Coaching Lawyers to Deliver a Content Strategy
For most of my adult life I’ve been a keen but rather undedicated amateur athlete. I ski, climb, race mountain bikes, and engage in the occasional 10k, each with varying lack of success. I’ve read all the books over the years, I’ve subscribed to the blogs and watched the videos. I know what it takes to be a winner, but without commitment and careful attention, life has a plentiful supply of excuses for not delivering the goods.
Recently, I’ve realised there is a striking similarity between my experiences in sport and that which many of our lawyer clients face when trying to stick to a content strategy. They know what to do, but other commitments have a nasty habit of getting in the way of doing the necessary work it takes to be successful.
Last year a series of chance events led me to the fortunate position of working with Paul Webb, strength and conditioning coach for the GB skating team and owner of Complete Studio, our neighbours in Wellington Passage. I started working with Paul in December last year and for several months now my weekly training schedule now has consisted of five sessions in the gym, two on the bike, ice baths, and a strict elimination diet. Unless there’s a race on the calendar, weekends are strictly for rest and recuperation, and quality time with the family. The transformation in attitude (and therefore results) is profound.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been spending time understanding how good sports coaches work and interpreting those techniques to develop new ways to help lawyers help us to market their firms. With Paul’s help, I’ve boiled the ideas down to five key areas.
Five techniques for coaching lawyers to produce web content
The Power of Rituals
Different tasks require different ways of thinking, and when we are busy and stressed, switching mindsets can be more challenging than you might think. To combat this, athletes often rely on rituals that help get their brain ready for the task ahead. In Paul’s gym, every athlete begins with the same warm up every session. Completing the series of 12 exercises takes 7 and a half minutes and by the end not only is the athlete’s body ready to work, but his mindset has made the switch too.
Producing web content requires a mindset that is different to our lawyers day-to-day work, so we encourage them to develop rituals that signify the start of a writing session. One lawyer we know of switches from coffee to herbal tea when he is in marketing mode. The ritual of finding his stash of peppermint teabags, and making the brew takes around five minutes and is just enough to help his brain switch gear and prepare to produce compelling content. The fact that the ritual reaches several senses at once seems to make it all the more powerful. Another goes to her firm’s library to write her blog. She takes the stairs, finding the short walk four floors down to the basement clear her mind and there she hides out free from distractions while she completes this important work.
Rituals are highly individual and lawyers should be encouraged to develop their own. Rituals that take between three and seven minutes seem to be optimum for giving the brain time to prepare for action without becoming a form of procrastination.
When Paul develops a programme for his athletes it invariably starts with a goal. For some it’s winning Olympic Gold and for others it’s coming back to competition after a serious injury. Goals are personal but it is having an eye on the prize which keeps us motivated to do extraordinary work it takes to be successful. But simply starting out with a grand idea isn’t enough to get an athlete to the finish line in first place. Goals have to be broken down further into something that is achievable everyday.
One technique that athletes use to make their goals more achievable is to break big goals down in to product goals and process goals. Product goals are the things the athlete needs to achieve to succeed at the big goal and process goals are the things he needs to do to achieve each product goal.
Achieving goals often requires personal sacrifice in other areas and sometimes the motivation for making these sacrifices is as simple as admitting that you can’t have everything. I’ve heard of coaches asking athletes to write down the things they are going to sacrifice in order to achieve their ultimate goal.
Those working on a content strategy with lawyers can adopt this technique almost without adaptation. Help individuals responsible for content production to articulate their own personal goal, break the goal down in to a number of intermediate steps and then identify the processes that needs to be followed to achieve each step. 3 product goals, with 3 process goals each seems to be a good number. Finally, identify the sacrifices the individual is going to make in order to reach their goal.
In the gym, Paul has a number of techniques designed to subtly ramp up the pressure and sense of responsibility his athletes have towards their performance in training. The main weapon of choice is an array of white boards combined with good old fashioned peer pressure. To train with Paul you must book in at least 24 hours in advance, and when you arrive you’ll find your work for the day written up on one of the boards for everyone to see. Paul says that since he has adopted this technique, the number sessions cancelled at short notice has dropped sharply. Despite the fact that it only takes him about 30 seconds to write an athlete’s programme up on the board, it creates enough of a sense of responsibility between athlete and coach as to motivate the former to show up consistently.
Content strategy is more effective when individuals have a sense of responsibility towards a group effort. Display key content production tasks on large board sited in a prominent position in the office. Ensure that each task is assigned to an individual and that a clear commitment is made particularly when it comes to delivery dates. Display performance figures like the number of days in a row you have managed to update the blog. Nobody likes to be the one to drop the ball when you have a rally going!
