Comparisons between media companies and law firms are generally scant, but when you think about the content each produces, the underlying similarities come into focus. For example, both create voluminous quantities of material, be they alerts, white papers, features, slideshows or opinions. And both are intended for a specific audience, whether it’s for corporate lawyers honing a strategy or the “everyman” looking for baseball stats.

Whether or not you see the similarities, according to a recent survey, chances are likely that  law firms will become much more like media companies. A concerted effort between Greentarget, ALM Legal Intelligence and Zeughauser group, the 2014 State of Digital & Content Marketing Survey took a deep look into the social media usage behaviors of in-house counsel to get a better idea of how their information consumption habits are changing. To round out the 2014 study, the research team also surveyed CMOs and other senior marketers at the nation’s leading law firms to better understand how they are approaching content creation and dissemination.

Among the most interesting findings are the disconnects between the amount of information firms are producing and the focus with which they give to the development and management of that content.

According to Greentarget’s founder and president, John Corey, “84 percent of firms expect to produce more content in 2014 than they did in 2013, yet only 25 percent of those firms have a documented plan or strategy of how they’re going to produce that content. Only 29 percent actually have a dedicated professional overseeing content development and distribution. In a time when there’s just so much information, firms need a content strategy, and we think it should be rooted in corporate journalism.”

The concept of corporate journalism is not uncommon outside the legal industry. In many business-to-business verticals there are specific positions that cultivate, manage and distribute information; in fact, the survey showed that around 79 percent of B2B companies currently employ these types of programs. Incorporating journalistic style into a communication strategy not only holds a company to reliable reporting standards that favor transparency over spin, but also allow them to shape the overall narrative.

“There’s an opportunity to take some of the elements of traditional journalism. Be that a commitment to fairness and accuracy, or punchy writing over jargon or the notion that journalism serves its audience above all else,” says Corey. “If you really make your content about your audience, it will be higher quality and others will be more likely to recommend it and it will go farther.”

You’re likely asking yourself “when does the revolution start?”  The first step is for firms to employ what Corey calls the 80/20 strategy. 80 is the percentage of content already being generated by the various partners, practices, industry sectors and regional locations that make up a law firm. While current practices may produce considerable amounts of content, Corey says that standardization and implementation of tools, and content managers that improve the quality and consistency of that material, is the larger portion of law firm content success. The remaining 20 percent should be content with wow-factor.

“It’s producing that special and extraordinary content, the really cool stuff for those very few practices or industry areas or niches that are really important for the brand. This is the space where you align content with strategic priorities and what your firm really wants to be known for,” he says.

That strategy along with better management, organization and promotion of the content that’s already being generated is what will set firms apart in near future, says Corey.

The need to more carefully craft strategic communication strategies in the legal industry is obvious because of its prominence in other industries, and how easily it fits on top of the already prolific content generation strategies of firms. However the changing information consumption habits of the intended audience members also back change.  According to the survey, the number of respondents who had read a blog in the previous week fell from 46 percent in 2013 to 38 percent in 2014. Corey says this is likely a sign that the blogosphere is becoming oversaturated with noise, and underscores the need for firms to be very deliberate and strategic in how they manage their blogs.

“I only have so many hours in the day where I can educate myself, so how do I discern what the best sources of information are out there? We’re finding that traditional earned media, hands down is the most credible source of information, and we’ve found that four years in a row. But law firms are also very active publishers and we found that clients greatly value the newsletters and alerts,” Corey says.

Understanding who your audience is and what they want, while devoting the resources to generate and manage that content offers firms a solid foundation in improving an overall content strategy. Next time we’ll dig into the changing content consumption habits of the legal industry.

For more on this topic check out Corey’s recent interview with Lee Pachia


For additional insight on content and communications check out these stories:

Social media poses grave danger to companies’ confidential information

How to provide the ultimate client experience

Honesty is such a lovely word: Is it too much to ask?