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Content Marketing: Sponsored Journalism vs Advertorials

At LaFleur, the key to our marketing strategy has been and will continue to be the creation of strong, compelling content. Our editorial process begins with developing unique, insightful ideas that apply to individual clients’ practices and ends with posting well-researched, truly outstanding content that aligns with your law firm’s goals. We believe in marketing with you – not just for you.

A big part of that marketing effort is the creation of content for blogs that highlights your professionalism and expertise. In turn, this content – if it is researched and written well – creates an opportunity for cross publication in local or national periodicals or media. This content fuels new business, but it also engages your network of peers, your current and former clients, news agencies, and even your competitors.

Content like this can broadcast your firm’s success, credibility, and reputation as well as highlight the rankings and accolades of your firm and your team. Receiving third-party awards such as “Top Ten Personal Injury Attorney” provides an opportunity to create new content, distinguish you and your firm from your competition, and allow you to reach a broader audience.

There are many legitimate, professional ranking systems out there that involve things like being selected by a committee or requiring nominations from your peers. While you and your team’s accomplishments will draw in awards and higher rankings, our expertly written, well-edited legal content exponentially increases your visibility and keeps you in the minds of your peers, your clients, and the organizations who honor top lawyers and firms.

But what happens if you try to bypass all this?

Recently, Newsweek.com developed a section on their webpage that highlighted its “10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys 2014.” Labeled (in an inconspicuous, tiny font) as a “Sponsor Insight,” this page explains the value of personal injury attorneys and the role they play in restoring their clients’ lives and then lists the “Top 10” attorneys, complete with in-depth profiles.

We’re certainly not discounting the level of expertise of any of these attorneys. It’s clear from their credentials and reputations that they are competent lawyers who do win cases. However, the list itself is misleading. On the most basic level, “Sponsor Insight” is a tame, duplicitous way of saying that it is an advertorial. Mongoose Atlantic, the company managing this revenue-making machine for Newsweek, bills itself as “a publisher’s representative with a difference.” Their sparse website tosses out a lot of marketing buzzwords like “accountability” and “turn-key solution” while flashing their list of clients and their work in popular magazines like Time and Forbes.

What Mongoose Atlantic does is create ads. They may be well researched and nicely laid out, but they are indisputably advertisements. Brian Chasnoff of the San Antonio Express-News contacted Newsweek for his article on one of the personal injury attorneys featured, and Oliver Tree, a spokesman for Newsweek.com, confirmed “that’s actually an advertorial. It’s a paid piece.”

Even in a society that tends to value gold stars and ribbons for participation, this is roughly equivalent to buying yourself a trophy for winning a 5k you didn’t run in. New in 2015 is the “Legal Superstars” section of Newsweek.com, again with a small “sponsor insight” logo at the top. That’s it. There’s nothing else to distinguish this from any other section of the website and identify it as paid-for information.

Chasnoff of the Express-News dug a little deeper and discovered the cost information for these “Superstars”:

[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]In a sales pitch emailed to an attorney, an account executive for the company wrote, “Have your feature be accessible to everyone in the country on Newsweek.com, Double sized photo at the top of the page, and the guarantee that your feature will be able to be seen by 350,000 unique visitors … All participating Attorneys will receive a ‘Newsweek – Legal Superstar 2015’ emblem for use on their website.

The “advertising cost” for the “national option” is $14,950, according to an invoice emailed to the attorney. No one at the featured law firms is interviewed; rather, the firms are encouraged to write their own profiles.[/mk_blockquote]

There are undoubtedly a great deal of disingenuous tactics that are used throughout the world of advertising. A #1 ranking isn’t hard to come by with enough disclaimers, caveats, and exceptions. At least for now, terms like “#1,” “top ten,” and “best of” still catch the eye of consumers and instill a sense of confidence – whether it’s warranted or not. And although sponsored journalism is an increasingly prevalent way that people are consuming media, there’s an important distinction to be made between sponsoring journalism and sponsoring an advertisement.

Ultimately, advertorials disguised as journalism are misleading to potential clients. What’s worse is that they undercut the hard-earned reputation of lawyers and firms who are now forced to explain how being honored on a peer-reviewed, invitation-only list of the top 100 lawyers in a state is different than paying to become one of the “10 Best Personal Injury Attorneys 2014.”

The ethics behind content like this are muddled. Newsweek says it’s a “premier news magazine and website, bringing high-quality journalism to readers around the globe for over 80 years.” But a sponsored ad isn’t journalism. And even though Newsweek has labeled the content as a “Sponsor Insight,” the average consumer may not be able to tell the difference when it’s listed among and formatted in the same way as non-sponsored articles.

More troubling are the implications of a proliferating pay-for-award culture in the media. As media outlets struggle to thrive in the digital age, the profit incentive for featuring content like “best of” lists becomes greater. In a sea of inflated curriculum vitae, the search for truly outstanding attorneys becomes even more hopeless – and consequently poisons the reputation of attorneys in general when clients have lackluster experiences with the “best” lawyers.

At LaFleur, we fundamentally believe that your actions and effort should stand for themselves, and transparency is a fundamental cornerstone of our business. When you become a client, you will work with creative, experienced, and invested digital marketing strategists who will strive to showcase your talent, ability, results, and outstanding client satisfaction – instead of advising you to pay for faux-accolades. Your expertise will shine through our cleverly-crafted content and well-researched pieces – instead of on a dubious and ultimately meaningless “best of” list. In the end, honest appraisal will come from credible sources, and you’ll be holding yourself to a higher standard. Run your 5K. And let us run with you.

 

References:

Chasnoff, B. (2015, January 16). Henry paid for Newsweek ranking. San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved from http://www.expressnews.com/news/news_columnists/brian_chasnoff/article/Henry-paid-for-Newsweek-ranking-6021776.php

Graeme Somerville, R. (2015, May 6). Newsweek lawyers kill content marketing. PR Week. Retrieved from http://www.prweek.com/article/1345910/newsweek-lawyers-kill-content-marketing