Insights

Establish a “Content Committee” to kickstart your law firm’s content marketing strategy

9 November 2018  |  by Paul Evans

Key takeaways

  • A “Content Committee” with the right setup, mindset, and documentation can ignite a law firm’s content marketing.
  • Starting with a pilot group is a great way to show the rest of the firm what can be done and the types of results they can expect to see.
  • The “Content Committee” isn’t responsible for producing all the content of the firm, but rather making sure everyone in the firm is accountable and that all content meets a certain standard before it’s published.

Really, a committee?

Committees. I’ve been a member of them; I’ve chaired them; I’ve even set them up. But in the spirit of full and frank disclosure, I really don’t like them.

In most instances, I believe that “decision by committee” is the definition of a disaster. What I’ve often seen is an endless amount of time spent discussing ideas and debating pros and cons, with no one willing to voice their opinion in front of fellow committee members. Instead, they simply defer to one another and when a decision is finally made, it’s a watered down or disfigured version of what actually needs to happen.

A camel is a horse designed by committee – English Proverb

That being said, content committees are an exception to the rule. I’ve seen how they function in law firms and I’ve seen them work well.
There are three reasons they work so well:

  1. They’re not about generating ideas.
  2. They’re solely about getting things done and quick decision-making.
  3. They keep everyone honest and accountable – when the right protocols are in place.

What is content and why should a law firm produce it?

There are many ways to answer this, and we could do an entire series on content production and distribution. However, let’s keep things simple today with a broad explanation.

The main reason to produce content in any industry is to either educate or entertain your reader. In law, we can safely assume the primary reason people are coming to your content is to learn something, not be amused!

Content in the context of law firms is anything that helps educate the person consuming it. It typically has two purposes:

1. Get people thinking, and / or
2. Help people to take action.

It also needs to be tied to a business goal. You can read more about these goals on our post on evergreen content for law firms.

The topics are endless, as is the method of delivery. But as long as it’s relevant, useful and educational – it has the potential to be effective.

Why do we want to educate readers?

Put simply, people don’t know what they don’t know.

A lot of the time, people don’t even know that they have an issue that needs solving. Or they know they have an issue, but have no idea how to start solving it.

As marketers, we know that most new work for a law firm will come from existing clients or referral sources.

When content is done well, it’s often the catalyst for a referral. It’s the “tangible” knowledge that gets shared and demonstrates that your lawyers understand their issues, business or industry.

If your target audience is alerted to an issue or potential problem, they’ll want to know if and how it might affect them or their business, and what can be done to address it.

If you position your content well, your firm’s content will be the first to educate these readers about the issue. This will show that your firm is up-to-date with industry and legal developments, and that you understand their problem enough to recognise what’s relevant. This raises the likelihood that they’ll turn to your firm for an answer.

What is a content committee?

A content committee is a group of people responsible for ensuring content is produced by the law firm. As a guide, it will involve one or two lawyers from each practice group and a member of the marketing or communications team.

The lawyers will become the “content representatives” for their area of law.

Tip: Marketing and business development efforts should be taken into account as a part of the committee members’ performance reviews.

If the firm has more than one office, try to include individuals across offices and conduct meetings by video conference. By having representatives from all practice groups and offices, you have a greater chance of ensuring your content reflects the firm’s expertise in all relevant areas of law and jurisdiction.

Tip: Don’t exceed more than seven or eight members, or you’ll never get a consensus about anything!

If your firm has a lot of practice groups, try to bundle some of them into more general categories for this purpose. Similarly, if you’re a multinational firm, it may be worth considering multiple content committees across locations.

What’s the purpose of a content committee?

A content committee’s mandate is to create accountability and ensure content matches your goals and standards. Each member is a content representative, and armed to make decisions on behalf of their practice group.

It doesn’t mean that the lawyers on the committee are necessarily creating all the content – but rather, they are responsible for generating ideas for relevant and noteworthy content and bringing in others to handle the execution.

