How to Capitalize on New Trends in Law Firm Marketing with The National Law Review
In this episode of On Record PR, Gina Rubel, goes on record with Jennifer Schaller, the Managing Director and Co-founder of The National Law Review online edition to discuss to trends in law firm marketing. Originally, The National Law Review print edition was founded in 1888 in Philadelphia, Gina’s hometown.
As one of the highest traffic volume legal news websites in the U.S., averaging over 2 million visitors per month, The National Law Review publishes original bylined content from staff writers, attorneys and other professionals. The National Law Review online started over 10 years ago as an intranet for in-house legal and other business professionals to vet, classify and share reputable legal news. Today, their goal is to serve the needs of readers by providing reliable and unbiased legal analysis. The National Law Review vets and screen its writers and publishing partners as they syndicate as news alongside other publications including NBC, NPR, Forbes, and many others.
Prior to The National Law Review, Jennifer served as associate corporate counsel director at CNA Surety. She also served in various marketing and business development roles as a Vice President of Aon Services Group. Jennifer started her legal career as an associate attorney with SmithAmundsen in Chicago. She is a regular speaker and writer on corporate legal department management and legal marketing issues, and recently served as the Chair of the Chicago local steering committee of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA).
Why did you decide to start The National Law Review?
This was not strategically planned. It grew organically from what we were doing at the corporation or corporate law department I was in at the time. We started as a resource being built by in-house corporate counsel. More than 10 years ago, there was a big push to use internet research versus Lexis and Westlaw because some of the older attorneys were reading the Wall Street Journal and these extremely expensive platforms. The issue was that we couldn’t find a good source or consolidated place of vetted legal news. A group of other corporate attorneys at other large corporations like Aon, Boeing, United Airlines, and I got together, and we had this little intranet where we would snip news stories and classify them by type.
Once we started doing that and using it within our companies and passing along to the finance department or for the insurance people, the claims and risk management folks, we started getting approached by law firms, which is when we decided to partner with the National Law Review. They were an established publisher and we launched as a public company.
We were kind of an internal clipping service because a lot of times we would get a great client alert, like tribal law relating to something in Michigan that wasn’t a today problem, but we knew it was going to be coming up around the bend. We weren’t going to remember what firm sent it to us. So that’s why we just started clipping stuff that came across our desks.
What’s the business model of The National Law Review?
We’re a hybrid; a three-headed Hydra. We make a great deal of our revenue from advertising. And the reason I bring that up is our interests are aligned with the folks who publish with us, because we have every incentive to get as many eyes as possible on your content because we’ll make more money. By the same token, instead of charging backend reprint fees or charging fees for people to repurchase back the use of their articles, we charge a lower fee upfront and work with publishers. We do take some contributed content from former members of Congress, federal judges, law professors, law students, and trade associations that we don’t charge for. But most of the law firms that we work are paid contributors. The rates are lower because they’re offset by advertising.
Does The National Law Review publish news?
Yes, we have original content. We have our own writers. A tend to focus on legal industry news. If there’s something interesting like with the impeachment, we will write on it. If we have a question on something that we’re not seeing content coming in on, and we’re curious how it works, we will write, and we will reach out to experts at various firms to help us with that.
Do you also take contributed articles for your website?
Yes. We publish our own content, and we publish original, bylined thought leadership. Often, contributors want to see the readership analytics on it, and they also want a super quick turnaround. Since we’re incentivized by advertising and wanting to get it out there, we’re a lot quicker than most places for submissions.
We also partner with law firms where we pick up their educational content and re-syndicate it. The value that we add there is primarily that we can go to news services and were in the government new services that go to Congress and various government agencies. The breadth of our distribution is larger.
What do you look for in a submitted article?
We vet people. It’s much easier to handle it on the front end than the backend. We want to know the name of the author, their expertise, what they’re writing about, what organization they’re working for … and no offense to PR people, many to tend to be very mysterious. We get, “I know a guy who wants to write on this topic. And what do you think?” It’s not like we’re going to steal your client, but we do have to know who they work for, who they are, what they’ve previously written. And then before we agree to publish anything, we’re going to want to look at what it is before we commit to it. We generally won’t take things on if we don’t think we have a good audience for them. We don’t want to waste anybody’s time.
Do you get pitches where they don’t give you any background information?
