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Straight Talk for Lawyers and Legal Marketers on Content Marketing

Straight Talk for Legal Marketers on Content Marketing

For some, the term content marketing seemed to come out of nowhere – and with such urgency.  While it’s not new, this perception has created a lot of confusion among lawyers and legal marketers, and in the broad legal space, over what it is, what it isn’t, and how to do it effectively.

Recently Heidi Alexander, a law practice advisor with Mass LOMAP, invited me on the Legal Toolkit, a podcast by the Legal Talk Network, to bring some hype-free clarity on the topic.  The result – an audio interview titled Using Content Marketing to Grow Your Law Practice – was later syndicated by the ABA publication Law Technology Today and is freely available for subscription wherever you enjoy your podcasts.

I’ve embedded the podcast recording from SoundCloud nearby.  It runs just about 20 minutes long.  In addition, I have summarized some key takeaways from the podcast below for those that prefer to read or peruse rather than listen.

1) Content marketing is media you own

There are four broad types of media – paid, earned, shared and owned (the PESO model). Paid media is advertising. Earned media is news coverage or even contributed content. Shared media generally refers to social media.  A website is owned media.  You own the domain, the content…and the upkeep.

Websites are often static. When was the last time you updated yours? Other owned media platforms include microsites, resource pages, and blogs for example.  Typically, these are built on platforms like WordPress that make updating – a daily or weekly blog post – very easy.  They also provide both a reason (fresh content) and a mechanism to return – a subscription option.

Understanding what is owned media is important, because if you don’t own it, the rules can change.  That’s a huge risk and that can cause big problems in the future.

In 2009, your firm’s Facebook page might have gotten a lot of likes.  Today, it probably doesn’t get any (or hardly any besides yours) and that’s because Facebook changed the rules.

The lesson?  Don’t make home improvements to rental property.

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2) Native advertising is NOT content marketing

Native ads are advertising.  Ads are paid media as described above. A lot of publishers will tell you that native ads are content marketing. They mean well but they are wrong.  The publisher owns the platform, not you, so it’s important to avoid an overreliance.

To be clear, native advertising done well can be very effective.  However, what it is, and how it can be employed, are two different things.  There is a place for it in a grander marketing plan.  In fact, I’m a strong advocate of augmenting content marketing with paid media including native advertising.  This ensures your ad spend isn’t one-off, but part of an integrated and comprehensive program.

As a marketer (I am not a lawyer, or non-lawyer if you prefer), I believe there are some ethics with native advertising that lawyers should consider.  First, “native” means the content is designed to look and feel like editorial – if feels native.


There’s a raging debate in both marketing and journalist circles, let along legal, about whether or not this deceives readers. As a pragmatic and ethical marketer, I offer this rule of thumb: be sure native ads you purchase are clearly delineated as ads.

Second, you should include hyperlinks to your owned media content, but ensure the publisher marks those links as “nofollow.”  Most respectable publishers today do this by default (they don’t want to get in trouble either), but it’s important enough to merit checking the specs.

Why is this important?  Because Google counts the number of links to a site like votes – and as part of an overall search ranking system.  In native ads, you are buying links, and just like a politician shouldn’t try to buy votes, you shouldn’t try to buy links.  There’s plenty of value in nofollow links – especially as part of a larger content marketing program.

As always lawyers should consult the rules established by your local bar association or ethics committee. It amazes me how the rules for legal marketing can vary widely from state to state.

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3) Content as a legal marketer investment

Content marketing is an investment and investments take time.  There may well be a place for day trading in marketing – the look for quick wins based on the daily fluctuations in the market.  I don’t think the legal business is the place for it.

In many ways, the business of law is a business based on trust.  Consistency, transparency, and utility are the building blocks of trust, which is why these also have a role in content marketing. To that end, content marketing isn’t a program or a campaign, it’s a culture.

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Have a question about content marketing in the legal space you’d like answered?  Use the contact page to send us a note and we’ll see if we can answer it in a future post.

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Photo credit: Flickr, Wesley Fryer, Lawyer (CC BY 2.0) [cropped for size] 

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