Grab a Reader’s Attention by the Throat

Why bother to write an article if no one reads it?

Too many lawyers think that merely writing and publishing an article somewhere–anywhere–helps their rainmaking.  These lawyers delight in checking off  “write/publish article” from their Rainmaking To Do List. 

Yes, publishing articles can boost client development–but only if the articles attract the attention of potential clients. Just getting published is not enough. By analogy, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it…does it really make a sound?

Earlier this month I listened to a panel of journalists talk about how law firms can interact well with the media and attract coverage.  The panel shared lots of good suggestions: customizing story pitches to each publication; contacting, but not pestering, journalists; and making sure that a story idea is truly newsworthy, up to date, and timed right for the particular media outlet (e.g. whether daily, weekly or monthly).

Panel member Mary Flood, a lawyer turned journalist, shared some witty insights with the audience. According to Mary, lawyers, law firm marketers and PR firms too often pitch stories devoid of interest. Instead, lawyers and their staff should try to pitch (or, during an interview, let the journalist uncover) story ideas that are really novel, interesting, unusual and off-beat.  Those are the stories that will capture a journalist’s (and a reader’s) imagination.

You can use that same principle when writing your own articles for publication. Don’t just dryly report facts. Try to take a new and interesting approach to your subject, even if you are writing on an esoteric topic for fellow lawyers. Interject stories, quotes and anecdotes to add interest.  Try to find an unusual twist to your topic.

Perhaps most important, engross your reader from the get go. Make your title so intriguing, unusual or shocking that you grab each reader’s attention by the throat, so to speak.  Mary Flood, who used to write for the Wall Street Journal and now writes for The Houston Chronicle (including in her Legal Trade blog), chatted with me about this after the panel discussion. I was flattered to know that Mary had read my blog several times–when a blog headline had caught her eye.

Headlines are the critical point of entry for any reader; if titles are too boring–or too offensive–readers may bypass your article. For lawyers working across cultures, make sure that your titles and content are culturally appropriate for your readership.  What’s considered clever, engaging and engrossing in the States may be confusing, misunderstood or wholly inappropriate abroad.

Any writer has but a few seconds to ensnare a reader. So, crown your articles with enticing titles; grab your reader’s attention by the throat; and then don’t let go.

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