Entertaining Elephants

Elephant Head by Trouble on flickr

A while ago I commented on a blog post about the nature of legal blogging. I was pretty relaxed about the definition of legal blogging, and people’s self-definition and motivation for blogging and was a bit bemused when a number of commenters got a bit hot under the collar about who was a real blogger / blawger / flawger, and what sorts of blogs had value. But I’m feeling slightly different about it now. Increasingly the term “blawger” is symbolic of an approach that I just don’t identify with, and I think I’d prefer to define Pink Tape as a legal commentary blog (albeit not always the most serious commentary), not a “blawg” or a “flawg”. And here’s for why…

I work pretty hard on this blog. In between the “real” work of barristering. It does make me a little bit of money in the form of advertising revenue, but not nearly as much as the lost billable time I spend writing blog posts. No doubt the blog has some benefits in terms of profile – but notoriety is not necessarily a surefire way to more instructions. Good bloggers do not necessarily make good lawyers and vice versa. If I just wrote in order to sell my “product” I would censor myself rather better than I do. For example I would probably not foreground the amount of legal aid work I do and would not complain that I can’t pay my mortgage. I make a conscious effort to write from the heart, to write honestly about my experiences, to say what I think rather than what I think potential clients might like to hear (within the bounds of professional conduct). Much of what appears on Pink Tape is unlikely to win me any clients. People might read it, but it hasn’t resulted in a queue outside chambers to instruct me on a Monday morning. And I’ve probably put the kaibosh on any hopes of a judicial career I might have had (far too bloody opionionated and hot headed). But overall I don’t think it hurts, and lay clients are sometimes impressed or are reassured by knowing their lawyer has a beating heart and a bit of a life.

So why do I divert considerable energy into this blog? I’ve got more than enough to be getting on with without it. It is partly a cathartic process, a means of managing the stress of the job. But it is also out of a sense, probably misplaced, that we need to be more transparent, more open to criticism, more willing to debate family justice issues. Out of a belief that the public need better information, and that those within the “system” have a responsibility to be part of that process. Idealistic crap probably, but it accounts for some of the more outspoken material on Pink Tape.

Other bloggers balance these considerations differently, but at one end of the spectrum are those who treat blogging as no more than an adjunct to a marketing campaign. I make no value judgments about that, but it’s not my bag. I think (and will be corrected if I am wrong) that there is a tendency for the term “blawger” to be associated with blogs falling at that end of the spectrum or to be used by those who are behind such blogs. So I’m finding that term a bit of a turn off.

Anyhoo. With all that in mind, it irritates me when people expect me to do their marketing for free. Pink Tape is not just a glorified advertorial for “Lucy Reed, Barrister” (of course I take the opportunity to signpost to services I offer, but if it were only a marketing campaign I would have ditched it long ago as the quantifiable ROI is negligible). And it goes without saying that a visibly CRAP blog would not enhance my practice. And therefore it ought not to be a surprise that I don’t rent it out to anyone who wants to promote themselves for free by piggybacking off my hard work on Pink Tape.

As I type this I am cringing. I’m not trying to be a self important pompous wotsit (I appreciate the bar suffers from a predisposition to pomposity). But it is important to me that what people read here is interesting, informative, real. And honest.

So, when I get an email from a marketing company saying,

“My name is James and I’m carrying out some online marketing on behalf of XXX solicitors firm. This led me to your blog and I see you’ve got some great articles and a fresh take on family law.

I was wondering if you would be interested in a guest post from my client, who is a UK based law firm, on an aspect of family legal matters?”

 

when firm XXX has a sizeable budget for advertising and their own blog consisting mainly of posts amounting to a cut and paste headline, a link to a news story, and a tacked on sentence saying “Our solicitors can offer you advice on [a topic vaguely related to the news item in question]”: I generally send a tart response along the lines of “If you want an advert I can send you my rates”. And it’s not just me: this lazy approach to marketing is a pet hate of others too, as Kate Gomery coincidentally points out in a post today.

I don’t write blog posts like those and I don’t publish similar posts written by others. Apart from anything else, clients deserve a bit more respect. If it’s an advert then  say it’s an advert. That’s ok. But pretending you are offering something of value when you are just regurgitating some Daily Mail tittle tattle is sending out the message that you think your clients are fools. It’s insulting and probably counterproductive (OK, maybe a little value judgment).

Equally, when someone writes,

“I just got done reading your “Cry if I want to” and I found it really interesting! Do you do advertising?  I’m marketing out a few sites and can pay you $50 via PayPal to add a text link into one of your older posts.  The link would go to an education site and I’d make sure the site relates to your post’s content.”

