These Mistakes Are Keeping Your Firm’s Newsletter
From Being a Moneymaker
A newsletter is a powerful marketing tool for a law firm because it can generate revenue for the firm. A newsletter can do wonders for keeping a law firm and its lawyers “top of mind” with their past clients, prospective new clients, referral sources, and any other audiences that are key to the success of a legal practice and a law firm. If executed well, a newsletter program’s steady stream of news and helpful tips can build rapport and goodwill between a law firm and its newsletter recipients. This steady stream of news and tips creates a direct line of communication between a law firm and newsletter recipients that puts the firm’s name—on a regular basis—literally in the palms of the recipients’ hands whether in paper or electronic form. When those recipients have a matter for which they could retain a law firm or that they could refer to a firm, guess who they are extremely likely to think of and contact? The lawyer or firm who, on a regular basis, has been providing information the recipients can use, or delivering proof on a regular basis that the lawyer or firm is knowledgeable and an authority in certain areas of the law.
Yes, a law firm’s newsletter can be a moneymaker for the firm.
Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms do not understand the power and potential of their firms’ newsletters. Or perhaps they do, but they do not understand how to harness that power and potential. A thorough discussion of all aspects of law firm newsletters—from building a list to planning content to designing the newsletter to distributing it—is beyond the scope of this article, and likely, beyond the scope of any writing that does not number in the hundreds of pages.
That being said, there are five common mistakes that I see law firms make with their newsletter programs that prevent the firms’ newsletters from being moneymakers for those firms. These mistakes involve content, design and distribution. The good news is that all five mistakes have easy fixes. As each mistake is corrected, a law firm is likely to see the effectiveness of its newsletter increase. This increased effectiveness should lead to more clients and matters—and thus, more income—coming into the firm.
Mistake 1: Content Strategy Is Kitchen Sink-esque
A law firm should ask itself a deceivingly simple question. What’s the point of its newsletter program? Its answer(s) to this question will dictate how it builds out its newsletter and its content. And no, the answer cannot just be “get more clients.” It should be more nuanced. Is a firm looking to increase referrals from lawyers? Is the firm looking to get more work from previous clients? Is it looking to build up its reputation as a credible, authoritative source on a particular topic? Is it looking to strengthen the relationships it has with its clients in order to orchestrate referrals from them when their friends and family have legal issues? A law firm’s answer could very well be “all of the above.”
Whatever a law firm’s answer, it must provide content in its newsletter that is designed to help it achieve its goals. If a firm is looking to increase referrals from lawyers, it makes sense to highlight the firm’s successes in referred cases and note whether referral fees were paid in each case. If the firm is looking to get more work from previous or prospective clients, it should show those recipients the good work the firm has done for similarly-situated clients. It should also provide useful and timely information that will help previous and prospective clients in the areas of the law that they would normally retain the firm for, such as intellectual property news and tips for small business owners. A law firm should not push out content for the sake of pushing out content. It must first think about what it is hoping to achieve with its newsletter program and then write content designed to achieve that goal.
Mistake 2: Content Is Not a Match for the Recipients
Creating targeted content is a good start, but that content has to go to the right people. In some instances, one size is not going to fit all. The content a law firm might send to its referral sources might not be the best fit for former clients. A firm’s “thought leadership” content may not be appropriate for all of its referral sources. Law firms need to take seriously the ability to segment their newsletter distribution lists to allow different recipients to receive slightly different versions of a particular issue of a newsletter. When you factor in larger law firms having discrete practice groups that probably deserve their own newsletters, there is even more reason to consider multiple versions of a particular issue. A relatively small investment of time to tweak the content will yield more appropriate newsletter content that is better suited for its recipients. When recipients receive a law firm’s newsletter content that is more closely aligned to their needs and wants, the firm is more likely to build a connection that eventually compels recipients to contact the firm when those recipients have a reason to do so. Law firms that are stumped as to the kind of content they might want to include in their newsletters should consider repurposing the content they’ve posted to their firm’s online newsroom—which I gave some advice about this past May.
Mistake 3: Actually, the Content Is Not a Match for Anybody
Newsletter content has to be read by its recipients to be effective. To be read, the content has to be appealing both in style and substance. When newsletter recipients read a law firm’s newsletter, they are waiting for the first indication that the document is not worth reading so that it can be deleted or dropped into a trash or recycling bin. Thus, law firms cannot waste recipients’ time or drive them away with unnecessary or poorly written content. Newsletter headlines and titles should be snappy and should pull readers in. A law firm should also be judicious with the content it includes in its newsletters. Every piece of content in a firm’s newsletter should contribute to the firm’s efforts to show recipients that the firm is credible and knowledgeable about the kinds of legal issues the recipients deal with. Additionally, the content should provide recipients with ways for them to get to know, like, and trust a firm and its lawyers—the foundations for a long-term, mutually-beneficial relationship. In some instances, this could mean recipes for seasonal dishes, “spotlight” articles on nonlawyers at a firm, sightseeing suggestions, or other kinds of “lifestyle” content. A law firm should not be afraid to experiment with various kinds of content until it feels, based on feedback from recipients, that it has hit on the right mix.
