John McDougall: Hi. I’m John McDougall, and welcome to “Legal Marketing Review.” Today, my guest is Michael Jones of “Attorney at Law” Magazine. We’ll be speaking about law firm marketing through custom content. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Jones: Thanks John. It’s great to be here.
What Is A Custom Content Magazine?
John: Absolutely. Tell us a little bit about what a custom content magazine is.
Michael: I’ve been doing custom content publishing for about 14 years. We’ve had a magazine called “MD News” in the Boston market for 14 years. Essentially, what we do with that magazine is we approach folks with a view to telling their story.
Rather than just, like a lot of magazines and publications do, pound the pavement and try and sell as much display advertising as we possibly can, we tend to approach folks and potential clients, with the idea of saying, “Yes, we can run an ad for you, but, truth be told, we want to tell your story.” We want to have a much, much larger and more engaging conversation with our audience than merely an ad.
If you think about what an ad is, typically it’s a photograph or two, it’s a few lines of copy, it’s an 800 number. What we’re dealing in the healthcare space, and more recently in the legal space, with a service and professional audience that is much, much more sophisticated than that.
They really need much, much more room to not only tell their story, but to build their authority and let folks know what it is they do.
So custom content publishing allows us to put an editorial piece together under the complete control of the client. We do charge for the service. It’s something that essentially takes the role of advertising. It’s custom content, rather than display advertising, but it is a paid placement.
But, that said — much, much more control over not just the content of the piece, but how it’s presented, the timing of its publication, and all those things. It’s been a successful model in the healthcare space. Attorney at Law is relatively new, but we feel very strongly that it’s a great way for lawyers to get their message out as well.
How Has Advertising Effectiveness Changed?
John: How has advertising effectiveness in print changed over the years?
Michael: It’s not just print, it’s every kind of advertising out there. There’s so much advertising going on, on our phones, on our televisions, on our radios, in print, on billboards, gas station pumps. Everywhere you go, there are so many messages out there, that they simply are not as effective as they used to be.
It takes an awful lot to cut through the clutter and get noticed in an advertising space. There are few very, very rare examples, the “Super Bowl” being the most obvious one, where people do cut through the clutter if they have a good ad.
But, that said, I have found for the last 14 years that this kind of editorial advertising, if you will, the opportunity to tell a story in the guise of an editorial piece, to explain exactly what it is that makes you a particular topic expert in a given subject.
And to do that on a consistent basis is a far more effective way, not only of getting noticed, which is the first rule of advertising, but much, much more than that, of establishing authority, of making your phone ring from people who are truly already educated about what it is you do and really know that you’re the right person for them long before they pick up the phone and call you.
Picking A Niche
John: So you’re essentially saying the attorneys should pick a niche, right? If they’re going to write articles, they shouldn’t just write about personal injury law, for example.
Michael: Yeah. I would go further than that and not just pick a niche, but a sub‑niche. Or even a sub‑sub‑niche.
John: You were telling me a story earlier, what was one of the…
Michael: Yeah. There was one attorney I was doing a little research for, prospecting and just finding out some folks. There was one attorney who wasn’t just a personal injury attorney. He wasn’t even just a medical malpractice attorney. He was a medical malpractice attorney who specialized in one very specific drug that had caused some problems.
John: Dangerous drug. One particular drug.
Michael: Of course, quite potentially is the world’s leading authority on that subject right now. Knows not only all the ins and outs of what that particular drug did and how the injuries were caused, but also knows all the legal aspects of that particular case perhaps better than anybody else in the entire world.
Coming Up With Content Ideas
John: What advice would you give to attorneys when they’re coming up with ideas for content or preparing to be interviewed?
Michael: Assuming that the attorney is absolutely committed to custom content, which I strongly believe they should be, and that’s the first part of the conversation. But then, as you start thinking about how do you want to present yourself to your audience, what kinds of messages do you want to get out there. The first rule, I always say, is do your best to tell a story.
As a species, humans are predisposed to storytelling. Long before there was a printing press, long before there were typewriters, long before there was even widespread literacy, we used to communicate with each other via story telling. As a species, we are hard wired to respond to stories in a positive way. If you can tell a story, it is so much more engaging. The story could be anything.
When I’m writing a story or an article, I always try and lead with the four words we all associate with every story out there, “Once upon a time.” In your second draft, or your third draft, or your final draft, you may well edit those words out. You may well edit them to something like, “Back when I was in law school,” or “I once tried a case,” or “Three lawyers walked into a bar.”
There’s any number of different ways that you can open that story, and they essentially all mean the same thing. They mean once upon a time. That tells the audience right away that it’s a story. That’s a great way to start.
It’s just a neat little trick if you’re writing a piece to think of those four words and go from there. As I say, they may well get edited out later on. Most legal, business to business magazines don’t have stories starting with once upon a time, but it’s a great place to start your thinking process.
Common Writing Mistakes and Tips
John: As opposed to…what do you see the mistakes some attorneys making?
Michael: Very often, they’ll just start with a very dry introduction of case law or something that does not engage the reader. The other thing that you’ve really got to do is the, “What’s in it for me?” type headline. That’s another thing that folks need to think about.
Why should I read this story? What’s in it for me? That could be whether I’m the referring attorney who might be interested in referring a client to you, or it could be if you’re being featured in the local newspaper. Why should I read to the end of this story? It’s going to take me at least several minutes. I’m very busy. Tell me why. That’s what the headline does for you.
