At a recent effective writing course I led for PM Forum the issue causing most concern for delegates was getting content out of busy lawyers, accountants and surveyors. Content development was described as being like getting blood out of stone.

So here are some ideas to help get that content out of the busy fee-earners and into your marketing and communication channels. 

See things from their perspective – Professionals are usually running around at high speed trying to stay on top of a huge array of client, team, management, financial and service issues during long, non-stop days. Under such pressure it is not surprising that your request for some content – whether an article for a newsletter, a post for a blog or even a tweet to accompany some other material – falls on deaf ears and goes to the bottom of the pile. Having agreed a structured plan and campaign where the professional can see how this one piece of content fits into the big picture to deliver the longer term objectives (greater client satisfaction, higher profile, better recruitment, more fees and profits etc) might help with goal alignment.

Get others to help them see the big picture – If the material you are seeking is needed for a wider campaign, make sure they understand the context and the importance of their contribution. If necessary, enlist the support of those fee-earners who are involved in the campaign to encourage people to write material. 

Focus on topical rather than technical – It may be too much of a stretch to try and prepare the first draft of a technical document so focus instead on preparing bullets or drafts on more commercial, advisory and topical pieces. This is also a valuable teaching aid for fee-earners who are used to preparing technical documents but less comfortable with more conversational and informal material. 

Seek help from PSLs – Law firms often have Professional Support Lawyers who can help you prepare a first draft. In property businesses, there are often research folk with a deep understanding who can provide similar assistance. By making an effort in doing the ground work, and reducing the magnitude of the task, you may find busy fee-earners more accommodating. 

Prepare a list of bullets – Sometimes people freeze when faced with an empty sheet of paper or a blank screen. So produce a working title, a note about the aims and audience, and some bullet points about what needs to be covered and the length and nature of the document (is it a technical article for a peer-reviewed magazine or a commercial article for an industry journal or a more informal post for one of your own blogs?).

Leverage peer pressure – Think about in-group bias. If they feel that preparing material is something that only they are asked to do they are likely to resist. But if they see their peers happily preparing content on a regular basis this may prompt them to behave like others in their group.

Produce a first draft with their assistants – Spend some time with other members of their team so that you have sufficient information to prepare a first rough draft. It is often quicker and easier for a fee-earner to expand and modify a draft that it is to start from scratch.

Recycle and repurpose material – There is usually some related material – whether in video or presentation or written format – that relates to the topic where you want content. Check the existing material – whether by the relevant partner or someone else – and consider how it might be used as a starting point for the content you require.

Produce a content management plan – Persuade them to invest half an hour or so with you so that you can recall the overall marketing and business development goals, consider the target markets and core messages, remind them of the client and fee targets and reconnect with the strategy. Then talk through a series of topics that you can cover over the coming months. Ask probing questions about the planned topics so that you can prepare a list of bullet points. These will remain in their subconscious and they may feel more able to write the material at the appropriate time having mulled it over for a while.

Interview them – Prepare a list of probing questions and ask if you may interview them (seek permission if you wish to record the session) in order to elicit sufficient information so that you can prepare a first draft for them. This is a great time saver from their perspective and you are taking some of the burden of the work.

Subscribe to newsfeeds – There are numerous services available that will provide you with a stream of pre-prepared material that fee-earners can simply “top and tail” to add their personality and views. Hopefully, over time they will use less of the “canned” material and more of their own voice.

Organise a co-author – If you are still getting nowhere fast with a particular fee-earner, consider organising for a co-author to work with him or her. Peer pressure helps and the co-author may have more persuasive weight than you.

Provide insight into effectiveness – Social media channels provide detailed analytics about how many views, shares and comments are generated by each post. Showing fee-earners how to monitor progress may help convince them that preparing timely and relevant content is valuable for both communicating with existing clients and referrers as well as reaching out to new ones.

Use the content pyramid – If you produce one or two major pieces of content a year – say in the form of a research report, White Paper or major document – then it is relatively easy to pick off topics and obtain the background information from this throughout the campaign. You can then present your fee-earner with a schedule of pre-agreed articles or posts, with bullet points to get them started with dictating or drafting that can be entered into their schedules and calendars.

Be a pest – Sometimes you just have to be a pest. Keep prompting and cajoling. Some will appreciate your persistence in reminding them when they are busy. Others may eventually give in just to get you off their backs.

What are your best tips for getting busy fee-earners to contribute the required content on time?