As well as being a weapon of compliance, Paul’s whiteboards serve a more joyful purpose. Several of the boards are given over to the celebration of success. As you might expect, success is celebrated against the season’s goals and key performance indicators but interestingly, athletes are encouraged to record three things they did well at the end of every single session. The celebration of success boosts confidence and makes positive future performance even more likely.
Delivering in the firm’s content strategy is an important part of the modern lawyer’s responsibilities, but just because it is part of the job, doesn’t mean that success shouldn’t be rewarded. One department we know of in a City firm displays a large board in their break-out area where press clippings, positive blog comments and other forms of recognition are gathered and celebrated. Remember that as marketers we take for granted the statistics we have at our finger tips. Try to share your Analytics data with authors to show that their work is getting recognised.
In order to arrive a peak condition for an important event athlete split year in to a number of periods each with a specific focus. This ensures that we give each aspect of performance the required attention and has the helpful side-effect of keeping thing interesting and keeping boredom at bay. For a competitive athlete, the training year might be split into four periods, know as macro-cycles:
Immediately after a competitive season the athletes focus is on rest and recovering from the stress and strain of competition. He carefully reflects on past performance, and sets goals for the season ahead.
After a post-season rest, the athlete turns his attention to general preparation where his goal is to build the foundation of strength, speed, agility, and fitness that will defend his body against injury and from which he will launch a programme of more specific training.
Building on his foundation of general preparation, the athlete begins to focus more sharply on the unique demands of his sport. His attention will be on building his levels of skill and the specific strengths required for competition. This phase culminates in reaching peak fitness precisely as the competitive season begins.
During the competitive season the athlete makes use of his preparation and aims for to maintain fitness and avoid injury. Large changes are avoided in favour of constant evaluation and refinement as the season progresses.
This periodised approach can apply to a content strategy too. Start by identifying the dates when important legal developments are likely to occur. New legislation or judgments in landmark cases would be typical examples. These the lawyers equivalent to competitive season and is the period when producing timely content has real value for clients and prospects. It is also the period when your competitors will be busy doing the same. Your content strategy should aim to peak here too with the other periods planned in accordingly.
Unlike athletes, who generally have one competitive season, a lawyer’s content strategy will need to peak at several times throughout the year. Perhaps the judgment in a landmark hearing is expected in February, an industry conference takes place in June and an important new statue will come into force in October. In this case the lawyers periodised content strategy would consist of three cycles of four periods. Each period would last a month and in turn would cover:
Month 1: General Preparation
Now is the time to produce general guides to the area of law in which you practice. This kind of content will be aimed largely at a non-legal audience and will feature material such as executive briefings, checklists, and high level guides. Think of this content as a way to improve the quality of your clients. The more they understand the basics, the more impressed they will be when you delve into the details later.
Month 2: Specialised Preparation
In this period we start to introduce the up-coming event in more detail. Now is the time to produce speculative content and really show off your experience and powers of analysis. Your content in this period should avoid sitting on the fence. Take a position and defend it. Your readers will appreciate you having the guts to take a view, even if you have to qualify your opinions with a disclaimer and may later turn out to be wrong. Preparations at the stage will give you a head start on the competition who are only covering the main event.
Month 3: The Main Event
Legislation comes in to forces, the judgment is handed-down, the conference opens it doors and now the full force of your content strategy should swing in to action. In this period you’ll be building on the foundations you’ve laid in the preceding months and capitalising on the lead you’ve gained over the competition. At this stage you’ll need to cover as many channels as possible and these marketing activities will be taking up a significant portion of your time. There’s a rest coming up so give it everything you’ve got.
Month 4: Rest and Review
If you did it right, then month 3 will have been a busy time and you need to give yourself a chance to recover. Now is the time to review your performance and it’s a perfect opportunity to ask client’s for feedback. It is also the time to set goals for the next cycle. Take a break from your content strategy or just keep up whatever communication channel comes easily to you; if you’re an avid Tweeter for example, then limit your output to that for now.
Inspiration for developing best practice can come from the most unlikely sources and it is a good to develop a habit of looking for it in all walks of life. If you’d like to read more about sport psychology and motivation I’ve found Jason Selk’s book 10-Minute Toughness: The Mental Training Program for Winning Before the Game Begins to be a good resource.
I hope you find the ideas in this article helpful and, as always, I welcome your feedback and comments. Find me on Twitter: @mikedbean.
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