An FAQ on Legal Brand Journalism
Jay M. Jaffe, a specialist in legal marketing and a frequent contributor to Lawyers Alert, sat down recently with a focus group of legal PR and marketing professionals to explore the evolving field of Legal Brand Journalism™. Here are some of the key issues and frequently asked questions they discussed. To see the full exchange, click here.
We hear a lot today about brand journalism. How would you define it for the work you do in the legal marketplace?
First you have to understand that Legal Brand Journalism™ isn't some fad or trend or new way of referring to traditional PR or media relations. It is the natural progression of the market forces that are rapidly evolving all around us:
- The declining size of the traditional news media. The combination of the changing economy and evolving technology has drastically cut the number of stories that traditional news organizations are producing that used to cover your law firm, your profession, your practice area and the legal marketplace.
- The increased amount of legal and legal business content available in general.
- The ability, because of technology, for everyone to become a producer and consumer of news.
- The increased production of compelling content by your growing list of competitors.
As a result, the marketplace had to discover a new way of telling unique stories. I like to say that Legal Brand Journalism makes thought leadership happen.
Is there a formulaic approach to brand journalism - a defined way that it has to work?
Brand journalism will be different in every organization. That is because every entity is different and has to tell its story to its different audiences in different ways. No single communication or communication vehicle alone tells the whole brand story. There are, however, certain characteristics that will always remain the same.
How would you describe those common characteristics?
Because brand journalism in general, and Legal Brand Journalism in particular, is a relatively new concept, it is still developing and morphing into what will eventually be a mature discipline. For now, I would describe some of the following characteristics as absolutes in the definition of brand journalism:
- Legal Brand Journalism is not a pitch for your law firm's services. It is not an advertorial. It is not an egotistical spewing of law firm puffery.
- Legal Brand Journalism creates value and safeguards a lawyer's or law firm's online reputation not by blasting out self-serving press releases, but by presenting well-researched and attributed, timely and engaging news stories, blogs, photos, videos or other forms of digital content.
- Legal Brand Journalism always invites a two-way conversation about those stories, using all social-media tools, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
- Legal Brand Journalism transforms an entity into the credible voice of your profession, an industry, a legal discipline, etc.
- Legal Brand Journalism requires a daring commitment to sincerity and transparency.
- Legal Brand Journalism can be visualized as the triangular intersection of journalism, strategic communications and digital interactive technology. The strength of journalism - facts, honesty, balance and transparency - with the core elements of strategic communications - vision, research, precise message shaping and well-defined purpose - that use the vast spectrum of online digital tools that are now common to all of us.
Legal Brand Journalism appeals and connects credibly with what today's consumers and seeking and enables any entity to create and communicate its own news ... in the credible style of legitimate news.
- Legal Brand Journalism is always honest and legal brand journalists always tell the truth. The best legal brand journalists will always care primarily about accuracy and truth, whether they are creating content on behalf of your brand or for a more traditional form of journalism.
I'm sure there are more, but this makes a good list for starters.
At some point, I'm sure we have to address the issue of integrity: Is a brand journalist really a journalist?
I am sure that brand journalists would not go out of their way to write negative investigative stories about the brands that feed them, so brand journalism is not totally impartial. But I believe that both have a role in our society and that brand journalists will never take the place of traditional news reporting. I think there is room for both.
That has to raise the inevitable question of whether Legal Brand Journalism will ever replace the need for media relations specialists for law firms.
Not totally and not tomorrow, but Legal Brand Journalism will replace a large part of the budget that is now being spent on traditional media relations outreach. I mean, why bother putting all of your eggs in the basket of reaching out to traditional journalists when they, and many of their publications, are disappearing? I believe it makes far more sense to use some form of Legal Brand Journalism to reach out to your audiences without depending on third-party reporters. Yes, there will never be the total replacement of the credibility of independent reporters, but, if an entity follows the basic tenets of Legal Brand Journalism, as I outlined before, I believe that you can support and reinforce your brand without depending on the shrinking corps of reporters.
It seems as if you are almost shooting yourself in the foot by saying that some of your PR services are no longer relevant.
To be totally transparent, in the true spirit of brand journalism, they are not as relevant as they used to be. Today, a reporter may not even have time to talk to you on the phone, much less have lunch and schmooze with you as they used to. So why follow the path of traditional media relations when it is not the best way to deal with your brand today?
Now, I know it will be difficult for law firms to make this switch in their thinking; they can be slow to accept change. But, in today's environment, they have to make the change to stay abreast of the competition and cut through the clutter. One thing that lawyers and law firms should readily embrace about Legal Brand Journalism is the control aspect. Everyone knows that lawyers are risk-averse. Brand journalism will give them much more control over their brands and their messages. In addition, someone is going to have to help law firms make the switch and, with many former journalists and journalism graduates already on board, we are perfectly positioned to do so. I think it's a way to grow our business.
What kind of value do you see a brand journalist bringing to a brand's audience(s)?
Traditional PR, media relations and marketing dwell on turning out self-serving content to their audiences. Brand journalism focuses on continually engaging audiences with well-produced and -written news stories, features, opinions, resources and images they find interesting, useful, relevant, timely and of value. Because journalists are trained to tell a story using words, images, and audio and video, they understand how to create content that draws audiences in.
And journalists are the only people in the communications world who put the needs of the audience (vs. the brand) first. Paradoxically, that serves a company's needs for the better - because the content they create is customer-driven vs. brand-driven, with the long-term benefit of credibility. Business, like life, is complicated. Lawyers' services can be complicated or seem impenetrable. But journalists excel in deconstructing the complex to make it easily understood. They excel at expressing the kind of distinction that I learned from my very first city editor: Assume the reader knows almost nothing. Never assume the reader is stupid.
Jay M. Jaffe is President and CEO of Jaffe PR. He is widely known in the legal industry as an innovator of legal marketing services and a proponent of the critical importance of a law firm's Public Reputation. Jay has been providing high-level Public Reputation strategies to global law firms for over thirty years. Contact Jay at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jaffepr.com.
Information is current to October 5, 2012. The information contained in this release is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.