Beyond the briefing: Why law firms are investing in thought leadership to better engage clients

Thomas Sturge

Law firms are getting serious about marketing. Gone are the days when the entire marketing budget was blown on client dinners, advertising and sponsoring the odd event.

Today, firms are allocating significant budget to marketing and thought leadership. And FT Longitude is helping them along the way.

We’ve seen a spike in interest from law firms in the last 18 months and have recently produced research and content on a range of topics for a number of high-profile firms.

We’ve noticed that these specialist practitioners face specific challenges when producing thought leadership. Here are the three biggest, and how we think that they can be overcome:

1. The audience

For years, law firms’ content marketing had taken the form of the legal briefing. This might work well for General Counsels (GCs) that want to know how new laws apply to their business, but it won’t resonate with senior executives and the C-suite, which firms are increasingly targeting.

These influencers are not well versed in legal matters and law jargon. Instead, they will be compelled by strategic content around digital transformation, new technologies and emerging markets.

Internally, marketers need to be clear: are you still going straight to the source by targeting GCs, or trying to reach a wider group of senior business executives? If the latter, be prepared to fight your corner, as this will be questioned by budget holders.

Our recent research report explains what C-suite audiences want from thought leadership. When deciding if a piece of thought leadership is worthy of their time, consumers look for a number of essential ingredients:

  1. Insights that are based on credible research
  2. Originality in the ideas, insight and story
  3. A clear and compelling narrative
  4. Solutions to address a specific business challenge
  5. Case studies that support the recommendations

2. The content

Law firms often struggle to determine how they should approach big thought leadership trends, such as digital transformation, cyber security and risk.

While firms should stay away from technical legal updates that relate to these areas, this doesn’t mean ditching legal issues altogether. After all, the content needs to be aligned with your areas of expertise and discuss issues on which your brand has authority.

Therefore, why not articulate a point of view about these topics through a legal lens? Want to talk about digital transformation? Perhaps discuss the legal challenges of utilising customer data to inform product updates. Want to discuss Fintech? Maybe focus the content on the IP issues that banks face when partnering with Fintechs.

Whatever the topic, there’s always a legal angle that a C-suite will want to know about. Just don’t bombard them with jargon.

3. The money

The brutal reality for many law firms, even the richest, is that their thought leadership budget is merely a fraction of those enjoyed by large accountancies and consultancies. And whilst they don’t generally compete with these behemoths, their thought leadership absolutely should – and does.

In order to obtain the budget necessary to run a big campaign, legal marketers often secure funds from a number of discrete practice areas, sectors or regional groups within the firm.

This is often effective in boosting budget, but it creates problems. Naturally, each practice area that has contributed wants the campaign to focus on topics that resonate with their clients. Without careful management, this can result in a fragmented campaign that is spread too thinly over too many areas.

In one of our most popular articles on the FT Longitude blog, we highlighted how stakeholder engagement in thought leadership is tricky to manage. Law firms are no exception. Our advice is simple: marketing leaders need to micro-manage the level of influence held by each of these disparate practices, balancing the desire for sharply focused thought leadership with the need to capture as broad an audience as possible.

The key is to bring these stakeholders on board early by getting them enthused by the ‘big idea’, but to retain control of the finer details of execution and activation to avoid delays.

The potential for law firms to compete with the big players on the battleground is clear. If they are able to mitigate the potential barriers above, then legal marketers will deliver the commercial outcomes that keep them a cut above their competition.

Explore our guide to developing your thought leadership strategy for your go-to resource for on planing, developing and executing a strategy.

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About the author: Thomas Sturge

Tom is an integral part of our burgeoning editorial team. He helps FT Longitude’s clients plan and deliver high-quality and impactful thought leadership campaigns, advising from campaign planning, through the content creation stage, to the final activation push.

Tom joined FT Longitude in May 2018 from The Lawyer, where he was head of thought leadership and research.

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