How Lawyers Should Market Themselves: An Interview With Joe Pulizzi, Godfather of Content Marketing
I’ve written several columns that featured one of my favorite people in marketing, my friend Joe Pulizzi. His work has been instrumental in my marketing plans. Joe has released a second edition of his bestseller “Content, Inc.,” which is full of practical tactics that any entrepreneur can apply to their business.
He graciously agreed to be interviewed about how his recommendations apply to the legal industry.
In “Content Inc.” you recommend that content entrepreneurs should create content first, and then once they develop an audience, create products and services that fit their needs. Does this advice hold true for lawyers who want to start their own practice? Should they do this instead of opening it the traditional way?
Joe Pulizzi: I honestly believe this is a great strategy for any business in any industry. Now, it does take some courage to launch a business without products …but what I’ve found by building an audience first is that group of people is so much more receptive to buying anything from you. Why? Because they already know, like and trust you.
Of course, someone could just start a regular practice and be successful: use word-of-mouth, spot advertising and what not. But I believe the growth prospects of that business are limited. If you want to be regular, do it the old-fashioned way. If you want to change the world, build an audience first in an industry niche where you can be the leading informational expert in the world.
Some parts of the law are formulaic, such as what to do if you’re in a car accident. Should we avoid how-to content in these areas because they’ve been covered by so many other practitioners?
JP: It all depends on what your content tilt is. That is, what is your hook? Your area of differentiation? If you are talking about what do to if you’re in a car accident, I’m thinking that your content area is not specialized enough. How about what to do if your “electric car” or “self-driving car” is in an accident. Or “self-driving car” in “Alabama”? Even better, right?
So, before you start, figure out your why — meaning who are you targeting (exactly) and what are you trying to help them achieve in life? Then, the answers will come.
Lawyers often have knowledge about issues that prospective clients don’t even know are sources of substantial problems. Do you have advice for overcoming these informational deficits in our audience, particularly without boring them?
JP: Yes, if your content is stale and boring, that’s a big problem. Everything should be wrapped in a story. Give an example. Put the reader in the protagonist’s shoes.
Remember startup content years ago? It was all so boring. Then people started to create regular videos that were really interesting and fun, doing Instagrams, podcasts and TikToks. Even though you are teaching about the law, you are still competing with the Disneys and Apples for watch time.
I posed this question to Robert Rose, and I’d like your take on it too: 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 even get a percentage of the revenue that results from clients who find the firm because of its content?
JP: Yes to all of it. I think some firms could just say, “This is how we market, so you need to spend X hours helping us build the firm.” Or, you could onboard and say, “The more you help us build the firm, the more money or cut you get.” You get what you pay for, so if you incentivize for content creation, that’s what you’ll get, like an internal affiliate program.
What better way to teach lawyers they are all marketers than by paying them for it.
All that said, if you have a lawyer who makes $500 an hour and is writing a blog post, and they are not very good at it, and it takes them hours, that’s a horrible waste of time. Find an editor who can pull that information from them and create the content on their behalf.
Along those same lines, what’s your advice to people who need help making content creation an essential, ongoing task so they can consistently create valuable content and build an audience?
JP: Make time for it. Every day. Do the parts you love or are good at, and outsource the rest to people who can help you. When we built Content Marketing Institute, we worked with over 50 independent contractors to do various tasks that we either weren’t good at or felt weren’t worth our own time.
How much content should a business create before launching a new content marketing effort?
JP: None. Create the strategy and then start. The initial content you create will probably be terrible. But it will get better over time and in nine months you’ll start to make something (a content baby).
How much content should law firms have “banked” so they have new content to publish even when they’re too busy with other work tasks?
JP: I believe all content creators should work at least two weeks ahead at all times and have a content calendar complete a quarter in advance. Like it or not, we are all media companies, and that means we need processes in place to make things work.
What are your thoughts about lawyers who put their face on billboards and buses as their primary (or only) marketing tactic?
Right now, out-of-home advertising is on fire. My question is, does the tactic work? If it does, great. (Psst, from Ruth: “out-of-home advertising” is outdoor advertising. I’d never heard that term either.)
JP: That goes for any marketing activity. Content isn’t the only way. I think it’s the best way to build a long-term asset, but we should be experimenting all the time to see what works. For example, I think niche print is a gold mine right now. If I’m a legal firm, I’m looking into a quarterly print magazine for clients and prospects. There is simply no competition in that area right now.
To Learn More
My thanks to Joe Pulizzi for sharing his thoughts with us. If you’re interested in learning how to be more effective with your marketing efforts, I highly recommend his newsletter , books and podcasts. And if you have the opportunity to hear him speak live, make it fit into your calendar. He’s one of the handful of people where, if they’re speaking, I show up (preferably in the first row), shut up and listen.
Learn more about his books and podcasts here.
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