 

they get pretty short shrift. Lady, if you had in fact read my blog post you would know that I do indeed “do” advertising. But I identify it as such. And I don’t pretend it’s something it’s not.

I am amazed at the number of solicitors firms who spend good money on PR and SEO agencies that send out this sort of ridiculous rubbish on their behalves:

“Hey,

I have had a read of your blog, I thoroughly enjoyed yoru posts. [sic]

The reason I am emailing is to see if you would be interested in writing a guest blog post for one of my clients?

My client is XXXX Solicitors, they are one of XXXX’s leading personal injury solicitors. This would be a great opportunity to have your work posted on a highly viewed, highly respected solicitors site.

Blog-Posts would have to be between 450 – 500 words and be relevant to the personal injury sector. All articles will be read by one of the team at XXXXX Solicitors before being posted.

I understand this may not be a field in which you specialise in but, if this interests you, then please get in contact with myself through email.

Kind Regards

Adam”

Readers will know I am NOT a PI barrister. Can you guess what my response was?

“Dear Adam,

Thanks for your email. To be frank, I cannot imagine what I could offer to a firm of solicitors in a different legal jurisdiction who practise in an area I know nothing about. Nor can I think of a good reason to give up my time to do this. I blog partly for enjoyment and partly to develop my own business, which is as a family law specialist. I don’t generally blog to develop other people’s business and writing something (badly) about an area of law about which I know zip would be unlikely to enhance my profile.
I would have thought that the best way for a firm of solicitors wanting to improve market share through social media would be for them to generate good quality content in order to demonstrate their own expertise. But then I’m just a lawyer, you’re the marketer.
Perhaps I’m missing the point.
Have a good weekend.
Lucy”

 

No reply yet.

Here’s another exchange:

“Dear Lucy

I am the PA to a partner of YYYY, a matrimonial Law firm in London.   I am looking to promote our company website and was wondering if you would consider putting in a link to our homepage of News and Media section of our website as I understand you add content and edit this blog?

Kind regards”

 

My response:

“Thanks for your message. I am not sure if you are asking me to add your firm’s website to my blogroll or list of useful sites, or if you would like to place an ad link. My blogroll / useful sites list contains only links to other legal blogs and to free sources of information of general interest concerning family law. I don’t list individual solicitors firms there or make recommendations for particular firms, so if that is what you were enquiring about I’m afraid I can’t help.
You will see that I do take adverts on Pinktape but these are clearly marked as such – you will see on the right hand column Pink Tape under the heading “other ads” that several solicitors firms have paid for text links like the one you describe in your email. Is that what you are looking for?”

 

They try again:

“Dear Lucy

Thank you for responding.  I am generally speaking talking about being added to the blogroll or list of useful sites.  The Media and News section of the XXXX website includes press releases, links to articles and videos on the BBC and Huffington Post website. We will soon be integrating a our own blog and videos into this section of the website as part of our redevelopment of our website.  It does generally promote our activities, but I would like to think that is an interesting source of information for those in the legal sector.

Kind regards”

 

I’m not going to humiliate or have a go at individual firms so you’ll have to take my word for it that the website in question is in the style complained of by Kate Gomery. I did not add them to my blogroll. They did not purchase an advert.

So. For what it’s worth let me lay down this marker (and henceforth all similar enquiries will be met with the economic reply “No” followed by the permalink to this post – which I fully appreciate will also not be read by spamming PR idiots):

  • Don’t pretend to have read my blog or to think it’s interesting. You know that’s b****cks and so do I.
  • I don’t disguise adverts as content, even if you dress them up as guest blog posts.
  • If I want a guest blog post from someone I respect who has something of value to say that my readers will find interesting I will ask them. If your client can’t be bothered to introduce themselves or build a relationship they are unlikely to get an invite.
  • I don’t accept payment for content. I do accept payment for adverts (which are entirely at my discretion).
  • If you want links for the purposes of SEO I’m happy to oblige for a fee.
  • I do not run the blog for the purposes of making a profit off advertising. I do not need to haggle with you on advertising costs.
  • I do not blog for the sole purpose of self promotion. I do not need to write a blog post for you, even if you imply you are doing me a favour by letting me work for free.
  • I spend a lot of time on this blog. If your clients think it’s such a great idea and that has some positive marketing potential I suggest they invest some time themselves. It would be far better spent than the money they have wasted on your fees.
  • Learn to spell. Learn something about the legal sector. Learn something about social media marketing.
I know this is just a little blog with a limited readership, and pretty unimportant it is too. And I know I should just drag those emails into trash and forget about them. But I can’t help it. I just feel compelled to tell them to BLOG OFF!! *groan*
[WARNING: DISGUISED ADVERT ALERT] I am fortunate to have a husband who is a website designer and social media consultant. I have tech support and guidance on tap (although I often ignore it and tinker with things until they break). [END WARNING] Organisations who don’t have that expertise “in house” are vulnerable to exploitation by social media snake oil salesmen. They risk wasting money at best and doing damage to their reputation at worst.
The title of this blog post comes from a children’s book & song “Alligators All Around” by Maurice Sendak (an old fave in our house). More fitting than I had realised when I chose it.

