you are going to get the story right — it’s critical. It’s all of us holding ourselves accountable and it is going to make a difference. Yes, we are reporting on data throughout and tracking it, which enables us to be transparent about what we’re seeing.

Gina Rubel: The industry is realizing how important these issues are and coming to grips with it. Many of us are trying to learn how to do better and be better. We’ve gone fully virtual as a result because where we’re located is a rather homogenous community. We’re staying virtual so that we can open our doors to people from all over.  It’s exciting to see and I’m glad to hear ALM is holding itself accountable as well.

Molly Miller: Another example of accountability reporting is our Minds Over Matters: An Examination of Mental Health in the Legal Profession, which was a year-long investigation. We realized if we were just to write a story or two (or 10), we weren’t going to be effective. We needed to commit to it over a year’s time. It’s amazing to see what happened. In the beginning, firms were anxious about it. They didn’t particularly like that we were delving into mental health issues. They didn’t understand it well enough and that made them uncomfortable, but over the course of time, they developed much insight into their own programs and their own challenges. They started again to get transparent about it and want to have those conversations. It is critical that we do that for all of these important, essential core attributes to life in the legal industry and beyond.

Have there been changes at ALM in 2020 because of COVID-19?

Our business is made up of subscriptions, advertising and events. Advertising and events have been affected by COVID. Subscriptions continue to be strong. People want trustworthy information, and we’re seeing a lot of stability around that. I’m not in the events side, but I work closely with my colleague, Mark Fried, Chief Financial Officer and President of Events. His entire team is rethinking everything. That has been fascinating because content has been absolutely critical. They’ve always relied upon us to help support the topics and issues for events. But now that content is even more important, we are working even more closely together. This is a significant change.

The other piece that we have seen is there is a certain way to work in these kinds of times. I’ve noticed that people who love rolling up their sleeves and taking on major challenges are thriving. You probably see it in yourself and in your team at Furia Rubel. I see it in myself and my team every day that we’re not afraid of this. We’re anxious to do the best work possible for the readers. That is what drives us, but we have seen that not everybody is comfortable with that. We saw a little bit of change relative to that, and we have worked with that. Our leadership is focused on doing the best work and driving enterprise reporting — deep reporting — as well as getting news out fast so readers can act quickly.

We have seen change in terms of the types of people who are coming to the floor and saying, “I want to be part of this.” As a result, we’ve also seen some departures and I’ve gotten a lot of questions about that. We’ve had some phenomenal talent come through ALM and we hate to see that talent leave. We’ve been a training ground for some of the best publications in the world, and we take great pride in that. We saw about five departures in the last several months and it’s been tough for us because those are great people and great talent, but we actually also support them. We’re anxious for people to be able to go out and make their name in other ways.

Our strategy is to promote from within for leadership positions and hire new talent for reporter positions. We train them because we know we have the best people leading the organization. They know these areas. They know how to hire, frankly. We have some of the best people doing the hiring, but they also know how to train, bring people along, and be consistent, not assuming it is a six- or eight-week program.

What is the next step in the ALM global newsroom plan?

We launched Law.com International with our stringers across the globe in January 2020. It has exceeded absolutely every single expectation that ALM has had for it. The approach that we took is interesting. We focused on where we already had great reporting in London and Hong Kong. We already had newsletters, which we converted to Briefings and gave those reporters and editors a platform to educate those markets. Then we placed reporters throughout the globe. We are in Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. What we’re seeing is a hunger to find out what peers are up to globally. That has been exciting for us to have the Law.com platform and the amazing talent that we have in the U.S., U.K., and Hong Kong, and expand upon that. We are going to continue to hire across the globe, including in Canada.

In February, we launched a completely new product for us called Legal Radar which is personalized and AI-powered legal news delivery. If you haven not registered for Legal Radar, you all should because you can register and get access to it at no charge for a short time. It’s exciting because we looked at unmet needs. We looked at the fact that everybody is on social media. They don’t have a lot of time. We did a lot of beta testing of this concept. We’ve done 17 releases since the first release in February throughout the pandemic. You can decide to follow certain practice areas, law firms, clients, industries, regions, and get news clips. You can have notifications on your desktop or via the iOS app that will be available in the fall. This program is becoming the foundation for supporting the newsroom. The newsroom is also using it. We are developing trend analytics to be able to inform readers what is happening by practice area and by industry. That is exciting for us, and it becomes a real front door to all of the other solutions we have.

We’ve talked a lot about ALM, but I want to talk a little bit about Molly Miller. What achievement are you most proud of?

