I recently had the pleasure of hosting a JD Supra Office Hours training session with special guests Katherine Hollar Barnard and Hailey Kawecki of Firesign Enlightened Legal Marketing, an agency which launched in 2017 and specializes in helping boutique firms with their marketing. Katherine (Firesign’s CEO) previously held in-house CMO positions at two law firms, and before entering legal marketing was a newspaper reporter.
That one-two punch of seasoned marketer and experienced journalist is always an excellent framework for a conversation about content marketing best practices – however, I was excited to talk to my guests because Katherine and Hailey (an Account Executive at Firesign) use JD Supra both for their clients and to market their own agency.
Theirs is an important point of view. Considering that many in-house marketers are tasked with running their firm’s content marketing program but don’t always control of some of the crucial elements for that program’s success (like frequency of writing by attorneys, picking topics, crafting titles, etc) I was especially interested to hear from Katherine and Hailey about how marketers might market themselves.
How do you establish credibility and authority with your attorneys with whom you are working to create successful thought leadership?
As it happens, much of the terrific advice Katie and Hailey shared during the session applies equally, whether you are an in-house marketer and your “portfolio of clients” happens to be the attorneys with whom you work, or you are an attorney at a boutique IP firm and your clients count on you for a range of patent, trademark, and copyright issues.
The spirit of our discussion can be summed up in the two words Katie uttered during our program, which started this recap above: Experts write.
Here are some additional takeaways from the program:
1. Be consistent
Which means more than you might first think. Consistency in this case is two-fold: have a regular writing routine (say, a roundup that readers come to expect every Monday morning) and – perhaps even more importantly – maintain a consistent focus on your target audience.
Katie used Firesign’s client, AEON Law, as an example. One of the boutique IP firm’s missions is to make patent law accessible to non-lawyers. Each week they publish “Patent Poetry,” a summary of the week’s IP news written (yes!) in haiku format. One result of this ongoing commitment and discipline: Adam Philipp (author of the series and an attorney at the firm) achieved top author status for Patent and Trademark Law in JD Supra’s 2023 Readers’ Choice awards.
Two takeaways come to mind:
- If yours is a full-service firm, structure your content marketing program at a practice- or industry-group level, in order to maintain consistent focus on a particular audience. For each set of clients within your firm, you should be bringing different research to the table: what are our clients’ most pressing concerns? What do we want them to know right now? What news and developments may impact their business? All these questions, and others, answered at practice/industry level = the start of a solid content strategy.
- Practice what you preach internally, for your own credibility: consider (for one example) sharing an editorial/marketing tip on a regular basis, that appears in your firm’s internal newsletter or other such communications (blog, intranet, etc). Apply consistent focus to your clients (the attorneys you work with) to share your expertise and to remind them of your credibility.
2. Understand What Convinces Your Audience
Early on in her legal marketing career, Katie asked herself: how can I persuade the attorneys I work with to adopt my marketing ideas? Her answer: She would appeal to attorneys the way they are trained to appeal to the courts, with evidence and precedent.
With her training and experience as a journalist, Katie feels comfortable researching for sources – “cruising research” as she said on our call – in search of marketing ideas. As a result, Firesign’s own content relies on such research to present compelling and persuasive marketing ideas to their clients.
Katie and her team look for ideas and inspiration in accounting and real estate marketing – evidence and precedent in other professional service spaces – and translate their findings into action items for the legal space.
- The takeaway for in-house marketers is clear here: support your internal arguments with evidence (and look elsewhere for examples that you can fold into legal)
- The takeaway for public/client-facing initiatives, as you work to establish firm authority within a particular sector or industry, is well covered in this recent Firesign post (with great, real world examples): Your Brand in Action: Building Authority With Data
3. Look for Patterns
Again, which means a number of things, as articulated by Katie and Hailey:
For example, answer these key questions, and use your insights to build a content plan:
- What questions from our clients are we answering again and again?
- Which issues are we revisiting, all the time?
- What is something we wish our clients knew?
- What is something we wish we could change about how our clients do things?