Mistake 4: The Design Embraces a ‘More Is Less’ Strategy
Many law firms apparently subscribe to a “more is less” strategy as evidenced by their overdoing their newsletter designs. This includes unappetizing choices of colors and fonts as well as crammed layouts. The goal of every newsletter a law firm sends should be to provide value and impact to its recipients. The goal should not be to win the award for “Avant-garde Newsletter of the Year—Law Firm.” When the design of a newsletter becomes a distraction, the value and impact of its content is likely to be lost on its recipients. In-house graphic designers or outside marketing or design firms should be knowledgeable about how to design a newsletter so that the design does not get in the way of content. Regardless of whether a law firm employs such resources, the firm should embrace a “less is more” strategy for designing its newsletter. Design is important, and in some instances can be distinctive and memorable. But the design of a firm’s newsletter should never get in the way of the newsletter’s substance.
Mistake 5: Email Newsletters Are Treated as Breaking News Alerts
Some law firms have itchy trigger fingers when it comes to email newsletters. They seem to think anything new at their law firms qualifies as “news” and justifies the need for an email blast. I recently received two separate emails from a law firm over the course of 24 hours announcing two separate midlevel associate hirings. My reaction wasn’t, “Wow, they are growing so fast!” It was, “Wow, why couldn’t they have just told me this with one email?” I am sure I was not the only newsletter recipient thinking this way. It would not surprise me if some of the firm’s newsletter recipients unsubscribed because of these multiple emails.
Instead of sending out emails whenever someone at the firm thinks there is news to report at the firm, a law firm should save its news announcements for a periodic newsletter it sends out at a regular interval. Maybe the first Wednesday of the month. Maybe every other Tuesday. For newsletters filled with news, a firm should set the interval based on how much news the firm tends to generate over the course of a given period of time. Not only will a firm’s newsletter be more likely to contain substantive and interesting content, the firm is less likely to rub recipients the wrong way by sending them too many emails. Note that there may be instances when a “breaking news”-style email may be appropriate, such as when a law firm would like to publish a timely analysis of a notable court decision. But those instances are few and far between.
Beyond these five mistakes, there is technically a sixth mistake: not having a newsletter program in place. For a law firm without such a program, establishing one should be at the top of its marketing “to-do” list. When the firms have programs that are up and running, they will be way ahead of their peer firms if they avoid the five mistakes I’ve described above.
With my tips in mind, let’s get one thing straight. I highly doubt that anyone on a Friday night after a long week is going to pour themselves a glass of their favorite red wine, curl into their favorite chair, and plan their night around reading a law firm’s newsletter. While that would be something to aspire to, it is unlikely to occur. However, a law firm’s regular and well-executed newsletter program has the potential to provide an ongoing and substantial return on investment.
I was reminded of this fact while writing this column. A law firm client of mine received an email from one of its clients expressing an interest in retaining the firm again for another matter. How did that client contact my law firm client? She responded to the firm’s most recent newsletter that we designed and executed. The newsletter kept the law firm top of mind for that particular client. And before that client could go on Google, Avvo, or some other highly competitive resource, she simply went back into her email and contacted my law firm client. Based only on that one client’s first retainer payment for this new matter, that issue of the firm’s email newsletter reaped about a 15 times the return on investment for my law firm client. Yes, the firm’s newsletter made it money.
Law firms that design and execute a thoughtful and strategic newsletter program are likely to see a tangible return on investment as a result of new matters from previous clients, prospective clients, and referral sources. With the right framework and execution, your law firm too can build a newsletter program that is likely to contribute to the bottom line of your firm.
Wayne Pollock is the founder and managing attorney of Copo Strategies in Philadelphia, a national legal services and communications firm that helps lawyers and their clients ethically, strategically and proactively engage the court of public opinion by managing media interest and public interest in those clients’ legal disputes. The firm also helps lawyers tell their stories to the media, referral sources and prospective clients. Contact him at 215-454-2180, email@example.com, or @waynepollock_cs on Twitter.
Reprinted with permission from the September 4, 2018, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.