What I am proud of and love the most is leading teams. Maybe the fact that I love it is why I am so proud of it. It is always been the best part of every job. I love substance. I love digging in. I love doing the work and I love solving problems, but I truly get up every day to be with my team, to support them, and to help them become great leaders. When I came into the role and I started setting up one-on-ones with my team members, I had editors say, what is this “1:1”? And I said, “It is a one-on-one.” I realized that they had never had one-on-one meetings. They said, “I talk to my editor all day long.” Well, of course that makes complete sense, but, I told them, “We need to talk about you and what you want and where you want to go.” Those conversations are critical, and it’s been such a huge, amazing experience to bring that to a newsroom and see the change. People feel like they are heard and seen, and then they want to give that to their team members, their staff, and their reporters and editors. It is amazing to bring that and to experience it every single day. Yes, I am proud of that and will continue to be proud of that through the rest of my career.

I am not surprised you said that because you are a giver, but I am not going to let you off the hook without telling us a little bit about the Gertrude Crane Award. What did you receive it for?

I never even put that on my LinkedIn profile, and I know you are supposed to do that. I did get the Gertrude Crane Award, along with other great woman leader journalists. I was proud of it because it has to do with supporting women in B2B media and bringing that to other women — demonstrating leadership on how you do this, how you bring all of your skills to the table, and support others to do the same. I feel like I’ve ensured that I bring along everyone, not a particular group of people, not just women. Obviously, though, there hasn’t always been a lot of women in our professions, and certainly not at the executive table. It is important to be part of that and help women be seen. We are surrounded by many talented people and often, it’s just that women have not been given the floor. And they don’t always know because of the way they grew up in the profession that they have the floor to take. I felt like I got that chance with the Gertrude Crane Award. It was awesome too because I got to do a speech at the award ceremony and I got to talk about all of the opportunities that I’ve had, but also that I created for women. And I do feel very proud of that.

Do you have any books that you would like to recommend to our listeners?

I read a lot of business books and I feel like when I am coaching people, I recommend that — especially if, for example, you are in journalism, and you’re interacting with businesspeople all day long. Read a lot of business books. My husband used to make fun of me because he said, every time I got a new job, I got another MBA because of the amount of reading that I would do. There is one business book in particular that stands out for me, What Customers Want: Using Outcome Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services by Anthony Ulwick. After reading it, I shifted out of thinking that we know what people want, what readers want, what colleagues want.

It is this very blank slate approach where you look at what people are trying to accomplish, what they will do with the information. By understanding that, you will much better deliver information that is actionable for them and is differentiated from what others are doing. That book inspired me to never be defensive. You could tell me anything you don’t like about what I write or do, or ALM, and I would be open because it shifts you. It takes you out of this approach that you think you’re right, that you think you’re doing it right. You think that you must protect what you’re doing. Know what you need to do is change and evolve to better address what your team needs, what your customer needs, what your reader needs. That was life-changing for me. I highly recommend it.

Turning the tables, do you have any questions for me?

Molly Miller: I have always wanted to ask you, given your connections in the market and your history, what makes you want to talk to a journalist? What makes you think, “Okay, I want to pick up the phone and there is a journalist whom I want to talk to.” What is it about that journalist or that editor that makes them someone that you want to talk to?

Gina Rubel:

Just like journalists know who they can trust, we know who is going to bend the story the way they want to tell it. It is important for us to be able to get fairness. For example, we worked with a client that had a lawsuit filed against them, and I did not know the reporter. I reached out and explained the other side to this story. I told him that he should read the responsive brief because he published a disparaging headline. Two days later, the second-day story was not so much a retraction, but, “here is the other side of the story and, by the way, the lawsuit has been withdrawn.”

Just being able to say that and have that person pick up the phone and listen builds trust. It is trust. If I say I am off the record, or my client is off the record, I mean that. I know to always get that buy-in either verbally or in writing. But it is a relationship. I tell our clients not to expect to have a relationship with a reporter you do not know. A relationship is just that. You need to get to know them. That means reading what they write, understanding where they are coming from and developing a relationship before you have a need. I love working with people who are open to picking up the phone, too. That is important because if we solely communicate via email, things get lost in translation.

Molly Miller: I agree with you about the fairness and trust. People need to understand that these businesses take years and effort. I have this expression, “Do the work. Don’t ever think you can just skim along on the surface. You’ve got to commit and go deep. It shows in the work you do. it shows in the work we do.

Gina Rubel: I will say this as a message to the reporters – know that one headline can bring down a company. Understanding what you’re saying and making sure that they have that two-way conversation is important because it is not just the company you are bringing down, it is everybody who works for it. There is a huge responsibility. I don’t know that a lot of young journalists understand that yet. To be clear, I would not say this about ALM. It needs to be fair because it is life-altering. There is a fiduciary duty to report accurately. I feel like we have a duty to give you accurate information. It is a fine line that we walk. With many reporters, we get to walk that line together carefully to make sure that it is fair.

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