Creating content: is it worth the investment?

by Adrian Dayton
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Adrian Dayton

Is it worth it for firms to create content? Is it worth it to take fee-earners off billable projects to write blog posts, white papers, and articles for newsletters?

The answer is a resounding yes, if the content is created in a strategic way and if the firm buys in on the value.

Before we break down the worth of this content, let’s clear up an important distinction between professional services firms.

There are currently two types of professional services firms:

1) Those who believe in the power of content and marketing through thought leadership

2) Those firms who are so old-school that they still consider marketing to be uncouth and unbecoming of their learned profession.

This post is not meant for the second group.  

This is meant for the first group—the firm that has committed to building their reputation based on leveraging their brainpower through strategic content. We call this first type of content-marketing-focused firm “content creators.”

How much content does a firm need to create to fit into the content-creator category?

For a firm of 100 or more professionals, they need to create content at least weekly. For a firm that is even larger, there may be content created daily.

What does it cost to create great content?

In a law firm, for example, you need to look at opportunity costs. If a partner billing at $500/hour spend three hours writing a blog post, that blog post just cost the firm at least $1,500. If an associate spent a few hours researching for a post and then a partner spent a couple of hours writing the post, the cost of the content may be more like $3,000.

A CMO at a major white-shoe law firm in New York City shared with me that they estimate an email newsletter they created, taking into account all of the time spent by attorneys, marketing professionals and designers costs the firm $15,000, at a minimum.

Is it worth it?

Yes, but it is a qualified yes.

I have found that, if the content is leveraged correctly, it can bring a ten-times return or more.

Time

Professionals have a time problem. They are limited by the number of hours in the day so, when they aren’t billing, they need to participate in activities that have a multiplicative effect. Basically, they need to get a three-to-ten-times return on any time spent on marketing. Because all billable time will only have a one-time return (unless, of course, you have shady business practices), your content can market for you while you sleep (or, ahem, work on other projects) because your content persists.

What do I mean by content persists?

Anything posted online lives forever in the internet world. And this can be terrifying! But content persistence can also work to your benefit—your expertise and knowledge will now be accessible 24/7 to a worldwide audience.

The cost of creating content is somewhat established—meaning that time and expenses are somewhat fixed. Depending on the time it takes to create the content and the creator’s billable rate, the opportunity cost of creating the content may be anywhere from $1,000 to tens of thousands of dollars for more elaborate white papers of e-books.

What isn’t fixed? The value we can extract from the content.

Below, I have estimated the value of various manners of leveraging content. Please note, these numbers are estimates based on well-established market values of clicks. Google has created a massive marketplace for clicks and can tell you down to the penny what companies will pay to get a potential customer to click on content or on a webpage. We won’t go deep into the discussion of earned media value here, but a single click may be worth anywhere from $5 to $250 depending on the expected value of a deal.

Email blast: What is it worth when you send a mass email out to your known connections with your latest blog post? Assuming you have a strong open rate of twenty-five to thirty-five percent, having 200-300 of your trusted relationships take time out of their schedule to read something of value that you created is likely worth hundreds of dollars. If an existing client reads the email and calls you to give you a major new project, it could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. The bottom line is that if all you do is send an email blast out with the new article you wrote, you will likely get your money’s worth from the article. Let’s be conservative and peg the value at $1,500.

Personal emails: Take thirty minutes to send the new blog post you have written to five or ten high-value contacts who you either have a relationship with or who you are building a relationship with. They may not hire you immediately, but this is a high-value touch with someone you see a lot of long-term potential in. $500

Share the article to your personal social networks: It’s a no-brainer that you should share your own articles to LinkedIn, Twitter, and even Facebook if you have built up these accounts. Most casual social media users don’t have an incredibly engaged network so the value here could range from $50-$500. Let’s meet in the middle: $250

Have other members of your team share your blog post: Having others share your post can be accomplished by using software like ClearView Social or by simply sending an email to your team to share the article you have written. Assuming that twenty of your team members share your article, and their networks are less than half as focused as yours, the number is still going to be fairly large. Let’s say one hundred dollars multiplied by twenty networks. $2,000

Utilize a professional distribution service: In the legal world, JD Supra, Lexology, and Mondaq are three professional content distribution services and each uses a different method to get your content read by prospective clients. JD Supra has the impressive ability to get your blog post in front of buyers through search engine optimization (SEO) as well as influential social media among other methods, while Lexology has access to the powerful ACC list of in-house counsel. You create the blog post, they share it to a highly qualified list of potential buyers. Mondaq has their own list, but a fairly extensive reach. There are other forms of paid distribution that are also powerful but, in my opinion, they are all a bargain compared to the cost of creating the content itself. The average article I share on JD Supra gets more than 1,000 clicks. If an article really hits on one of these platforms it may get 10,000+ clicks. The value for a hit like that could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. And, if you use all three distribution tools, as some smart firms do, this will triple or quadruple the reach of a single article. $250-$10,000

Pitch the article to news media: This often requires help from a PR professional, but now you can you gain “earned media” from this article. A published article from a third party news outlet will create a more long-term notoriety that is more valuable than an ad that would likely cost thousands of dollars from the same publication. $2,000

A note to skeptics . . . 

I can already hear your argument: “We don’t care about clicks, we just want more clients.”

Remember, every client follows a path to your door. Nobody wakes up in the morning with the knowledge of who you are and how your company can help them.

You can argue that the values I’ve estimated in the article are too high, but what you can’t argue is that the values should be zero. Every single touch you have with a potential client helps you stay top-of-mind with that client.

The other argument I can already hear: “We don’t get clients from the internet, we get them through referrals.”

Let’s break that down. How do the referrals know you? What helped them remember you? Why did they refer the business to you and not to someone else?

The most powerful way we can get attention online is by giving of our knowledge and expertise freely.

Many will read these posts and continue to ignore content marketing and thought leadership, but they will do so at their own peril.

Conclusion 

Creating great content is costly and time-consuming, but if we look at the massive return on your investment gained by sharing your content through various channels, it may be the very best investment in marketing your firm can make.

What is the worst investment? Creating the content, posting it on your site, and doing nothing else to promote it. Or even worse yet, creating content in a PDF-only form, emailing it out, and having it become easily forgotten.

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Adrian Dayton
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