Many moviegoers didn’t realise it. But last year’s box office hit, The LEGO Movie, is widely recognised as a stunning piece of content marketing. The film’s popularity – it earned US$468 million worldwide – contributed to a 15% increase in global LEGO sales in the first half of 2014, and to a shortage of LEGO products in Canada by September.

But what is content marketing and how is it relevant to lawyers?

Content marketing is the latest development in business marketing, in a bid for companies – including law firms – to differentiate themselves, attract and retain customers, and build a profitable brand. A common theme in content marketing is that brands will create useful or entertaining content targeted at consumers, with an end-goal of having consumers buy the company’s products or services.

Content can be delivered via many different media: hard or soft copy publications (magazines, newspapers, websites), podcasts, live performances – and even films. In the legal industry – described as one where “the written word is sacred” – the focus of content marketing is primarily on written material, especially websites, articles, blogs and newsletters.

But churning out lengthy casenotes and summaries of new legislation is not successful content marketing. Rather, content experts are urging lawyers to engage in a process called ‘news jacking’, which involves:

taking recent developments in your practice area, like an important court decision or issuance of a new regulation, and providing your own opinions … News jacking ensures your content isn’t simply a regurgitation of existing media outlets, but a new perspective in the discussion.[2]

So the challenge for law firms today is to provide unique, client-focused commentary which distinguishes their legal services from others. It’s about quality thought leadership, not quantity of information.

Ultimately, the aim of content marketing for law firms is the same as for LEGO: to advance business. For LEGO, it’s by selling children’s toys. For law firms, it’s by persuading existing and potential clients to choose their firm when seeking legal advice.

But content marketing doesn’t have to be all about a business or its expertise. Instead, it’s about connecting with an audience. So law firms are free to produce content which may not immediately impact their bottom line, but which strengthens the lawyer-client relationship (and might spark new relationships). For example, a law firm may choose to post a blog about an area of general interest to clients – say, a comment on the future of the billable hour – even though that post won’t directly lead to new work.

Law firms would also be wise to consider non-written forms of content marketing, such as podcasts. The Australian Government Solicitor is leading the way, providing subscription-only access to podcasts for Australian government agencies. Topics include ‘How to Identify and Manage Conflicts of Interest’ and ‘Working as a Graduate at AGS – What You Can Expect.’

Firms can also use webinars to promote their business. For example, in 2013, The Law Council of Australia offered a free webinar about the continuing repercussions of the Global Financial Crisis on the legal profession.

But content marketing is still in its infancy in the Australian legal industry. Yet it’s undoubtedly the way of the future. And for lawyers who aren’t keen on the long lunch as a way of winning clients, content marketing allows a more subtle way of building relationships, and showcasing knowledge and expertise. Done well, the audience mightn’t even recognise that it’s actually a marketing exercise. Just like The LEGO Movie.

Writing skills are the foundation of high quality content marketing material for law firms. To improve your writing skills, particularly for the purpose of preparing client publications (such as articles, blog posts and newsletters), see CPD’s new module: ‘How to Make Your Writing Engaging and Easy-to-Read in a World Overflowing with Content.