Three Journalism Techniques Your Firm Should Use to Create Compelling Content
BY Brendan Conley
The Internet is saturated with marketing content, and it is too easy for readers to tune out. When writing is bland and vague, or too sales-oriented, users will scroll or click past it.
Compelling content hooks readers and then draws them in, imparting information they need while keeping them interested.
When your law firm’s marketing team creates press releases, blog posts and other content, they should borrow the best techniques of journalists.
1. Declare & Demonstrate Relevance
“Why should I read this?” Every reader is constantly asking this question in the back of his or her mind. If the answer is ever, “I don’t know,” the reader moves on. Two of the best answers to this question are “because it is interesting” and “because it is informative.” Bad marketing content feels like an ad: it strikes readers as useless and boring, and they hit the mental fast-forward button. Your firm must have content that informs and engages readers. People are used to quickly clicking around the internet until they find what they are looking for, or something else grabs their interest. Make them stop when they reach your page.
A headline or title must boldly declare why the content should be read. “Recent Developments in Medical Malpractice Law” sounds boring and not terribly important. “How Changes in the Law May Affect Your Medical Malpractice Lawsuit” at least states a reason why people involved in such a case might benefit from reading the content. Here are some other more compelling examples:
- Three Mistakes Injured Patients Must Avoid
- Don’t Get Caught by New Rules for Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
- Is Your Claim Barred by New Medical Malpractice Rules?
- One Thing Injured Patients Can No Longer Do
- What You Need to Know About New Medical Malpractice Changes
Catchy headlines convey urgency and a need to know, warning the reader that the uninformed may face consequences. Short lists (even a list of one) give the reader a promise of well-defined information. Readers are drawn in by information that is new, that appeals to their “how to” instinct or that assures them they will not be left out.
Of course, everyone has encountered headlines that make promises that the content cannot keep, whether they are teasers for the nightly news or clickbait posts on social media. Infotainment outlets use these tricks to deliver eyeballs to advertisers. Your law firm’s website must actually deliver on its promises, with engaging and illuminating content.
2. Arm the Reader with Facts
Prospective clients have questions. Internet users have questions. Answer them. Marketing language puts people to sleep by using many pretty words to say nothing. Instead, do what journalists do: give the reader hard facts, specific examples and reliable sources.
It is easy to write, “Experts say many accidents are caused by distracted driving,” because it says almost nothing and attributes it to no one. Instead, write, “Texting while driving is more dangerous than drunk driving, according to a study by Transport Research Laboratory.” “Distracted driving” is vague, but “texting while driving” is something the reader can picture guiltily doing themselves or fuming about another driver doing. The comparison with drunk driving conveys real information in a way that is more evocative than simply giving numbers or percentages. Providing the source of the study adds to the authority of the piece, showing that the claims this author makes will be backed up by facts.
Of course, the questions that many prospective clients will have are about their specific circumstances, and until they contact the firm for a consultation, the only answer will be the lawyer’s old stand-by: “It depends.” To avoid annoying or boring your readers with generalities, provide specific examples, either of the firm’s actual favorable verdicts and settlements, or hypothetical scenarios that commonly arise.
3. Tell a Story
Journalists are committed to reporting accurate information, but they also understand the importance of storytelling. No one is interested in a collection of dry facts. Journalists use the narrative art and even a touch of literary grace to illuminate the significance of their subject. Legal marketing writers can benefit from an understanding of different news writing styles.
The traditional news style is structured with the opening of the article answering all the important questions about the subject — the who, what, where, when and why — and paragraphs decreasing in importance as the article continues. In laying out a physical newspaper, the article can therefore be cut from the bottom and still make sense. A news feature departs from this style by starting with a human interest hook, a brief scene or anecdote about a person who has been affected by the larger events being reported. The personal story gives the reader a reason to care about the bigger picture. While a news feature may revert to traditional news style by summing up the larger facts after a brief personal anecdote, a narrative piece may continue to reveal the story piece by piece, not answering the central question until the end.
Legal marketing writers can learn from all of these techniques. The traditional news style format works well for press releases and blog posts, because readers can get the message even if they do not read the whole piece. This “just the facts” approach satisfies readers who want a quick answer to a question and would be frustrated by a story that buries the lede. But the power of human interest storytelling should be incorporated whenever possible.
Dry legal information makes most readers’ eyes glaze over. However, stories about real people facing dramatic life events — and the lawyers that help them — can be compelling. Long narratives are usually not necessary. Just add a human interest. An explanation of a dry concept — say, creating a trust — can be livened up simply by naming your hypothetical humans. “Bill, who is worried about his son Kevin’s financial future” is more interesting than “the trustor.”
Whether they are summaries of the firm’s successful cases or hypothetical narratives help to define legal concepts, explain stories drawn from the news and tell accounts about real people to whom the reader can relate. When readers see themselves in the stories you tell, they will begin to see themselves as your client.
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