When someone in a practice group (or whatever the committee’s area of responsibility is, e.g. industry, client group, etc.) has an idea, they should go to their local “content contact” and run it past them. The committee then makes a quick, final decision at the meetings as to whether or not the content should be created; essentially using a voting (yes/no) process.

The goal is that they’ve been vetted by the content representative before the meeting begins, so most of the topics should be voted as “yes”.

Regardless of whether your firm bills on time, fixed price or value-pricing, it’s important to consider measuring how much time a lawyer(s) will need to create the content, as well as the benefit it may have for marketing, learning and development, and industry leadership. It may, in certain circumstances, be worthwhile having outside help produce first drafts of content. We can recommend copywriters who specialise in legal writing.

What is the marketing person’s role in the committee?

In a nutshell: making it all happen.

Your firm’s lawyers are busy, and marketing can take a backseat to billable work even though marketing is vital to the practice’s development. It’s the marketing person’s job to maintain the momentum and keep everyone accountable. S/he is the chair’s right-hand person.

Other tasks that will logically fall to the marketing professional (or team) are:

  • distributing content both internally and to the firm’s content mailing list.
  • posting content to the website, the firm’s social media pages etc.
  • crafting the SEO page titles and meta descriptions.
  • email marketing.
  • amplifying the content beyond “owned” media to “earned” media.

What’s the purpose of the committee meetings?

The main purpose of the committee meeting is accountability and ensuring your content is working as well as it can, and for the marketers to offer support wherever possible.

The meetings should be quick (no more than 30 minutes) and as a basic rule, the agenda should cover the following items:

  • What’s been posted since you last met?
  • How did the content perform? (Consider quantitative and qualitative feedback)
  • Are there any opportunities to repurpose the content?
  • What’s coming up for the next period? (Yes/No vote)
  • Are any obstacles likely to arise?
  • What can you do to make this next period even more successful?

The marketing team should pre-fill the answers to these questions for the Chair and then circulate this information to the other committee members a few days before the meeting. If you’ve done a distribution campaign (email marketing, social, etc.) you could add some engagement analytics, such as email open rates, social click through rates and comments, page views and average time spent on the page.

Tip: Committee communications are a lot like giving a team member feedback. Do it often and as needed; don’t wait for the next formal meeting to discuss something.

The marketer will come away from the meeting and produce a schedule that makes sense based on what else is happening within the firm.

How often should the committee meet?

In the beginning, meet every 4 to 6 weeks to make sure everything is in place and running smoothly. If you can keep your communications going without the need to meet, you may then reduce meetings to once every 2 to 3 months.

Communications between the committee should be more regular. It is the marketing person’s responsibility to follow up on action items and ensure things are progressing between meetings.

How do I establish a Content Committee?

1. Establish a draft charter.

This doesn’t need to be more than a page long, but should set out:

  • the purpose of the committee (e.g. to create useful information for current clients, provide information for referrers to use in recommending your firm, gain the attention of prospective clients, etc.).
  • members’ roles (everyone should have the same role except the Chair and the marketing contact).
  • the Chair’s role – ideally a senior lawyer or partner, to help maximise buy in. Having a senior lawyer act as Chair is particularly important to ensure accountability of authors and demonstrate to other lawyers within the firm that they must view content as an important part of the marketing program.

2. Approach the right people within the firm to become members.

Ideal candidates are people who:

  • are connected and well liked within their practice group, which is important for rallying others.
  • already write a number of articles and understand the importance of creating helpful content. They should be able to lead by example, which gives credibility when encouraging others to get involved.
  • are a mix of senior and mid-level (Associate/3-4+ years’ PQE). You should also have at least one partner involved.

3. Schedule the first meeting.

At the first meeting:

  • explain the purpose of the committee and meetings. Run through the charter, making agreed changes where necessary.
  • discuss your ideas for content and how regularly you want to produce it. Use a pilot group as an example of what’s expected in terms of content. If you agree to a schedule in advance, it helps maintain momentum, establish expectations, and keep people accountable.
  • decide on a communication channel for the group (email group, instant messaging etc.).

