In this joint episode of On Record PR and Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated (LISI)’s All the Things podcast, Gina Rubel goes on record with LISI COO and CMBDO Robyn Addis to talk about the latest trends impacting the legal marketing and public relations industry.
Robyn Addis has worked in legal marketing at two of the largest firms in Philly, leading a marketing team, creating and implementing firm-wide marketing expense and ROI tracking systems, and designing and executing hundreds of marketing and business development events. In 2019, she joined Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated as Chief Operating Officer/Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer, taking the skills she learned in Big Law and adapting them for small to midsize firms.
At LISI, Robyn developed a strategic plan outlining five new lines of business, a reimagined revenue/pricing model, and the infrastructure required. The result in 2020 was a record-breaking 57% growth in her first year.
In addition to her role at LISI, Robyn coaches women to achieve career fulfillment, she serves as Director-at-Large for the Legal Marketing Association Northeast Region Board, and she runs a household of three children, a first-responder husband, a one-eyed rescue cat, and a bratty cockapoo.
Robyn Addis: We both attended Thomson Reuters’ 30th Annual Marketing Partner Forum this past week in sunny southern California. Today’s episode is our chance to talk about what we took away from the conference. Gina and I actually both happened to co-present with several other panelists at MPF on social media for small to mid-size firms.
Gina, I’m interested to hear your big takeaway from the conference, maybe that one thing that really stuck out to you.
Gina Rubel: If you want to look at any of the coverage on Twitter from the conference, they used the hashtag #MPFDiamond since it was their diamond anniversary.
Thomson Reuters has this fabulous survey with data, the marketing partner survey, and in a lot of the data that they shared, they segmented all of the different types of marketing that we talked about. Everything from client visits and social media to training, marketing, web sponsorships, and public relations. Furia Rubel is a public relations agency and a lot of what we do, like reputation management, incident response, and PR, fits within almost all of the marketing and BD silos. It supports all of those things, and I think our industry tends to spend a lot of time separating out all of the various types of communications as opposed to making them more collaborative. At LISI, when you look at web, you’re not just looking at the infrastructure of a website, you’re looking at content, you’re looking at SEO.
With PR, PR has to support all those things as well because PR is a form of content. Sometimes on the incident response side, it’s a form of not putting content out there. I really want to start looking at public relations more holistically.
Robyn Addis: It’s interesting because as you know, we as an agency do not do PR, and it’s something that I have gotten a lot more exposure to, especially in recent years. Obviously, it’s always been something that’s been involved in the legal marketing departments I’ve been a member of, but I really haven’t had to touch it or go anywhere close to it. The PR ecosystem is just something I stayed far away from out of fear.
Your point about it being an integrated component of legal marketing, especially more on the content side of things, on the messaging and distribution, or what to say, what not to say, the incident response – it is something that I think people like me can’t bury their heads in the sand about anymore. It is critical to legal marketing, to marketing, to business communications, and it is just something that we can’t be blind to anymore. Do you feel like you have to educate people about that a little bit sometimes?
Gina Rubel: I really do. Oftentimes when we’re working with a law firm and they have a web and digital partner such as your company, we’ll ask them if we can collaborate so that even the PR content, the messaging, and the positioning support the messaging and positioning that you’ve counseled them on as well as the SEO. You can’t ignore those things, they have to work hand in hand, and yet so many law firms are ignoring the importance of marrying those two together.
When law firms ignore integrating marketing and PR, what’s the risk for them? What’s happening if they’re ignoring the marriage of those sides of the function?
Gina Rubel: It’s a lost opportunity. It’s less risk and more opportunity cost.
If you see a law firm putting out PR content and you’re in the middle of an SEO campaign, where do you see the risk or lost opportunity?
Robyn Addis: In terms of brand messaging and staying on message overall, if there’s a disconnect between the PR message and the branding, the marketing messaging, it just creates a discord in people’s minds that they might not even be conscious of and it just creates a conflict that feels uneasy.
