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Thought leadership is a process, not a product

Contrary to what many lawyers and in-house legal marketers believe, thought leadership is a process, not a product. A process-driven thought leadership program is a successful thought leadership program.

I’ve had a couple conversations recently with current and prospective clients regarding their thought-leadership programs. A common theme emerging from those conversations is that there’s some confusion about what thought leadership really is.

It’s easy to think thought leadership is just a product, like a bylined article, a blog post, or a podcast episode.

But thought leadership is a process, not a product. Law firms that want to create effective thought-leadership programs that engage current and prospective clients and referral sources have to understand this.

For most law firms, thought leadership is a process that has four components.

Prefer to watch a video about this instead? Here you go!

The first component of the thought leadership process is idea generation

Relevant and thought-provoking ideas are the lifeblood of an effective thought-leadership program. Lawyers, law firm marketers, and anyone else contributing to a law firm’s thought-leadership program need to be thinking critically about legal developments in the firm’s practice areas as well as what’s happening in its clients’ industries.

What issues are clients dealing with today? What issues will clients likely be dealing with tomorrow? What issues seem to be causing, or could cause, long-term problems?

Additionally, since we’re talking about thought leadership here, there should be some thought given to challenging the status quo. Lawyers and their marketing colleagues should be thinking about how they can challenge the status quo and conventional wisdom regarding the law and issues their clients care about. Doing so is a proven way to stand out from the pack.

This first component of the thought-leadership process is the core component. You have to know what you’re going to say, but more importantly, you have to know how to discuss topics that are relevant and compelling to your target audience so as to position you as a thought leader who challenges the status quo and doesn’t just repeat the same old, same old, leading you to be THE attorney your target audience thinks of when they need an attorney who practices the law you practice.

The second component of the thought leadership process is content creation

Once there’s been a determination of what will be discussed, the next step in the thought leadership process is creating the thought leadership content.

Who will be doing the heavy lifting on crafting the content if it is written content? Will it be the lawyer whose name will appear on the article or the blog post? Will it be a colleague? Will it be an in-house writer? Will it be an outside ghostwriter?

Who’s going to edit the content? Who’s going to design the piece of content so it looks nice in whatever form it will be published in?

Taking a bigger-picture view, how often will content be published? Weekly? Monthly? Biweekly?

Obviously, creating thought-leadership content is a necessary prerequisite for being perceived as a thought leader.

The third component of the thought leadership process is publishing and distributing content

Legal thought leadership can’t do its job—position the lawyers behind that thought leadership as leaders in the areas of law they practice—if it isn’t published and distributed in a strategic fashion.

Who at the law firm will be in charge of publishing thought leadership content? Is there a core list of places (i.e., email newsletters, social media, the law firm’s website, etc.) where that content will be published?

What third-party publications will law firm marketers reach out to to see if they’re interested in publishing this content? In what situations will a representative reach out? Who at the firm will be doing the reaching out?

What systems are in place to ensure the thought leadership content is reaching the right people by being distributed through the right channels? Who will periodically review the analytics to ensure this is happening, and if it is not, who is in charge of implementing a fix?

Now that a lawyer and their firm have ideas for thought leadership topics and they know how it will be created, they need to make sure they know how their thought leadership content will enter the world and be distributed so as to reach as many target audience members as possible.

The fourth component of the thought leadership process is being perceived as a thought leader.

Only after consistently coming up with interesting ideas, creating an efficient way to craft relevant, valuable, and compelling thought leadership content around those ideas, and then developing a strategic process for distributing that content, can the person behind those ideas and content be in the running to be considered a thought leader.

Unfortunately for that person, they’re going to need patience. A whole bunch of it.

Thought leadership is not something that happens overnight. Nor is it something that happens with an occasional article, blog post, or podcast episode. It is the consistent production, over time, of thought leadership content that doles out ideas, interesting points of view, wisdom, and knowledge to a targeted audience that is relevant, valuable, and compelling to them that allows the person behind the content to eventually be perceived as a thought leader.

An aspiring thought leader needs to be able to hang in there and understand that it could take months or even years of steady and consistent publication of thought leadership to be perceived as a thought leader by their target audiences.

That’s why the other components of this process are so important. Knowing what you’re going to talk about, knowing who’s going to create it, and knowing how it’s going to be distributed—and to whom—once it’s published all add up to a repeatable process that is a winning recipe for positioning yourself in the eyes of your current and prospective clients as the go-to attorney for the area of law you practice or the industry you serve.

The consistency that a process-driven thought leadership program affords a lawyer and their firm is as big a driver of being perceived as a thought leader as any content strategy developed as part of that process.

Trust the (thought leadership) process

It’s tempting to look at thought leadership and think of it as a product. But it’s not a product; it’s a process.

The quicker that lawyers and their colleagues understand that and begin mapping out a process that allows them to consistently and strategically create and publish relevant, valuable, and compelling thought leadership marketing and business development content that is perceived as such by their target audiences, the sooner they’ll have a thought-leadership program that bears fruit.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm strategize and create compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your firm.

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

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