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2016 Legal Marketing Challenges Opportunities - Jim Matsoukas [PODCAST]
Thursday, January 7, 2016

Legal marketing can be a challenge, but it also comes with numerous opportunities. Jim Matsoukas from Pierce Atwood, LLP talks about a variety of marketing tactics in this podcast. Learn about what works, what doesn’t work, and how to use these tactics for your firm.

John McDougall:     Hi, I’m John McDougall and welcome to the Legal Marketing Review Show on National Law Review. Today my guest is Jim Matsoukas, CMO and Director of Business Development at the Law Office of Pierce Atwood. Welcome, Jim.

Jim Matsoukas:     How are you doing, John?

Legal Marketing Challenges for 2016

John:     Really good. So what are some of your biggest legal marketing challenges for 2016?    

Jim:     That’s a good question. I think one definite challenge is actually a challenge and an opportunity. [We need to] be smarter about how we go about marketing ourselves digitally and making our website more friendly and more efficient and convenient for people that come to take a look at it. I think that’s very important. That’s something that we have to keep working on. The technology keeps developing and the competition keeps increasing. People keep using digital methods to shop more often, so we need to keep on top of that. That’s definitely one. I think this might be related to that, but SEO optimization is always top of the mind. What we’re finding is that our traffic is increasing in terms of people finding us through organic search. We have to be more sophisticated and more strategic about the language we use on the site and the language that we use in our ads and in our alerts, articles, and publications and how that matches up with people looking for legal services. I think that’s important.

John:     Those are two good ones. On the first one, I don’t know if you’ve heard this stat and I’m trying to think of where I’ve heard it, but Chief Marketing Officers are now spending more than Chief Technology Officers. Marketing has become more technical.

Jim:     I couldn’t agree more with that. I sort of consider myself a CMO/CIO, because you have to be these days. Obviously I don’t deal with the intricacies of the technology as much as a CIO does, but I have to know a hell of a lot about it, because I have to understand how the technology works in order to take advantage of it in the best possible way. So, I keep up with that constantly. I think you have to continue to read and go to panels that are technically oriented and so on.  

Legal Marketing Opportunities for 2016

John:     Yeah, it changes like the wind. What are some of your biggest legal marketing opportunities for 2016?

Jim:     Like I said before, the challenge and the opportunity are similar there. Like in digital and website and SEO optimization – those are all key opportunities, but they’re very challenging. It’s two sides of the same coin. Other things that I consider opportunities are to focus more on what we do best and what we do well. Continue to provide proportional support across the firm. What makes a firm different from a corporation is that corporations are more hierarchical and are more able to market and select things and sacrifice other things for strategic reasons. That makes sense for them as a business. We do the same thing, but when you’re a firm, you have to make sure that everybody within your firm, regardless of whether they’re a leading service or supporting service or a niche service, they all have a role to play. So when you’re the CMO of a firm, you have to make sure that you’re balanced and a little bit adventurous in the right way and everybody’s getting that level of investment that they should and they deserve. That’s a continuing challenge, but it’s an opportunity. If you do it well, if you don’t squander resources and you sell what the firm is best at and everybody understands the role they play in sales activity, which is really healthy. That’s something we focus on a lot. Another opportunity is we’re growing quite a bit in Boston, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and DC. We want to keep that momentum going. A real opportunity for is us that we’re finding [people] are finding us more and more attractive because they see us as a high quality firm that has a relatively low overhead, so we can get people that are lead practitioners who want to lower their rates a bit for their clients, but still socialize and be part of a firm that has a very high level of performance. So far, that’s been a real success for us and we want to try to keep that going, while at the same time making sure that there’s a cultural fit with the people we bring on. We’re a team oriented firm, so everybody shares information and credit. That’s important. I guess the last thing I was saying would be I constantly advise people and train people who focus on clients before leads and look backwards. A lot of times the natural reaction in marketing is to develop more leads and raise more awareness. That’s all very important and we do that continuously, but you have to balance that with knowing where your current contacts are and what your current clients need, and branch out from that. We always know where our bread and butter [comes from] and how developing our leads relates to what we’re currently doing well with and who we’re working for.

John:     So being more strategic about the whole process, where it’s easy to just hop on the latest tactic.

Jim:     Exactly. You have to balance a lot of different variables when you’re managing the place. So we want to bring the latest techniques in and we want to do it in a way that fits within our current structure and our current approach to the market.

SEO vs. Social Media vs. Paid Search

John:     What about tactically? What holds the most promise – SEO, social media, or paid search? I know mentioned SEO quite a bit, but what do you think in 2016, given what you just said and aligning to your positioning and growth plans, what tactically do you think matches well with that?

Jim:     As far as digital marketing tactics go, I think SEO is definitely number one for us. We have to be more and more intelligent about how to do that. We’re working hard on that. Then, we’re trying to integrate all of the different digital initiatives that we have, whether they be the way we invite people to events, the way we communicate with our contacts regarding new legal developments, publications and articles, and all participation. What we’re trying to do is bring all of that together so that everything we do has a rationale and supports our search engine optimization strategy. In everything we do, we’re trying to make sure that it fits into how people find us and then build on the way in which people are currently finding us. That also opens up other paths for them to come in. So, that’s what holds the most promise for us. I think SEO is definitely the focus. We don’t do as much paid search, because we don’t think that given what we do, it really helps us a whole lot. We did do a lot of social media, in terms of keeping the word out there and spreading information about the firm, and we’re continuously pushing that out. So I don’t mean to say we ignore social media, but SEO has a more direct connection to our sales process.