To your point about SEO, there’s so much opportunity in messaging to the media, as I’m learning more and more, to highlight links and create traffic back to various components of a website or digital marketing elements. If those aren’t aligned, it is a huge lost opportunity, but that lost opportunity is leaving money on the table.
I can’t quantify the risk necessarily, but what is the lost opportunity cost that you’re just walking away from because people aren’t understanding the full client acquisition process in order to become connected with the firm?
Gina Rubel: I’m not as savvy on website technology, but we will post content to a client website because we have control to post their press releases. We have to make sure that we’re not messing up their keyword strategy in naming a page. I know that sounds like minutiae, but that’s the minutiae you deal with every day. A lot of legal marketers and marketers don’t realize that there’s an opportunity just in the way you name a page in the metadata.
Robyn Addis: We just met with a good client of ours yesterday, and they are looking to expand their engagement with us to include SEO. We do a cursory review of their site, and we will do an exhaustive audit once they add that as a service. Of the 640 pages on their website, 527 of them have no meta descriptions.
The alignment between the PR and the content in the meta description is so critical, and 97% of the time, the story I just told could be repeated for a lot of firms. That’s not to point a finger at those firms; often firms haven’t realized that they have to prioritize somebody who’s truly focusing on that.
Gina Rubel: Five or six years ago we were launching a new website. We had a change in management, someone internally was uploading content, and none of the pages got named. I had a near heart attack. Here I am for days and weeks going back through and updating all the metadata.
This is the reason why you hire a firm like yours. There is so much detail that goes into it. As a former litigator, when I first started and I met Jason Lisi, the founder of your firm, I didn’t understand the technicalities of what went into developing a website because lawyers aren’t taught that, obviously. All lawyers think a website is just written content that’s somehow uploaded magically, and it just looks perfect. It’s like writing a book, – “Oh, I wrote the copy, now upload it.”
It’s really fascinating to me, and that plays out even in the PR realm. “I wrote a press release, and it’s going to land in every newspaper and across the country.” I can visualize you laughing.
Robyn Addis: Yeah, I’m laughing pretty hard.
Gina Rubel: It’s really understanding that there’s so much more that goes into all these things that we do. It’s the integration and the collaboration, just like we’re doing here today. We’re collaborating on our podcasts because it’s a great opportunity for us to share messages across our audiences.
What was your biggest takeaway from Marketing Partner Forum?
Robyn Addis: I spent a lot of time with Jennifer Carr on your team, who is my peer in the industry and my friend. We were chatting a lot about the digital transformation, and the digital disruption that is happening, and it is a natural add-on from the conversation we were just having about bringing together and fully integrating the key components of a marketing, public relations, and communication strategy. The next big wave in marketing is that digital shift. We’ve all been doing digital for a number of years, but my soapbox speech is that we are doing it in spits and spats, and we have independent technologies that may or may not speak to each other.
It was an interesting conversation that Jennifer and I were having, prognosticating what the CMO looks like in a firm in 10 years. What do they need to know? What talent do they have on their team? How are they using resources? What do those resources look like? We’re in another time of uncertainty and doubt across the business community, and there was a lot of conversation about that, which prompted Jennifer and me to talk about how we could position our client firms for success to bounce out of this or to use the opportunity to leverage their digital skills and their digital footprint to stand out above the rest.
Those firms that are able to use that digital footprint, that can streamline processes with technologies and automations and integrations and be more nimble and flexible in turning the tide, are going to be the top leaders at those firms in the next five to 10 years.
Sometimes when I say this, I feel like I’m repeating a fact that we all know, but also I don’t know that everybody knows this, or if they know it, they don’t know how to do it.
Gina Rubel: There is going to be a huge sea change, like nothing we’ve ever seen in terms of the speed with which it’s going to change. Over the course of our lifetimes, we have seen technology change very quickly. However, that speed is speeding up exponentially, with things like ChatGPT coming out and all this new AI.