If a lawyer is writing a story for publication, either in a custom content piece or a guest blog post, or any number of those things, try really hard not to be too self‑promotional. It’s too easy to say, “Here’s a problem, and guess who can solve it. We can. Here’s our 800 number.” Now you’ve given the game away.
Now you’ve told everybody that this really wasn’t an editorial piece. This is really just a puff piece to promote your 800 number. Be really careful, as you are writing your pieces, not to be too self‑promotional.
The third tip I would always say, as we just discussed, “Niche down, niche down, and niche down again.” I think of people who offer services to the legal profession. Let’s say that you are a person who specializes in legal marketing, which both of us do in some form or another. That’s great, but I specialize in linked in marketing for lawyers. That’s a niche down, one step down.
You could take it one step further. I specialize in niche marketing for medical malpractice lawyers. You’ve now taken it down a third time. The more times you can take it down, eventually you will end up like that attorney who specializes in one drug and one drug only.
Too many attorneys, and not just attorneys but other professionals and all marketers generally, I think, believe that they are leaving money on the table because they niche down too much. In fact, the opposite is true.
In this day of the Internet, you don’t just niche down, you expand out at the same time because you win the Google search rankings the more authority you have. There’s a whole world of business out there, not just a city‑wide marketing net like we used to have back in the ’70s and the ’80s.
It’s quite possible to build a very, very successful practice by niching down at the same time as you expand out geographically. That’s the way to do it.
John: Well said. You mentioned earlier…I found a funny little side note. When you worked with doctors for 14 years, there was some difference in the availability for doctors to write versus for attorneys to write. They’re both very pressed for time. How do you find attorneys getting time to write? Should they pay someone to write for them? Or, does that depend on the attorney?
Finding Time To Write
Michael: It very much depends on the attorney. We’ve had a number of challenges. We have a bunch of physicians who believe they write like Hemingway but, trust me, they don’t. Then you end up with that challenge. Now you’ve got to tell someone who’s very well educated and perhaps has a bit of an ego, “That doesn’t quite meet our editorial needs.” That’s a challenge.
Typically what we have when we’re sitting down with a physician, and we do still publish MD News, or an attorney is, they love the idea. They think it’s going to be absolutely terrific to have, let’s say, 12 consecutive monthly articles in the magazine.
Usually, articles one and two come in no trouble at all. Article number three comes in, but it’s a few days late. Article number four comes in, and you get a panicked call a day before deadline, and they say, “I need someone to help me do it.”
The thing about physicians and attorneys, particularly attorneys, is they live by billable hours. They don’t necessarily want to give up important cases or postpone important work in order to write a story. It’s a great idea to be very much involved in the writing and to have your final say editorial as to how the piece is going to come across.
Make sure it comes across in your voice. Make sure, obviously, that it is legally and technically correct information. But, don’t be shy about hiring somebody else to write the story for you. They can do it so much more easily. Frankly, the best use of your time is to be doing your work and let them do that work.
John: That process is usually interviews with the attorney, for the writer to come up with ideas or how…
Michael: It can be a number of things. Usually, not necessarily so much as an interview but maybe just a 10 minute brainstorming. “I want to write a story about intellectual property law in this particular case. I want you to research that case and do a piece about why it’s important to this particular…”
John: It doesn’t have to take that long to get the ghost writer going.
Michael: It doesn’t have to take the attorney that long. The attorney definitely needs to see the proof and come back and do whatever edits they need to. As they say, not to just make sure that it’s technically correct, but to also make sure it actually does speak in their voice. There’s a middle ground there. You don’t want to necessarily be the one writing that piece, month after month, panicking about deadlines.
John: Unless you’re an attorney who does that well, and you’ve proven that, but there are a lot of attorneys that won’t take that time.
Michael: Exactly. Then, you don’t want to go too far the other way, either. You don’t want to abdicate totally and just say, “Hey. You take care of it, and I don’t want to see it again.” That’s not a great strategy. There’s a middle ground and, if you do hire a writer to do it, you need to be involved in the process.
Moving Beyond Print
John: And this content goes up on your site as well?
Michael: Yeah. We have the print magazine — and I do believe, as I’ve said many, many times before, print does bestow authority better than just about any other medium, even though it has become a little old hat in some people’s minds. It’s still…
John: It’s still a nice trust factor to have your face on the cover or even a nice article within the magazine.
Michael: Absolutely. It goes into the print magazine but yes, we’re a digital magazine as well. We have a vibrant website that gets a lot of SEO traffic. Articles that get put up on our website also include links back to the contributing attorney’s website, so there’s SEO benefit from that as well.
There’s a whole bunch of reasons why magazines like Attorney at Law have moved well beyond just the printed page. And that’s, of course, a critical part of what we’re offering here. There’s no doubt it can improve your social media marketing. It can improve your SEO. Improve every aspect of…
John: It’s good stuff to share. If you have a weekly article coming out, that’s a solid piece of content to share.
John: Yeah, and what’s the website address?
Michael: Attorneyatlawmagazine.com. The Boston edition is fairly new. There are about two dozen other magazines in other cities across the country. All of them can be found right there.
John: All right. Thanks for speaking with me today, Michael. Make sure to check out legalmarketingreview.com for more interviews and information on legal marketing. I’m John McDougall, and see you next time.