John:    I was just going to ask if you had to only budget for SEO, or social media, which would you do and why? But I think you can probably knock that one off pretty quick given what you just said.  

Jim:     Definitely, it would be SEO. Before the advent of a lot of digital marketing, let’s go back to 20-25 years ago, if you think about people being out and about and constantly going to events and socializing, networking, and circulating, you have to do that when you’re selling knowledge and you’re selling professional services. To me, social media is the current version of that, where you have to be out there and constantly interact in putting information up and sharing with others. And then interacting with people within this social media realm. A lot of that is very similar to in-person networking, it’s just another layer that you have to do today. That’s more of like a routine investment that you have to constantly make. But if I had to budget and choose, I would definitely put more money towards SEO than social media.

John:     Right, and just to further elaborate on where you’re headed with that, it sounds like the thought leadership piece and doing SEO, not in just the old way where it’s just kind of cramming keywords in. You have to put the keywords there, but within reason and Google is looking for topics and in-depth content. But it has to now really be based on thought leadership, right?

Jim:     I couldn’t agree more. One of the key challenges we have though is when you’re dealing with law, inserting the keywords becomes a real challenge because the way in which the law is expressed is very technical. When you’re translating legal knowledge into every day conversation, which is usually what you do on the web and in advertisements, you have to be very careful what language you use. You can lead people down the wrong path very quickly if you say things the wrong way. So we have to be real careful about that. I think it's a bigger challenge for not only a law firm, but for anybody that is selling a complex service. The way you phrase things sometimes is in conflict with the way they should be phrased to be successful in the search engines.

Legal Compliance Issues

John:     That’s a nice lead actually into the next question. Are compliance issues for content marketing getting in the way of your legal marketing, or are they manageable?

Jim:     You know, the answer to that is they always get in the way. In terms of compliance issues, they’re pretty strict in the legal marketplace, and if you’re dealing with individual consumers, they’re very strict. If we’re marketing things like that our trust & estates practice or if we’re marketing services to individuals or maybe residential real estate or something like that, we have to be very, very careful. You can’t deceive someone who is not sophisticated about the law and you can’t go after them in a way that persuades them of something they shouldn’t be doing. For our more important market, which is the commercial market and in-house counseling and corporate officers and things of that nature, regulation is still strict, but the regulations are really designed to protect the person who is unsophisticated. That market is more sophisticated, so we can be a little more liberal. We still adhere to what we need to adhere to. When you’re talking to someone who knows a product very well that you’re trying to sell, there’s less of a chance that you’re going to deceive or mislead them, or possibly persuade them to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do. So we’re very careful. The bottom line is, they get in the way, but it’s manageable. It’s a skill that you develop over a number of years in this industry. You begin to understand how to phrase things so that the regulators are okay, the bar associations are okay, but you’re still getting your job done. It’s a constant tug o’ war.

John:     That is what you do as an attorney. It’s definitely tough for attorneys and banks and financial services and certain things, but at the same time, the good news is that you’re attorneys, so you have a leg up in that sense. But it’s still challenging.

Jim:     It’s something you always have to pay attention to, and you can’t be too free and loose about it.

PPC Marketing

John:     We talked a bit about paid search, but do you think it’s a good alternative to or in addition to content marketing, or were you basically saying you haven’t had great energy towards PPC?

Jim:     We haven’t had great luck with it. We’ve tried it a couple of times, and what we find is that our market is not as likely to pay attention to paid search or not as likely to use it to find legal services. A lot of times, when you look at the sponsored listings in search engines versus the organic listings, our market tends to go to the organic. When we tried paid search, it had some effect and some success, but we find that the market we’re going after is less likely to come to us through that path. The reason for that is a lot of the phrases that people are paying for are very, very expensive in the legal realm, or at least the more popular ones. So, what we might do in the future is we might look for specific niches, language-wise and practice-wise, that we can use in paid search that are not as popular but that we happen to be particularly strong in. Then we’ll do some tests and see what might work there. That’s been a challenge for us.

John:     Yeah, I think it’s a challenge with all of legal. We’ve managed quite a bit of legal [marketing.] Millions and millions of dollars of paid search, like mesothelioma, lawyers, auto accident attorneys. These clicks are the most expensive. It was interesting. Hubspot came out with the top most expensive paid search clicks in an infographic recently. Even mesothelioma got beat out by auto accident attorneys in specific cities.  So it’s fascinating, you know, $670 per click.

