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Three Things Marketers Can Learn From a Law Firm (Yes, a Law Firm) About Creating Awesome Content

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In our book Content Rules, C.C. Chapman and I talk a lot about "speaking human"—in fact, it's our Rule No. 4:

Speak human: Communicate your brand mission, values, and philosophy in simple terms, using the language of your customers. Speak in a conversational tone, with personality, empathy, and true emotion. Kill corporate-speak, buzzwords, and other language that makes you sound like a tool.

You know how you love one of your kids more than the others? No, me neither (how is it even possible to do that?). Well, I feel a similar democratic affection for all of our content "rules": It's hard to choose which is my favorite. But I do have special affection for "speak human" (in part because it came under attack early on in the editing process), so I'm especially gratified when I see it in play, especially in unexpected places.

In fact, humanizing professional services marketing has been taken to a whole new level by Chicago law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein—the first law firm (that I know of) to have developed attorney website profiles that incorporate video vignettes of lawyers speaking candidly about their professional philosophies and personal viewpoints—showing off their personalities in a creative and wholly unexpected way.

In one vignette, Steven Bright, a partner in the Banking & Finance Service and the Real Estate & Finance Practice groups, talks about what he was like as a child. In another, Lisa Vandesteeg, an associate in the firm's Litigation, Bankruptcy, and Restructuring and Insolvency Practice Groups, gives a tour of her office. Visitors sometimes tease her for her stockpile of diplomas and awards on the wall, Lisa says before she shows off her proudest professional accomplishment: Her trophy earned for spanking her colleagues in the firm's annual chili cookoff.


In all, about half of the firm's 70 lawyers talk about what their hobbies are, what inspires them, what mistakes attorneys make, what they'd be doing if they didn't go to law school, what their favorite time of year is, where they would go if they could travel in time, and so on.

The firm used an outside production company and spent, in total, roughly $9,500 to create several super-short vignettes (most are around a minute) for each featured attorney. It plans to add video to all of its attorneys' profiles by the end of this year.

"Video isn't exactly groundbreaking, but the way we used it is," Andrea Crews, the firm's director of marketing and business development, told me last week.

Website analytics showed that the attorney profile pages were among the most-visited pages of the Levenfeld Pearlstein website, she said: "Which makes sense: Would-be clients want to know two things, typically: Who are you, and who have you done work for?"

"We saw these videos both as a way to differentiate who we are, and also to start the relationship off right," Andrea said, adding, "They're a way to tell our story."

So what can your company learn from Levenfeld Pearlstein's video profiles?

1. Start with a goal

Most lawyer websites emphasize firm expertise rather than the people behind the law degrees, but Levenfeld Pearlstein emphasizes that its people and their talents are what set it apart from the competition. Accordingly, it wanted to create video profiles that would give a would-be client a sense of who the firm is, before the client ever step foot in the door.

"Since the attorney profile pages were among the most-trafficked pages," Andrea said, "we knew people were checking us out online before picking up the phone to book to an appointment."

Levenfeld Pearlstein interpreted that as an opportunity to connect with people so that they could make an informed decision about whom they were hiring.

2. Create content that's a cultural fit

If I called out a corporate culture as "entrepreneurial" with a shared desire to "do the right thing" and "make the world a better place," would you think I was talking about a law firm? Me neither. If I mentioned that the tag line for that company is "Unusually good," would you ever guess, "Law firm"? Probably not. In fact, most law firms I've worked with talk more about their "value proposition"—their quality work, efficiency, reasonable free structure—and less about aspirational goals.

Levenfeld Pearlstein's video profiles work well because they are a natural fit for the culture the firm has worked hard to develop—a culture that includes, by the way, things like a strong sense of camaraderie (consider the annual chili cookoff), deep respect for the client, and a "no asshole" policy (which means a senior partner could never get away with bullying a younger colleague). I especially love that last one, in no small part because they actually do call it that.

"The videos are an unusual move, but in a lot of ways they are a natural next step for how we differentiate ourselves," says Andrea.

3. Prep your talent

I asked Andrea about how willing the firm's lawyers were to speak candidly and without a script, because clearly that could be a nerve-wracking exercise for camera-shy types.