If you don’t know what AI means, it’s automated technology. Basically, it’s machine learning. ChatGPT is going to be such an interesting game-changer in content. Yet anyone who thinks they can write content using it, isn’t thinking about the fact that the Googles of the world are probably writing something, if they don’t already have it, to look for AI-written content and knock it down in terms of search.
Yet I needed an answer to a question yesterday and I did not have time to type it, so I went to ChatGPT, I asked it the question, and it answered it. In two paragraphs, there was my answer. I edited it, and I had it ready to send to a teammate. I thought, wow, that’s ridiculous, because it takes the search out of search, which obviously Google doesn’t like.
It’s just fascinating the speed with which the industry is changing. Our jobs are going to become less about tactics and more about strategy. The implementation is going to become fully automated.
Robyn Addis: To the ChatGPT point – nobody knows what the algorithm is for Google specifically, but there are a lot of really smart people who study it as much as they can, and all reports point to AI-generated content not being promoted. It’s not value-driven content that’s going to show up on the first page of Google. I’m sure the algorithm or the bots are able to understand that.
We are advising clients when they ask about using ChatGPT for content generation. I have been using an online tool called jasper.ai; it’s an artificial intelligence content generation tool. I have been using it for maybe a year to get the ball rolling on my content. I watched some YouTuber talk about it and they were going on about how it could generate their entire blog post. I tried it once, and I knew right off the bat that it would never work. It’s not my tone of voice, and it’s not exactly what I would be saying. It has been such a valuable partner, aiding in my process to help me think of a topic sentence for X, Y, and Z.
To your point, these AI tools and the independence and self-reliance that lawyers and executives will be able to employ, are going to take away a lot of what they rely on their marketing departments for in terms of tactical activity. The focus will be on strategizing, thoughtful, competitive intelligence, and business development targeting. There is a lot of opportunity there, but they have to be able to understand how to leverage the technology and the tools that also have to be well implemented in firms.
Gina Rubel: I believe that things like Jasper AI and ChatGPT are all useful tools to take a blank page and add something that becomes a starting point. For many of us, that starting point is the biggest challenge. It’s a great tool for lawyers to think about, and since we’ve mentioned it, I feel strongly that you must edit it. There is no guarantee that it’s not a copyright violation coming from some other website. It’s a starting point only. It’s an idea generator, and it is not meant to be the content itself.
Robyn Addis: I can actually guarantee you that it’s a copyright violation. I’ve seen content that comes through and I go, that has to be verbatim from some website somewhere.
Gina Rubel: That’s where it just can’t be relied upon in that way, but that is going to be a game changer across the board because the strategy is going to be much more important.
We were doing a ChatGPT demo at our company retreat, just showing people how it can be used, how it shouldn’t be used, and what they need to know about it if clients ask. I said to my teammate, write a bio for Gina Rubel. It was godawful. It was pulling from really old information. I know it’s not on our website, unless perhaps it’s in a very old press release. That’s the other thing – fact-check if you’re going to use it, because you cannot guarantee that the facts are accurate.
Robyn Addis: That’s why we still need humans.
What are you seeing moving forward? What do you see as some of the big trends being in 2023?
Robyn Addis: I would like to see more B2B firms employ B2C firm-style strategies or commercial-type strategies. We’ve talked about this separately before, that B2C firms are very nimble and flexible. They are willing to try strategies that some of the larger B2B firms shy away from, like paid social. More B2B firms are getting into that, but that’s been something B2C firms have done for a long time.
I would like to see B2B firms do more than reactively share content. If something happens in the industry, lawyers write a legal alert, firms post it on the website and social media, or the marketing department shares it. It’s what every firm does. Those things still need to happen because there’s certainly value to the client when lawyers create that content. I think the gap that’s missing is more of a campaign strategy that reinforces core messaging, core values, and a commercial flare to it. Sometimes a firm might have a tagline, but taking two or three core messages and making them the fundamental component of a content pillar, and a campaign strategy or multiple campaign strategies related to that content pillar – that would be *chef’s kiss*. That would be the most amazing thing to see firms start to do.