See any patterns (aka repeats) in the answers to these questions? That’s the beginning of your content strategy.
My colleague Adrian Lurssen covers this idea of asking questions to generate writing ideas in this short video tip. Katie shared the example of one of Firesign’s most popular posts on JD Supra – The Hidden Costs of DIY Lawyer Marketing – which arrived directly from repeated client questions: What about the cost?
Here, Hailey also talked about Firesign’s delivery of a monthly KPI report to their clients, which includes a look at the client's popular content on JD Supra (for the past month and over all time) as well as “warm leads” – anyone who has returned to a piece of content, read it more than once, exhibiting an ongoing interest in the issues it covers.
In terms of identifying patterns, looking at most recent popular content as well as popularity across the entire life of a particular piece of thought leadership is smart. It enables you to identify timely issues that are earning attention right now and also to see the possible resurgence of a topic you covered some time ago but, for whatever reason, is important again and likely worth a revisit.
One takeaway that immediately comes to mind: if, in your in-house activities, you find yourself facing the same resistance time and again, the same skeptical question, use that as a launching point into an internal tip (as above), one that shows – with evidence – how others within the firm have overcome obstacles and found success.
As Katie and Hailey said during our session: reporting is essential. No random acts of content. Which means (another takeaway): revisit your most popular posts, write a next piece based on this proven reader interest. It is unlikely that you’ve covered everything in your one, well-read post.
One of Katie’s most well-read recent articles started as a presentation at the LMA’s 2023 national conference. The insight here is critical, in a profession where we are always busy trying to complete an ever-growing to-do list.
If you’ve invested time in preparing thought leadership to be delivered in one medium (in person, at a conference; online, in a webinar) repurpose your insights in other ways. It is as simple as that. (Consider: this post you are reading is a repurposing of notes I took during a Zoom training session for JD Supra clients!)
Here, Katie and Hailey made a critically important point about content failures, which also applies to the notion of patterns and data/reporting discussed above.
It sometimes happens that the content we think will really resonate with an audience does not. The publication doesn’t quite achieve lift off, and readership may be lackluster. Firesign recommends not giving up on the post. Instead, revisit and reframe. Often the issue might be in your initial framing. So, try again. Learn from what happens next.
In the very practical sense of who and how titles/headlines are written in your firm, this might be a vitally important way to establish your editorial credibility. If a post doesn’t achieve what an author hoped it would, experiment with a new title – collaborate with the author. Use this as a teaching moment about the power of a good title, and how you/your team can be relied upon to craft headlines that compel even more readers to pay attention. Your failures might become your biggest successes!
5. Tie Your Content to Your Sales/BD Cycle
Previously, I’ve mentioned an in-house legal marketer who, when she hears of a pitch team visiting a particular company around a potential matter, publishes thought leadership to do with that matter on the homepage of her firm’s website. The thinking: when the pitch team leaves their meeting, their prospective client(s) will likely visit the firm’s site, and should be able to see – front and center – content relating to the pitch. It establishes subject matter expertise.
Katie touched upon this idea when she explained her philosophy to email follow-up with clients and prospects. As she said, a mentor once told her: "to get into my inbox, either send an invitation, an introduction, or an insight." Firesign follows the rule by sharing insights. Instead of the unhelpful follow-up (“Have you decided to work with us yet?”) share insights that keep you top of mind while establishing your authority and credibility (“While you decide, here are three articles about website best practices that might help your team…")
Two key examples of another critically important insight during our session: be strategic about the way your content can support your business development, before and after the pitch. The implications of this are vast, and merit a follow up post of its own, covering everything from identifying those ‘warm leads’ in your monthly analytics report to send a webinar invitation to a high-value client who, you note, has become increasingly interested in a topic for which you don’t yet serve them…
It was a rich and rewarding session and I thank Katie and Hailey for their time. You can follow and read Firesign's latest legal marketing thought leadership here.
See you on the next Office Hours? I hope so…
Paul Ryplewski is VP of Client Services at JD Supra