She said Levenfeld Pearlstein helped diffuse some of that natural anxiety by seeding a list of 40 questions ahead of time; the questions got at both personal passions and professional philosophies—and allowed each attorney to choose one or more that he or she felt comfortable speaking to. That way, not everyone had to answer questions that might be outside their comfort zone. At the same time, the question list ensured plenty of variety. And because most videos hover around a minute, only the best bits were edited into the final version, making for a snappy video.

Take a look, below, at one of Steven Bright's videos (this one on "time-travel") and tell me what you think: What might your company learn from LP's initiative? (You can see more of the videos on the attorney video series page.)

 

(Image courtesy of Bigstock, Funny School Boy.)


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Ann Handley is chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a monthly contributor to Entrepreneur magazine, and co-author of the best-selling book on content marketing, Content Rules (Wiley, 2012), which has been translated into nine languages, including Turkish, Chinese, Korean, Italian, and Portuguese. Ann co-founded ClickZ.com, one of the first sources of interactive marketing news and commentary.

Twitter: @MarketingProfs
Email: ann@MarketingProfs.com.

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  • by Chester Butler Wed Oct 26, 2011 via web

    Ann, A great article and an inspiration. That is is saying something from me, since I recently invited some plaintiff''s attorney types to leave the state. Shucks, I might even like some of these folks...or hire them!

  • by Debbie Josendale Wed Oct 26, 2011 via web

    Thanks for sharing this story Ann! It's especially powerful because it demonstrates the impact of content to "humanize" the legal profession...something that many people have a cynical attitude towards.
    When marketing professional services it's critical to move past college degrees and certifications to...who are you and do I like you, can I trust you. The combination of non-legalese talk combined with the videos is a great example of the effectiveness of this approach.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Oct 26, 2011 via web

    Thanks, Chester and Debbie. Really appreciate your comments here. Glad you see what I see... it's a fantastic example of how some honest, simple, human words can go a long way....

  • by AJ Huisman Wed Oct 26, 2011 via web

    Thanks Ann - great stuff and soooo very much in line what I envision our way of communicating with our market will be soon (only a few months on the job haha) - it's almost exactly the route we're going ! Bizarre how even their tag line translates almost one on one what we have - thanks again for sharing!

  • by Ernest Nicastro Wed Oct 26, 2011 via web

    Outstanding article, Ann! Informative, interesting and actionable advice from a surprising source...offered up in engaging, highly readable prose. Excellent.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Oct 26, 2011 via mobile

    @AJ - wow... That's interesting! What's the URL of your law firm? Funny you commented here btw- I thought of you when I heard this story.

  • by Ann Handley Wed Oct 26, 2011 via mobile

    @Ernest Thank you! High praise coming from you. :)

  • by AJ Huisman Thu Oct 27, 2011 via web

    Very interesting indeed ... my Law Firm prides itself in doing things differently, not as a gimmick but as an intrinsic part of our DNA. When we started 19 years ago there was a specific wish to be: good, fun & social. This still runs through the veins of everyone here, you can feel it in the air and it’s specifically appreciated by clients and noticed and awarded by our peers.

    My job now, since a few months, is to communicate this even better to our clients & prospects. You can have a look at our current website at www.kvdl.nl but I’m afraid it does not fully reflect what I envision our communication should be … but our new website will launch around April when we celebrate our 20 year anniversary, so keep an eye out ;) – Meanwhile we have a blog called www.mediareport.nl where we experiment with real-time marketing & PR ;)

  • by Ann Handley Thu Oct 27, 2011 via web

    @AJ Sheesh I wish I read Dutch... looks like great stuff.

  • by AJ Huisman Thu Oct 27, 2011 via web

    Thanks Ann - like I said during my presentation at Content Marketing World ( http://bit.ly/qGmHIf ) - Start, try, test, measure, tweak, learn and repeat - not perfect yet but we'll get there ;)

  • by Nick Stamoulis Fri Oct 28, 2011 via web

    I love the "no asshole" policy the company created. It shows that they have a little bit of humor about their industry, which can go a long way in connecting with your audience. You shouldn't be afraid to let personality shine through.

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