How Legal Marketers Can Help Attorneys Do Thought Leadership Right

May 27, 2020

Attorneys can demonstrate “thought leadership” in many forms and forums, from interviews to panel discussions to well-crafted posts on social media. When they share insights informed by their experience and understanding of clients’ business challenges, attorneys can build their profile as a leading voice in their industry or practice.

The gold standard for thought leadership is securing an opportunity to publish a bylined article in a prominent and respected industry journal. Providing valuable insights to an audience of the buyers of your services can be a very effective way to develop new business. But seeing an article through from conception to placement has always been a somewhat mysterious and time-consuming task for marketers already swamped by the daily grind. And in this moment of intense media industry contraction, opportunities for placement are shrinking.

And yet the potential gains of this communications win are worth the investment of time. That’s why we want to share our time-tested recipe to support attorneys in writing and publishing an effective piece of thought leadership:

1. Select a solid idea — one that is narrowly focused, with a specific audience in mind. Topics that are too broad or trying to be all things to all people will not find a home. Begin with a 15-minute “brainstorming” session with the attorney to come up with a list of possibilities. Then work to subdivide large categories down to a single insight suitable for a 1,000-1,200-word piece.
2. Identify a publication that serves the audience you want to reach. Thought leadership is about establishing credibility. The attorney may be able to tell you which industry publications prospective clients trust, or you may need to do some research to help find them. Dig down into the “about” page to determine whether the publication accepts submissions from outside contributors. One “trick of the trade” here is to work with the attorney to find a client with whom they can co-author the article. Adding an in-house lawyer or executive to the byline boosts a piece’s industry credibility and is particularly helpful for gaining placements in the publications that cater to the general counsel audience.
3. Track down the submissions guidelines and follow them. If the publication accepts contributed content (and is not “pay-to-play”), it will typically list the steps contributors should follow to submit their work. Pay close attention to editorial calendars (where the publication lists themes it plans to examine in a given issue) and word-count limits.
4. Polish the piece and pitch it to the editor. The pitch should be a quick story within itself. This is the opportunity to grab the editor’s attention and to offer a synopsis of the article’s topic and why it is currently important. Remember, editors get pitched many times per day; to make yours stand out, explain quickly how this thought leadership piece will deliver valuable insights to the publication’s readers.
5. Facilitate edits and control versions so everyone is working on the same thing. After the publication’s editor approves the topic and gives you a deadline, your role will be to assist the attorney in scheduling any necessary conversations (if he or she is working with a co-author), finishing a draft, and making edits required to bring the piece in line with the publication’s guidelines. Make sure you are always working on the most up-to-date version of the piece, and remember to get approval of the final draft before you send it in to the editor. Be sure to have the attorney sign and return any publication agreement required.
6. Shepherd the draft through with the editor until publication. Stay in touch with the editor to ensure the publication has everything it needs to move forward on schedule. If the attorney changes course on the topic or needs more time, don’t wait to loop the editor in on the revised plan. Remember that if you stray too far from the article they agreed to publish, the editor may decide not to take it. This delicate phase of the process can be a bit of a dance.
7. Distribute the final product in smart ways to maximize its impact. Make all the work that has gone into the article count by getting it in front of the right people. Distributing the piece internally, and on social media channels such as LinkedIn will help colleagues share the article. The firm can also include a link to the piece in client newsletters and alongside the attorney’s bio on the firm website.

Looking for help with your thought leadership efforts? Contact us to learn more.