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What 2,886 newspapers can teach law firms about thought leadership

Law firms should avoid falling into the same trap that caused the demise of almost 3,000 U.S. newspapers


According to Northwestern University, since 2005, approximately 2,886 U.S. newspapers—about a third of the country’s newspapers—have gone out of business. That’s about 150 per year, or three per week.

There’s a lesson here for attorneys and law firms regarding their thought leadership strategy and execution.

These newspapers went out of business for several reasons, including ineffective management, shifting demographics, and advertisers moving their advertising budgets to digital ads. Obviously, there will be particular reasons for one newspaper’s demise that were not factors in the demise of another.

But the fatal mistake that all of these newspapers made that contributed to their demise is that they didn’t know how to make their content valuable to their target audiences—readers, subscribers, and advertisers—in the social media and internet eras. They didn’t know how to keep these target audiences coming back for more.

That’s an important lesson for law firms.



If your thought leadership isn’t valuable, it won’t be effective

If attorneys and law firms want their thought leadership efforts to be successful, they need their target audiences to perceive their thought leadership as valuable.

For their thought leadership content to be perceived as valuable, attorneys and law firms, like newspapers, need their content to meet members of their target audiences—clients, referral sources, prospective attorneys and staff members, etc.—where they’re at, and be seen as relevant and compelling to them.

With thought leadership, value comes in two forms.

First, value comes in the form of substance.

Is the thought leadership an attorney or law firm publishing relevant to a target audience? Can they benefit from consuming it?

Likewise, is it compelling to that audience? Do they enjoy consuming it? Do they want to continue consuming it? Will they subscribe to future email newsletters, podcasts, etc.?

In addition, value also comes in how the content is packaged.

We know that law firms tend to write blog posts, articles, client alerts, and newsletters. But not every client, referral source, or other target audience member prefers to read thought leadership.

Some might want to consume thought leadership in video form.

Some might want to consume it as a podcast.

Some might want to view thought leadership visually, like in the form of an infographic.

Still others might prefer watching an hour-long webinar.

It is incumbent upon attorneys, their law firms, and their marketing and business development colleagues to understand that their clients, referral sources, and other members of their target audiences (i) will want to consume thought leadership content in various forms, and (ii) will determine how valuable content is based both on its substance and how it is delivered to them.

The key to creating valuable thought leadership is meeting your target audiences where they’re at with relevant and compelling content

When attorneys and their law firms understand this, they can—and should— repurpose and repackage their relevant and compelling thought leadership to increase its reach and their target audiences’ engagement with it by making sure it meets them where they are at.

(It is table stakes for thought leadership to be relevant and compelling. If it isn’t, attorneys and their firms should focus on increasing the quality of their thought leadership before turning to repurposing and repackaging.)

The good news is that today, it’s easy to repurpose and repackage thought leadership.

For example, an attorney can take a blog post and turn it into a video by recording a video where they talk to the camera about the subject matter covered by the blog post.

Or, an attorney could start with a video and then take the transcript of the video, polish it, and make it a blog post.

They could take the audio from a video and use it as a podcast episode.

They could post a webinar on YouTube, or slice and dice it or other long-form videos, and use those shorter videos on social media.

The attorneys and law firms that don’t understand that their thought leadership must be relevant and compelling, and must reach their clients, referral sources, and other members of their target audiences where they’re at and in the format that they are going to consume it, are the attorneys and firms whose thought leadership will not be consumed as often as thought leadership from their competitors who know how to reach their various target audiences.

Attorneys and law firms should learn from the almost 3,000 newspapers that have sadly gone out of business over the past 19 years or so. Unfortunately, those newspapers did not understand how to keep their content valuable in the eyes of their target audiences.

Law firms need to make their thought leadership content valuable by making it relevant and compelling, and by putting it in the form most likely to be consumed by the people they want to impress and who they want to be perceived as knowledgeable and wise by.

Otherwise, they risk losing market share and wasting time, money, and other resources creating content that’s never consumed by its intended target audiences.

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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