I met Robert Rose at Content Marketing World in 2015. He’s the founder and Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory — the consulting and advisory group of The Content Marketing Institute — and a captivating speaker. Robert is also wicked smart and has helped marketers tell their stories more effectively through digital media for more than 20 years.
He has provided strategic marketing advice for global brands such as Capital One, Microsoft, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UPS. And he is the author of three best-selling books on marketing.
Recently, I read his latest book, “Killing Marketing: How Innovative Businesses Are Turning Marketing Cost Into Profit,” which he co-authored with Joe Pulizzi, another leading authority on content marketing. My copy is now filled with underlined passages and notes in the margins about how I can apply the book’s lessons to my practice.
Robert graciously agreed to talk with me about how lawyers can be more effective marketers.
Q: Is there a “magic formula” for what companies should be doing to market themselves effectively? If so, what is it?
Robert Rose: Ha — I wish there was as I’d be selling it like a pharmaceutical company would. But, seriously, no. There is no magic formula for marketing in this very complex environment. I’ve been in marketing for 30 years, and marketing has never been more exciting, yet challenging. So many industries (including law) are being disrupted and the way we take our products and services to market is changing.
The good news is that everyone is being disrupted — so those who can innovate can truly change the rules of the game.
Q: Most people don’t need lawyers every day, so our goal is to be top of mind when a person needs us. In “Killing Marketing,” you recommend companies keep their audience’s attention over time by providing “other lines of value” until they need us. What value could a law firm provide? Or alternatively, what might make an audience loyal to a law practice?
RR: Yes, with some exceptions, lawyers are one of those services — like health care — that no one actually wants to purchase. And my advice to lawyers is the same advice I give to doctors and hospitals. You not only want to be “top of mind” when the need arises, you want to have the associated trust of the potential consumer. Again, in most cases, the buying cycle for an attorney is going to be, like medicine is going to be (or certainly can be), very short. When the need arises, it almost always has an element of urgency to it. And the one thing that speeds decision more than any other is trust. So, any accumulated trust with a consumer is going to put that lawyer way ahead of the competition and lower any client acquisition cost.
That’s why an investment in content can be such a game changer for lawyers. Creating an audience, and working to accumulate trust from an audience, gives you a larger and larger pool of potential clients. That trust is an investment for the future state when the need arises, and you are not only “top of mind” but a trusted source.
Q: In “Killing Marketing,” you recommend companies view content creation and promotion as a “strategic function of the business.” Do you recommend that law firms hire a marketer to their staff?
RR: In many situations, yes. That is obviously a business timing decision, but here’s a story. I did quite a bit of work with a legal services firm last year. One of the statistics that blew me away was that the average lifecycle of a small business law firm was 18 months. Basically, the “entreprelawyers” (as I ended up calling them) discovered about a year and a half into their business that they were only billable about 20 percent of their time. The rest of their time was spent marketing, selling and running their small business. That just became an untenable equation and so they gave up and joined a bigger firm.
Marketing in this sense becomes the thing that lawyers do after they get home at night. So, especially for those independent or small firm owners, finding an outsourced (or hired) resource who can begin to dedicate their efforts to marketing and selling (or creating content) can help scale much more effectively.
Q: Some lawyers have high billable hour requirements or are in an eat-what-you-kill environment. Do you think the lawyers who create content for their firm should be compensated for doing so? Should they be compensated just for creating the content? Should they get a percentage of the revenue that results from clients who find the firm because of its content?
RR: Wow, what an interesting idea. So, I won’t pretend that I’m an expert here, but I do believe that lawyers who are part of larger firms should have some part of their “job” be in the area of content creation. The entire premise of hiring a larger firm is the demonstrable value of the senior partners and associates at the firm. So, demonstrating that knowledge and developing that trust through the creation of content should definitely be part of the job.
Now, how that is compensated is the trickier question. One thing I’ve seen work in other professional services firms (high-end accountants) was that clients resulting from leads in the content marketing programs were considered firm leads and a commission was split between those who actually contributed to the program.
Q: Can a law firm tell its “brand story” even if it doesn’t want to share information about any specific clients? (We have that attorney-client privilege thing.)
RR: Absolutely. And, interestingly, I don’t actually think you should be telling the client’s story. The key to the “brand story” is demonstrating that you can provide the value that develops the trust in clients. I don’t think that talking about clients is nearly as valuable as writing about what it is you stand for. Now, actually taking a point of view and providing demonstrable value through content can be as daunting for lawyers (sometimes even more so) as actually telling that client story.
But creating value through content — and demonstrating that value by taking a point of view, or providing some advice — is a critical part of creating a brand story to begin with. If all the firm is going to do is write content that says something to the effect of “Well, you could do this, or you could do that — it depends,” it’s going to be feeding into the notion that all the firm cares about is its ability to be a “one size fits all.” And that’s not creating a brand.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for making the commitment to a marketing strategy, especially for lawyers with a heavy caseload or constant court deadlines?
RR: Yes, the key to creating a consistent marketing content strategy is to write ahead of schedule — so that you can deal with the “life” that gets in the way. One of my favorite pieces of advice, for example, for a lawyer who wants to start blogging, or creating content, is to write for six months without publishing a single thing. Have a backlog of content you can publish so that you’re writing weeks (if not months) ahead of time. That way, if you miss a couple of weeks because of a deadline or client issue, you can pick it back up again, without feeling pressured. In short — don’t publish what you write. Write much more than you publish.
Q: How long should a law firm wait to determine if its marketing strategy is working?
RR: Well, it certainly depends on the strategy. The key is to measure consistency and ensure that you are evolving, changing and learning as you go. What will happen, like most things, is not a switch where one day it’s not working and one day it is. Your marketing will begin to gain momentum, over time. It is very much like good health and fitness. You will get out of it what you invest in it. So, if I say at least a year, I’d like to add the caveat that you should see results before then. But, honestly, if you only put an hour a week into marketing, then don’t be surprised that you don’t have much to show for 50 hours of work.
Q: Are there any marketing tactics you wish law firms would stop using, and why?
RR: Ha! As soon as I name one, someone will tell me why it’s their best-performing tactic. But, honestly, I can’t imagine that billboards, bus station ads or the ads for employment law I see in the movie theater are that effective. Those always feel like “vanity ads” so that the person can see their face and name in lights.
Q: Law students are not required to take marketing classes, and yet as lawyers, part of their job is often generating business for the firm. What are your recommendations for lawyers who want to be more educated on effective marketing in an internet-based society?
RR: Indeed. There are a lot of great places for lawyers to learn about the newer marketing tactics and universities aren’t really the place. I would highly recommend some of the excellent blogs (cough … present company included) as well as some of the more digital marketing resources that are available. Examples include Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.
For more from Robert Rose. If you want more insights from Robert, I highly recommend “Killing Marketing,” along with his other books. He will also be delivering a keynote at Content Marketing World 2018 in September. It’s the one mainstream conference I recommend lawyers attend. They invite leading authorities to share insights on numerous areas of marketing. I always come away this event with a notebook filled with practical ideas that I can apply to my practice.