4. Make it count.

Make the most of the meeting by being as prepared as possible. You should:

  • finalise the charter as soon as possible after the first meeting.
  • speak to HR or the Practice Manager (or even the Managing Partner, if appropriate) about the people involved. Work with them to ensure that the committee will receive acknowledgement in their review process.
  • communicate the establishment of the committee to the firm. Explain its purpose, how it will operate to create content and who their representative is.
  • agree on your firm’s protocol for attributing authors and communicate this to the firm. Even if all pieces of content need a senior lawyer to be included as the key contact, it’s important to acknowledge anyone who made a significant contribution to producing the content.
  • schedule a firmwide email for each Monday morning (or fortnightly) that outlines:
    • the next scheduled post/topic, author(s), and responsible committee member; and
    • recently produced content, who created it, and a draft LinkedIn post for your lawyers to copy and paste to their profile (if it’s relevant to their practice). Include the link to the relevant page on the firm’s website and an image to accompany it. Posts with images are more likely to be read than those without.
    • The rationale here is to maximise the credit within the firm for those who are contributing to the content. By communicating planned posts, you create accountability.

5. Plan ahead.

Have the committee members (or pilot group) plan out a few posts before you publicly launch the committee. That way, you have a few pieces planned out and ready to go when you launch the committee.

6. Maximise your content.

Let’s assume someone in the firm has produced a text-based piece of content – think about the cost of writing it; their hourly billable rate, your time, the opportunity cost, and other resources used. When you create content, you must maximise it. This will depend on the size of the firm, marketing team, and resources available, but it’s important to always consider how content can be repurposed.

Does the topic you’re working on relate to an event you’re participating in or hosting? Pitch the content as a promotion piece for the event.

If your article covers an important or ground-breaking issue, pitch it to industry conference organisers.

Consider how well the piece would translate into a video or audio podcast where you “interview” the authors on the topic.

Repurposing content into different forms will allow you to cover different channels, such as YouTube or a similar hosting site, which you can then share on the firm’s website. If the article can be adapted to pitch to an industry publication, it would take less time than creating an entirely new article from scratch. However, you must be sure to rework it thoroughly, since most external publications are unlikely to want to print something that has already been published in the exact same format, even if only on the firm’s website.

What tools should the committee use?

Establish a content calendar that details when you’re going to send out posts. Most firms use Outlook, where you can easily set up a shared calendar for this purpose. At Toro Digital we use Google Calendar. You might also want to create a spreadsheet setting out what’s due when and share it on the firm’s Intranet. If everyone is aware of what’s planned well in advance, it’s harder for people to avoid or claim they forgot deadlines!

You’ll also need a combination of…

  • A social media scheduling tool (such as Buffer or Hootsuite)
  • A blogging platform (usually your firm’s website)
  • An email marketing tool (such as Campaign Monitor)
  • If you’re doing multimedia content, a video content service (Youtube, Vimeo, Wistia, etc.)

Or an audio content service (such as SoundCloud). Tip: If your CRM database isn’t up-to-date, this is another crucial project that needs to be undertaken – there’s no point creating content if you’re not distributing it to the right people!

I’d also suggest having a PM and workflow visualisation tool like Trello. We use a Kanban board for communicating a project’s status, showcasing the progress of tasks and any issues that need addressing. Simply add all your ideas to the board, and have them move across the phases as they get done… it’s immensely satisfying seeing things getting ticked off the to-do list!

Content is so incredibly important for law firms

A lawyer’s fundamental value is defined by their expertise and experience. Content is the tangible evidence of the collective expertise and experience of a law firm’s greatest asset – its professionals.

The content that your firm publishes represents the voice of your firm, so it is important your firm is producing relevant and engaging content that positions your firm’s lawyers as experts in their niches.

Educational and useful content will help your firm retain current clients, assist with cross-selling opportunities and attract potential ones through referrals and digital inbound marketing.

The content committee’s role is essentially to help make this a reality.

Author

Paul Evans

Paul Evans is a legal marketing expert with significant experience in digital marketing. Prior to founding Toro Digital, he was a senior marketer in some of Australia's fastest growing law firms.

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