Many top UK law firms are using thought leadership to differentiate themselves from their competitors. But in a crowded market, how can you make sure your content stands out?

The complexity of orchestrating a thought leadership project within the confines of a busy, everyday workplace presents enough of a challenge as it is. Add to that the concerns lawyers might have with making the seemingly bold statement that they are the bona fide experts on a particular area of the law. Then wade through in the long, frustrating process of gaining buy-in from key stakeholders on an agreeable topic. And the inevitable worries that it will be a while before you see a return on investment.

At no stage while creating a thought leadership project is it a bad idea to revisit the fundamentals. Why bother with thought leadership? The goal should be to create a point of engagement with your target clients: it should support your business development objectives by making a meaningful contribution to how your firm’s clients understand their industries and sectors. If your resulting report, landing page, or documentary does not do this, it’s not worth your partners’ or your team’s time.

So, here are some extra tips for how to make sure yours is a compelling thought leadership project.

Remember: the subject is your client, not your client’s issue

Just as you would with content marketing, start with your client’s concerns, but don’t end with them. Work out your idea around your clients’ most pressing issues, and then make the report about how they navigate them.

Read my previous blog post about content and digital marketing for law firms.

Because, a deep-dive endeavour though it is, thought leadership ultimately falls under the banner of content marketing. It’s content that drives relationships with clients. With thought leadership, if you want your client to feel as though you are telling them something truly compelling, you have to help them see themselves in the mix.

But be careful. There’s a risk involved in creating thought leadership: if your clients and potential clients simply don’t find it interesting or useful – in other words, they don’t feel like you understand them – they’re less likely to read or engage with your work in the future.

Take an editorial approach to the process 

Deciding what the hook of the thought leadership project will be requires discussion. The more people you can gather to brainstorm the idea, the better. In an ideal world you’d get as many people from your firm involved as possible.

The essential challenge will be getting people to commit to something that they’ll see as a lower priority than urgent client work. But the more people you have involved in the editorial process, the stronger your starting point will be.

Test the waters

As early as you can, ask a sample selection of your clients if they’d be interested in such a report before you create it. They might come back to you with a response you didn’t expect which could mean you need to alter your focus in the project.

For example, your auditor client might not be interested in the legal implications of using blockchain to create immutable logs of the past because they already have an efficient digital data capture method that works just fine. To feed into the development of the overall project, the sooner you have these conversations the better.

Allow the plan to change after research

The best ideas are developed over time – not thought up on the spot. Depending on the industry you plan to target with your report, you may have a fast-moving target. In which case you’ll need to keep your ears to the ground and turn your report around faster. But even if the industry you are targeting does move slowly, there’s a chance you could come across something that means you have to change your focus.

Every piece of material you gather and every person you speak to in the process of managing the project should have the potential to give you information that could change the course or hypothesis of the project entirely. If that’s not the case, you’re gathering the wrong material and speaking to the wrong people.

Obviously, you don’t have time to slow-cook an idea and go back and forth between partners while keeping everyone on the same page. But gathering as many ingredients as you can as you assemble your project will make it richer.

Invest in good design

Lawyers are readers, and likely won’t challenge you if your thought leadership proposal comes across as wordy. But don’t underestimate the power of good design. High production value signals high content value. Investing in having your content reimagined by a visual thinker can really add to the overall impression it makes on those who pick it up and extend its long-term utility.

Get your lawyers to bring up the report in the meeting room with clients

Part of making sure your thought leadership project is truly great work for your firm comes down to internal comms. Make sure everyone in your firm knows about the report and can quote statistics or key takeaways in meetings with clients where relevant. This will maximise the return on investment of the project and, crucially, keep the conversation going offline.

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If marketing teams make use of these tips, they’ll do the one thing that really matters to business development: building better relationships with clients.