Content. Content. Content.

Admit it, aren’t you kinda sick of hearing about content at every turn? It’s king (or queen)! It’s the future (and past) of all marketing! It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!

Word Failure in DictionaryLaw firms are pumping out more and more content every day in the hopes of … what, exactly? Client alerts, newsletters, blogs, microsites, LinkedIn and Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, webinars: the list of ways that lawyers are creating and curating content seems practically endless.

Predictably, law firms and lawyers are screwing it all up in their own inimitable – and still somehow lovable – way.   Just last week there was this great takedown of law firm content marketing by Lee Feldman on the newish Bloomberg BNA BigLaw Business community (you should give it a visit if you haven’t already).

But can we blame the lawyers? Since most big law firms have greatly raised the expectations for their partners and wannabe-partners in terms of bringing in business, a lot of cold-sweating lawyers are trying to figure out what to do. And fast.

Hmmm…. What’s one thing that lawyers think they can do well? Write? Right!

Well, yes. But no.   To not get too far off track, we’ll save the critique of most lawyers’ writing efforts for another day.

What is – and isn’t – content marketing

Many lawyers and legal marketers alike have mistakenly labeled basic, old-fashioned PR efforts as “content marketing.” Just because you wrote a newsletter about the latest developments in IP protection or SCOTUS jurisprudence doesn’t mean it’s content marketing. Emailing it to thousands and tweeting a link to it doesn’t make it content marketing, either.

So, what’s content marketing? Here’s what the experts at the Content Marketing Institute say:

“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

Andrew Davis (author of Brandscaping) put a finer point on it at last year’s Content Marketing World:

“If you want to drive sales volume, there’s no better way than tried-and-true advertising. But if you want to drive demand, use content marketing.”

Notice how neither explanation of content marketing talks about building reputation or raising awareness. That’s what PR does – and quite effectively. Those are absolutely valid pursuits for lawyers and law firms. Many of them are doing a good job at it, with measurably successful results.

But PR is not content marketing.

You may have been hearing about something called “brand journalism” or “corporate journalism” that many folks in marketing circles are touting, perhaps rightly so. Hubspot offers free resources on brand journalism, and John Corey of GreenTarget just penned this good overview of it and how law firms can benefit from it.

But corporate journalism is not content marketing.

At its core, content marketing’s main goal is to change buyer behavior or create greater demand for a product or service, without any direct selling. Or selling at all. (Check out these great examples.)

Content marketing can answer a question or fulfill a need that clients or prospects didn’t even know they had. It can be subversive or even provocative. It absolutely must be relevant and, most importantly, engaging.

How law firms lose their way

It’s easy to point out how most law firms fail at content marketing. It’s all in the execution, right? Too much content. Not enough relevant content. Boring or terribly written content.

Well, sure. But the real failure is in the lack of vision of what law firms are trying to get out of their content marketing.

Aha, you’re thinking, here’s where he bemoans the lack of a content strategy. No. At least not yet.

The real failure of law firm content marketing isn’t poor execution or the lack of a content strategy. It’s ultimately the lack of a business development strategy that acts as the foundation for a content strategy and the plan for executing it.

If you don’t know what type of business you want to pursue, and who you want to get it from, and how you’re going to do it, then the lack of a content strategy is the least of your worries.

This is why I cringe when I hear some marketers talk about how content is becoming the absolute essence of marketing. To me, marketing is so much more than just content, although good content is a vital part of marketing. But so is your actual product, market positioning and even simple promotion. And don’t forget pricing. Sound familiar?

It’s easy for law firms to fall back on their content as a quick fix to help lawyers feel better about trying to get more business.   But more often than not, there’s been no analysis or plan to make sure that business is worth getting. Or if something better is worth pursuing instead. Or maybe creating a new product or market niche.

What’s next?

Simple: Get your business development plans in place. Start small with a personal plan or a practice group plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated or anywhere near perfect to start, but it does have to identify the work you want to do, your goals and your targets.

Then, and only then, can we start talking about how content marketing – real content marketing – can be a great way to drive demand and, ultimately, get more business for you and your law firm.

Leave a Reply


  1. Andrew Davis

    Great post! Do you know AJ Huisman from the Netherlands? He’s the marketing genius at a law firm called Kennedy Van Der Laan? He’s been unbelievably successful in leveraging content marketing to drive revenue for the firm. He’d be a great person to talk to about this.

    Thanks for including my quote from Content Marketing World. Are you going this year? I’m doing a session called Moneyball Marketing. (Here’s a video preview if you’re interested…

    Have a great week!

    – Andrew

    • John Byrne

      Thanks, Andrew! And thanks for the reminder about AJ; the stuff you showed that he’s done was very cool… I definitely need to reach out to him and get him some more exposure to the US legal marketing world!

      My plans for CMW are still a bit up in the air; really want to go this year, but schedule may work against me. Your session sounds amazing! (and I loved your video!) The constant talk in legal marketing is about measuring ROI for everything, especially use of content.

      Hope you have a great weekend!


      • Andrew Davis

        Thanks! I’m really glad you liked my video. I do hope I see you at CMWorld this year. Hope you have a great weekend, too!