There are still tactics to a certain degree, but it is less tactical and more strategic. That is where marketing leaders can start to differentiate themselves from some of their peers.
Gina Rubel: We have created content strategy around some clients’ PR campaigns, in particular proactive campaigns that are either industry-focused or practice group-focused and very similar to a B2C campaign. It’s important to incorporate drip marketing and get thought leadership top of mind, as well as a lot of data-driven information that’s very visual as opposed to just the written word. Because we are in a world where we have a smaller attention span than we ever had before.
I think it would be great to see that happening and hopefully, the data will support the effectiveness and the ROI of those types of initiatives.
Robyn Addis: I have yet to see a large enough sample to have any sort of tangible thoughts on this, but I think there’s a reason it works for other industries and professional services. Other professional services industries do it, so why not legal? It’s coming.
What do you think is the big trend? What would you like to see happening this year?
Gina Rubel: I’d like to see more collaboration and more niche marketing, because that’s where the world is going to stand out. I know a lot of our big firm clients are not going to want to hear that, but it is what it is. This idea of practice groups went away a long time ago, but we’re still marketing practice groups, as opposed to focusing on the key industries. Lawyers always say, “If I don’t say this, then I won’t get that.” That is completely not true.
I would like to see more focus on the numbers, and what I mean by that is looking at the profitability analysis of various industries and geographies and focusing on that space, not trying to be everything to everyone. We see a great return on investment when we focus on an industry group. It’s the same reason why Legal Internet Solutions Incorporated and Furia Rubel Communications niche in legal marketing.
It doesn’t mean we don’t serve any other clients; both of our companies do. However, those are ancillary to our primary target audience and where we focus probably 80 plus percent of our marketing dollars and our messaging.
Robyn Addis: Over the past 12 to 18 months, once Covid started to lift and the world started feeling normal again, we all witnessed the war for talent, both business professionals and lawyers in firms, and that supports your point about collaboration and niche focus from a talent perspective.
What I was witnessing time and time again is incredible talent from Am Law 100 and 200 firms was leaving those big firms and seeking out smaller to mid-size firms that were a better fit for their practice, more support for their industry focus or their specific clients. Ultimately, the reason that they came to us is that small to mid-size firms are our ideal target market. They were coming to us with a desperate need to support new attorneys who’ve joined their firm and their marketing needs.
It takes so long to make a sea change. It takes so much effort that lawyers and real talent are moving to smaller firms that can rise to the occasion better.
Gina Rubel: I saw it more than ever during the pandemic, but that’s been the case for as long as I’ve been running my company, which is 20 years, that exodus of big firm talent to smaller firms where they can have that unique focus. That’s not to say that there aren’t great reasons to stay at big firms, so it’s not disparaging at all.
These are all personal preferences, but I do believe moving forward, the more focused a firm is, the more likely they will get the business. It’s going to continue to change.
Robyn Addis: I’m not trying to put down the big firms, and it is a fair point. There’s a lot of reason to be at big firms too.
If you had one thing that you’d say you have to be thinking about in 2023, what would it be?
Robyn Addis: Marketing operations is the unifying theme of everything that I’ve been saying. My background is in marketing operations, so it is of particular interest to me, but I believe the more that business professionals and law firms can understand the marketing ecosystem and how to support a firm’s shift and digital transformation, the more invaluable they’ll make themselves. The more that firms can open up to making the changes to more fully integrated systems, automations, and processes, I know in my heart and I know from evidence that that is where firms need to be. I would like to see that be a main focus jointly for our listeners in the next year.
Gina Rubel: I would add that that includes leveraging technology and doing everything we can to get attorneys to understand the importance, the value, and the return on investment of leveraging technologies, whether they be CRM systems, websites, social media, or any other technology that helps us do our jobs and market.
When I say market, I’m talking about both client and talent retention and acquisition. There are so many technologies, and they go hand in hand. It’s imperative for lawyers to learn and embrace these things. We are not walking backwards. Pandora’s box has been opened and it’s time to embrace it in order to be more effective and efficient and to still be able to develop business.
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