Jim:     I think those personal injury type practices are more likely to use that. I think for a good reason. They’re economic model is different. They spend a lot of money in bringing leads in, and then filtering them and hoping that they hit the right lead and make a lot of money on a contingent basis with a good case. Whereas our business model is very different. We’re not in the personal injury market, so what we do is a lot of corporate defense and working with people to strategize with them about how they can move their businesses forward and still be legally compliant and taking advantage of different things that the legal system might offer. When you do that, we don’t spend a lot of money up front and get it back on contingency, we’re much more of a retainer billed and hourly billed type of thing. This makes spending a lot of money on paid search a little more difficult.

John:     Back to our earlier thought on how thought leadership is important. Your potential customer, if they think you’re just buying ads, they’re not as likely to be impressed either. So that’s part of the reason organic is just so critical for your market. They want to hire services and legal providers that are at the top of the real results with authentic content. Not that paid search is bad, we love paid search for the right things and even non-personal injury work. We’ve certainly been doing that quite well. But the ultimate is having that organic presence.

Jim:     At least for our business. So there’s a perception of different tactics that you use in addition to the content. So if, like you said, if you used too much advertisement or too much paid search or too much push, sometimes a brand like ours gets tarnished a bit by overdoing it. So, we have to balance that very carefully. I guess the phrase would be “tasteful” marketing, because some of types of clients that we have are more likely to be impressed by our ability to pick our spots and have some restraint with what we do and not to be too over-the-top. That’s for our brand.  

Legal Marketing & Blogging

John:     That makes a lot of sense. What about challenges and opportunities from blogging? What do you think the issues are there?

Jim:     You know John, I think blogging is great. I’ve pushed that as much as I can here. The biggest challenge we have with blogging is content generation. To make a blog work, you have to have a certain level of frequency with posting. It’s very difficult sometimes for attorneys that have high billable hours that are always working, and then they have other things that they’re doing with their non-billable time like other marketing opportunities and other professional opportunities. It becomes difficult for them to be a consistent blogger. Sometimes, they can get around that by having [other people] writing for them and having them review it. But what I’ve found is that only gets you so far because it’s the attorney’s knowledge that is driving the blog and it’s their ability to know what to say about what topic that really drives the interest of the blog. So there’s just so much you can help them with that. They really have to generate a lot of that on their own. So that’s the main challenge for it, but as far as a tool, it’s one of the best tools, especially for establishing your authority and your thought leadership and making sure that you have content out there all the time that is being clicked on or looked at. It opens up conversations. I think it’s a wonderful too.

John:     Yeah, you just have to keep working on creative ideas, like podcasting and video, and doing things with the attorneys that might get content out of their voice without always having them write. You know, balance I’m sure.

Jim:     It’s just making it as easy for them as possible and getting them to commit to some type of routine. Which is difficult, because their lives go up and down. You have peaks and troughs. When the peaks come, things tend to fall off the map and then the trough comes and they’re back. It’s hard to keep it going sometimes.

John:     I think the good news though is that you have quite a few attorneys, so even if they got on a once a quarter schedule, but it was enough attorneys so you at least have a blog post a week, then the challenge is partially back on the marketing team to then go promote the content. And the attorneys too should share the links to the content they create, so it’s not just post it and hope that Google does everything. It should really be a matter of sharing that content. That’s where it’s a little easier for your marketing staff to actually go share that content and these days, it’s important to have a lot of content, but a big mistake we see people making and we certainly made it for a while, was putting 90% of effort into the blogging and 10% into the promotion. It really needs to be somewhat split, if not more towards the promotion than the creation.

Jim:     That’s a good point. I agree with you, and we have to work harder at that.

LinkedIn & LinkedIn Pulse in 2016

John:     Some of that, the attorney doesn’t have to do. That sort of leads into LinkedIn, where you can certainly use LinkedIn to help attorneys share their content, whether it’s LinkedIn Pulse or doing a status update with a post that they created. Whether it’s once a month or even once a quarter for that attorney. LinkedIn can help. What do you see opportunities are for doing more with LinkedIn, or not, in 2016?

Jim:     We’ll definitely do more. In fact, LinkedIn has lowered the threshold to get the information out there than having the blog discipline. We’ve gotten to a point now where the attorneys are pretty savvy, at least the ones we’ve talked to and explained it to and that’s quite a few, and they post what they do on LinkedIn routinely. If they have a new alert that goes out, or a new article, or a panels discussion, or an engagement that they’re allowed to talk about, those things are posted on LinkedIn relatively routinely. We’re getting much more sophisticated in terms of searching for particular groups and affiliations and getting people to use their list of contacts in a very strategic way. The right people are getting the right information. I see us doing more investment in LinkedIn in 2016.

John:     That’s great, and I really appreciate your tips today Jim. How can people get in touch with you?

Jim:     They’re welcome to either go on the website at http://www.pierceatwood.com, they can see my bio on the website and all the attorney bios. They’re also welcome to call if they want to call, it’s (617) 488-8206 and I’ll be happy to talk to them. Then look at information that’s going out from the firm. Hopefully there’s enough out there that people might find out about us.

John:     Absolutely. Well, thanks again Jim for speaking to us today.

Jim:      Thanks for the opportunity, John.

John:     Check out http://www.legalmarketingreview.com as well as the National Law Review at  www.NatLawReview.com  for more information and interviews on legal marketing. I’m John McDougall, thanks for listening.

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