Note: The following is a guest post by Helen Bertelli.
Back in the late 1990’s, few law firms had extensive marketing functions – most had one- or two-person departments that were not empowered to do much autonomously because, for a multitude of reasons, the legal industry didn’t trust marketers to hire, build and run divisions in a way that is the norm in other industries. Marketers and PR pros were often managed by practicing lawyers and as a result, creativity was stifled.
We’ve come a long way since then. Law firm marketing departments have matured and grown; most large firms now have entire in-house teams devoted to PR and other specialized functions. Content marketing – i.e. writing in a way that your audience actually wants to read and share – is now something that law firms are actively discussing and striving to do, which is great.
However, writing is no longer enough. Writers are dinosaurs. Or to expound, writers who do not embrace the market shift away from the written word, who do not have a curiosity/desire to learn new tools and skills so they can better manage other creatives, will be extinct in five years.
More than 65 percent of the population are visual learners. The brain processes visual images 60,000 times faster than text (40 percent of all nerve fibers in the brain are connected to the retina). These are among the reasons why, according to Hubspot, Facebook photos get 53 percent more likes than regular, text-based posts. The impact of images is true across all social media platforms, and is a primary driver behind the development of visual-focused platforms such as Pintrest and Instagram.
When it comes to video, the stats are even more staggering. YouTube has more than a billion users, almost one-third of all people on the internet. The number of hours people spend watching videos on YouTube is up 60 percent year over year, the fastest growth the company has seen in two years. The chances of getting a page one listing on Google increase 53 times with video, according to Forrester Research. By 2017, video will account for 69 percent of all consumer internet traffic.
Unfortunately, law firms are doing a pretty terrible job of leveraging these new platforms and mediums. Why?
While marketing departments have matured, often those in leadership are writers or business development execs at heart, not visual marketers, and the unfortunate truth is writers cannot script or direct video production. Visual arts categorically employ a different part of your brain than writing, and we are going to need to embrace this fact if, as an industry, we are ever going to graduate from the ubiquitous “talking head” law firm videos that nobody wants to watch.
So what can we do?
Train Your Teams
A writer with no knowledge of design tools like Adobe, directing designers and their work is like the attorney in 1998 who insisted on rewriting content despite the fact that he did not go to journalism school. Yet, this is how a great deal of design is managed inside law firms today.
At Infinite Spada, we now train our writing teams in the use of Adobe suite products – Illustrator, InDesign, etc. – and encourage them to develop infographics, take photographs, and work with other mediums as part of their client strategies. While our writers are not designers or filmmakers (and we are not striving to turn them into such), the fact that they are conversant in these tools makes them better managers of the creative process and enhances the strategies they employ in tangible ways.
Experiment with New Tools
Online platforms such as Tongal, Zooppa and Talenthouse allow brands to tap independent filmmakers; the end-product is an original, entertaining piece from a filmmaker that may have otherwise remained undiscovered.
We recently worked with a client on a project through Tongal. After posting a short description of the project, the platform’s crowdsourcing community took over. In a multiphase competition, filmmakers submitted scripts and concepts that were winnowed down by the marketing department until two final winners were chosen. The result: awesome video that connected with the brand’s audience in a meaningful way, all without breaking the bank.
While crowdsourced video won’t likely replace traditional video creation anytime soon, the platforms serve as a natural extension of a company’s talent set, and are very worthwhile explorations.
Hire and Empower Visual Artists
As visuals and video become ever more critical in communications, long gone will be the days of one- or two-person design departments down the hall in windowless offices managed by writers not familiar with the tools used to create content. Instead, law and professional services firms will hire and empower visual artists to manage and grow successful departments inside law firms (in the same way that writers have done in the last few years).
The good news is that more kids are graduating today with cross-functional skills and a mastery of diverse tools than ever before. This new generation of professionals are already climbing corporate ladders and attaining management positions in companies where they influence decision-making.
Within the legal industry, us writers must get out of our own way. We must seek to actively recruit, train, intelligently manage, integrate and most important, empower these professionals, as this is truly the future of legal marketing.
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Helen Bertelli has eighteen years of PR agency and in-house legal marketing experience. She is also the founder of Clued In Kids, a consumer-focused multi-media business through which she received a crash course in design, video, animation, and social media. Now, at Infinite Spada, Helen manages multi-national PR teams servicing law and professional service firm clients of all sizes.
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