Oh my, yes. If you want to know why I don’t answer my email until 10:00 at night, it is because we receive about 200 pitches a day. They’re always very mysterious. For example, they will say, “I have an attorney and they’re an expert in labor and employment law. They’ve done this for 10 years and they want to submit a piece. It just adds to the process. If you, as a PR person, are trying to get us to jump on this quicker, it’s going to slow down the process if we must go through the entire dance of figuring out who it is. I don’t know if they’re afraid we’re going to approach them directly or what.
Gina Rubel: I think oftentimes people just have not been taught the right way to do things. It does validate the importance of creating trusted relationships in communications.
Jennifer Schaller: I would think anybody that is receiving submissions or pitches in the volume that we do doesn’t want to be titillated. Just tell us what it is and if we want to do it, we’ll get back with you. The easier you make things for people to get back to you, the better results that you get.
How do you tell a person who wants to publish with you that they didn’t make your vetting process?
Most of the time it’s because they don’t send the details. They won’t send in who the author is. They ask, “which of these five stories do you want?” We publish 65 to 85 articles a day. They must send us the article or almost a final draft of it and we’ll tell them if we can do something with it or not. It’s not a rejection process, most of the time. It’s more that they’re not submitting everything that we need.
What is the most bizarre story pitch you’ve ever received?
We get a lot of interesting individuals who are just looking for advice, like inmates. We also get the people who are telling us the terrible things about publishing content about vaccines. We get strange pitches. They’re generally not like, I don’t want to say bad, but they’re just off the mark. They’re about a new cosmetic product or a new restaurant. We’ve also gotten pitches for cosmetic lines and other products completely unrelated to the legal industry.
What are the trends in online advertising that listeners should be aware of?
The big thing that’s coming up, I mean, a lot of the basics are still out there as far as internal linking, external linking, keywords, writing on topic, the length, meta-tags, meta-titles, having photos with content, all the good content marketing hygiene that you should be doing, that’s not going away. But Google is going to be depreciating third party cookies, and, for advertising, moving to a first party cookie model. This will be a change for law firms even if they don’t advertise. It’s going to change law firm website and search engine analytics. It’s a further progression of GDPR and CCPA. It’s an outgrowth intended to protect privacy, but it does very much change the relationship between the big advertising organizations, the big search organizations, and how content is going to be presented.
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the toughest privacy and security law in the world. Though it was drafted and passed by the European Union (EU), it imposes obligations onto organizations anywhere, so long as they target or collect data related to people in the EU. The regulation was put into effect on May 25, 2018. The GDPR will levy harsh fines against those who violate its privacy and security standards, with penalties reaching into the tens of millions of euros.
The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) gives consumers more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them and the CCPA regulations provide guidance on how to implement the law. This landmark law secures new privacy rights for California consumers, including:
- The right to know about the personal information a business collects about them and how it is used and shared;
- The right to delete personal information collected from them (with some exceptions);
- The right to opt-out of the sale of their personal information; and
- The right to non-discrimination for exercising their CCPA rights.
It’s all about how you respond to requests from people about the information that you’re gathering, the type of disclosures that you need to have on your website, the level of security that you need to have … cookies. For example, if you are searching on the internet for a new pair of running shoes, you will see ads everywhere for running shows. That is a cookie that followed you around.
Another trend is programmatic bidding for ads. Programmatic bidding is unlike Google, where people will go to Google and purchase an ad spot and just have Google circulate their ads around on certain sites. Google is just one of the organizations and larger companies, like Thomson Reuters or larger ad organizations, which will all now have a live auction for bidding on ad spots and they factor in there, the third-party cookies.
SIDENOTE: Programmatic ad buying refers to the use of software (automated intelligence) to purchase digital advertising. It uses algorithmic software that handles the sale and placement of digital ad impressions via ad exchange platforms – in a fraction of a second. Programmatic ad buying also incorporates traffic data and online targeting methods to serve impressions more accurately, efficiently and at scale, which should mean better ROI for advertisers and publishers.
It’s changing quite a bit. What they’re moving from is the third-party cookies that are being collected and passed around different organizations that are bidding on different ad spots.
If you look at your Google analytics or whatever analytics you’re looking at, or if you work with a publisher or an organization that provides readership analytics, that information is all going to change. If you advertise online, it’s going to change the whole dynamic of how people bid on ads and the pricing of ads and how you can better target your audience because it’s going to be far more permission-based than it is now.
Essentially, we are looking at a cookieless future.
As a publishing legal marketer, how do you stay on top of all these things?