11 thoughts on “Entertaining Elephants

  1. Oh Lucy, how heartfelt is my utter agreement with your every word, except I really am a self important pompous wotsit and you aren’t.

    So I’m going to name a few of the names that have employed half-witted, lazy, amoral marketing dimwits on their behalf to seek ‘guest posts’ or links in posts on their client’s behalf. I made a point of replying asking who the client was. After all, why should they escape the consequences of paying these buffoons (and I’ve named them on twitter before).

    Irwin Mitchell
    Middlesex University Law School
    Every major PI ‘claims manager’ you can think of, including every single one advertising on the TV. Yes, all of them.
    Victor Clifford Solicitors (Criminal firm apparently, with a line in comment spam)

    There have been many more. Claims managers are particular offenders, but far from the only ones.

    Not a single one of these were remotely relevant to my housing law specialist blog, as with your family law blog.

    What they are desperate for, apart from free or cheap content, is your google juice. Pink Tape has a good google page rank. So does NL. We have each earned it by producing our own particular content and getting readers and links without asking. That said, page rank makes no odds to me whatsoever, but for these parasites a link from a high ranked site is manna from heaven, emmenthal to a rat, or freshly disturbed earth to Tim Burton.

    As one of the cantankerous US lawyers who weighed into the discussion that you mentioned at the start of your post once put it – outsource your marketing and you outsource your ethics.

    Of course, just as dubious is actually accepting these proposals, not least because the whole point is that the tawdry deal is hidden from the readers.

    NL doesn’t carry ads – our choice – but if we did it would be with exactly your policy, that they are clear, separate and identifiable.

    That kind of distinction escapes these bottom crawlers (many from supposedly respectable PR firms) who want the hidden ad, and endorsement without disclosure. That is how their world works. As one, actually from a thoroughly ‘respectable’ and very expensive PR agency told me – ‘it’s my job’ and then refused to take me off their email list for future ‘proposals’.

    Sorry. Rant nearly over. I hate those people and those who wittingly or not pay them to do this. I consider outsourcing marketing in this way to be a strict liability offence. I don’t care that you ‘didn’t know what the PRs were doing’.

  2. *applauds*.

  3. Excellent post.

    I can certainly vouch that one receives those tiresome promotional “guest post” emails…

  4. ah yes; sadly you have made an elementary mistake. what you need is a shoddy blog at which you very occasionally hurl random polemic of interest to virtually nobody. take it from me – nobody ever tries to capitalise on my popularity.

    (ps – your blog is truly awesome. could you send me some money? thanks)

    • Sure I can send you some money. You’re in the queue just behind the mortgage man, the bank manager and the VAT man. I wonder if the LSC might pay me for a guest blog post written by them? They certainly don’t like paying me for doing actual work.

  5. ya know, there’s something in what you say. i could offer to do a guest criminal defence for the cds. maybe they would pay me for that… it could just catch on.

  6. *joins in Milly’s applause and rises to her feet*

  7. AAAH! *HEAD DESK*
    Today’s inbox:

    Hello,

    I Hope you are well.

    I work for Epiphany Solutions on behalf of Middlesex University who currently promoting a selection of their courses. I have come across your site and I think it is very informative and well presented and I feel that this would be a great match for my client. I am currently looking to place a blog post with a single link within the post linking to my clients site.
    Hopefully this interests you. If you could please contact me via email to discuss further.

    Many thanks

    James Selway
    Link Analyst
    Epiphany Solutions Ltd

  8. I get these emails all the time. I used to reply to them saying thank you for your interest but no, I don’t want any guest posts thank you.

    However I now tend to just delete them. Particularly since I have stated very clearly on my contact page (just above the contact form – which they use!) saying that I do not take guest blogs or do link exchanges.

    I am beginning to wonder whether they aren’t automated in some way, like those awful robot calls I keep getting on the phone.

  9. I don’t think they are automated. I suspect it is just the bloody awful SEO agencies looking at the wikio lists for ‘law’ or something similar. They have to come to NL to find my email address after all (unless it is on some registers now).

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