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Content Marketing Tips for Lawyers
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Content Under Pressure

Content Strategy: What It Is and What It Isn’t

By Susan Kostal

One fact that’s always acknowledged in this column is that good content requires effort. It requires yours (which equals time and money) or someone else’s (which equals less time but more money). When speaking, I’ve railed against random acts of content and one-offs. Everything you publish needs to adhere to your content strategy. To do otherwise is an exhausting waste of resources.

But What, Exactly, Is a Content Strategy?

There are dueling definitions. Some people confuse content strategy with a plan for what to publish where. That’s important, but it’s not the strategy. I like this definition from Hannah Smith and Adria Saracino, who were colleagues at online marketing agency Distilled. They write:

“Content strategy is the high-level vision that guides future content development to deliver against a specific business objective.”

Content strategy is like a marriage vow — it governs everything, and everything should come back to upholding that vow. It will guide your budget, help you find the right content opportunities and, more importantly, teach you how to say no to the many individuals who will tempt you to redirect your course.

Ah, you say, this is easy. We are an employment law firm. We’ll write about employment law. Content strategy complete.

Sorry, no. It’s far more sophisticated than that.

We’ll explore in detail how to develop a content strategy in posts throughout this year. The task, with a nod to Smith and Saracino, comes down to this:

  • Company research
  • Customer research
  • Competitor research

This provides the data that will show you what to write, for whom, how and where.

But before we get to that, go back to the definition above, and the key phrase “specific business objective.”

This is what takes some hashing out, in a cross-disciplinary fashion. What are your goals? Strengthen SEO? Connect regularly with existing clients? Establish the firm as a player in a new sphere or market? Develop a micro-niche practice? Promote a chief rainmaker? Raise your rankings on a widely used publishing platform? Develop a content portfolio for awards submissions or RFPs? Promote the firm as culturally appealing for recruiting purposes?

These are all very different goals, and it’s quickly clear that you can’t accomplish them all. And, unless your content team rivals that of The New York Times (and even they cut staff last year), you shouldn’t attempt it.

Once you identify that business objective and get stakeholder buy-in, you can begin crafting your content strategy.

Task No. 1: Identify Your Business Objective

So, the task for this first month in our year of exploring content strategy is to identify your business objective. This means getting out of your silo. If you are an attorney, talk to your colleagues and partners. If you are a marketing professional, talk to your team, as well as folks in BD, public relations, social media and web management. Talk to firm leadership about the firm’s objectives, and the specific objectives of practice groups. Be ready for a litany of voices. Then prepare to pick one or two objectives and politely but firmly say no to the rest.

This important exercise helps you develop the talking points necessary to bring others on board with your content strategy plan, even if it doesn’t meet their immediate need.

Keep this goal front and center. And by that, I mean on a whiteboard, as a poster, anything you will see daily, and that anyone who works with you can see. This is your North Star. Keep it in sight.

Coming Next

In the following months, we’ll look at what you need to know about your firm and its financials, your clients, your competitors and the publishing landscape — all of which shape your content strategy. Then we’ll explore types of content that meet those objectives.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Susan Kostal Susan Kostal

Susan Kostal is a legal affairs PR, marketing and business development consultant based in San Francisco. She is a contributing editor for Attorney at Work and writes the “Content Under Pressure” column. Susan has covered legal affairs as a journalist for nearly three decades. You can follow her on Twitter @skostal and view more of her content at www.susankostal.com.

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