I’m blessed to have a great staff and great team who works with me. They drive me along on this because I have so many other things to do. We’re also getting approached by people who want to get in on the ad bidding auctions. That prompted us to offer the service on our website, which is leading to an organization called LiveRamp, which I think people will probably be hearing a lot more about. LiveRamp is a data connectivity platform that handles a lot of the privacy issues and gets you ready for first party cookies. To remain competitive, we must know what’s out there. My technical staff has been driving it and then pulling me in and helping me get involved in the legal end of it and pulling in other folks who’ve worked here for years on legal stuff and helping them join the party to figure out what we need to do.
What do you look for when you hire since your staff all work remotely?
Virtual companies are the great mystery of our time. I think you’re going to see a lot more written on it. We started out that way. It wasn’t a big agenda, but we’re a group of in-house attorneys who started The National Law Review. We weren’t going to have an office where we all hung out. They all kept their jobs, and it was me and a couple other people on staff. We grew organically and now you see 10 million articles on remote working. I think, “Where were you 10 years ago when I needed this stuff?”
You need to find out what remote working means to people. We’re a publisher and we have customer service people who are available from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 at night. We’ve got to be there. We need to work with people to hone them in and say, you’re coming back into the newsroom, but it’s a virtual newsroom and we must be around during the day to host meetings and client calls and answer client questions.
We figure out what remote working means to them. What’s critical for us as a team-based mentality. It’s tough if you’re working remotely to read people and to get to know them. We try to get together in person as much as, it makes sense, being spread out all over the country. And that has been challenged with COVID. But a lot of it is just the basic stuff, time management, how they get along working with other people, trading off tasks, things like that.
What books do you recommend for listeners?
Start with Why by Simon Sinek. It does a lot of case studies on companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines and what type of team members they need to have and how they position themselves in the marketplace, but also have it authentically in their culture. It addresses how they differentiate themselves in crowded industries, like Apple in the computer industry. That’s something I thought was interesting because to see how law firms try to differentiate themselves and how to pull that out authentically that it resonates and sticks in people’s minds.
TURNING THE TABLES: JENNIFER SCHALLER ASKS GINA RUBEL QUESTIONS
What do you suggest lawyers do to stand out from other attorneys or law firms to stand out from other law firms? You’ve been doing this a long time and you’re the queen of the Philly legal market. And you’ve been in the legal industry. What do you do to make yourself different?
Gina Rubel: Law firm and lawyer differentiation is key. The legal industry is one of the most difficult in which to differentiate because we all have a law degree. If everyone practices in a particular space, it can be very hard to differentiate. We often will tell lawyers to find a niche, something for which you can be perceived for as an expert. Then, people to want to come to you. Lawyers need to speak to the wants and needs of their audience. The differentiator isn’t your resume. It will never be a resume. It will never be, “I went to this law school and I did this, and I did that and here’s the firms I’ve worked for.” It’s great that you’ve worked for five of the Am Law 100s, but what have you done for your clients? What makes you, the attorney, the go-to attorney in your space?
One of the things we saw during the pandemic is that some of the big firm attorneys that charge some of the highest dollars prospered, because of their differentiators in certain spaces, were getting a lot of business. We saw that fall off in mid-market because of fear. When people are making fear-based buying decisions, they will spend more money.
Credentials are a part of it, but it starts with “why.” Why should I hire you? Understanding that there’s something that differentiates you as a lawyer. It’s also not what you think differentiates you. Lawyers need to determine what your clients believe differentiates you. That’s the key. Determine why other people have hired you, and that becomes your differentiation language.
How do you set reasonable goals with your attorney clients and manage expectations or set expectations?
Gina Rubel: We do go through the SMART analysis and that’s S-M-A-R-T. S.M.A.R.T. is the acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives (Specific | Measurable | Achievable | Realistic | Time-specific). Setting goals means that it can’t just be pie in the sky. Goals must be attainable, achievable, affordable.
Jennifer Schaller: It’s great that you took the time to put this together and are organizing everything. Your organization process just for this podcast is incredibly impressive. I’ll say that about you, Gina. You know how to put things together.
How can our listeners contact you, Jennifer?
If you want to find us, we’re at natlawreview.com or just Google, the National Law Review. Ideally, we’ll come up. We should. We worked a long time to do that. And yes, read about what we do. And that’s probably the best explanation, seeing what we publish and seeing what comes up in search to get an idea of if you’re interested or if we might be a good fit for your firm.
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