KM Group Seminar: Hitting the Target

June 20, 2011

Law firms and publishers put significant effort into producing and distributing know-how publications and alerts. But evidence suggests that many either miss an intended recipient completely or languish unread in their inbox. Surely, in 2011, there must be a better way? 

This is a question that publishers and the ‘author side’ of law firms’ and the ‘reader side’ of both law firms and legal departments are trying to address.  What can authors and those that support them do to ensure that their valuable content hits its mark? 

As so often there’s no single right answer. The SCL KM Group brought together a panel with broad perspective as well as deep experience to lead this discussion.  The panel comprised Matthew Whalley, Global Legal Function KM Programme Manager at HSBC Group, Ros Innes, Group Head, Corporate Finance and Nick Callister Radcliffe, Editorial Director, both at Practical Law Company, Mark Dibble, Head of Online Services at Allen & Overy LLP and Stuart Barr, Director at HighQ Solutions.

The panel were united in their view that those looking to make improvements in their know-how publication hit rate need to focus on all stages of the content lifecycle: creation, publication and distribution and consumption.  Authors, publishers, distributors, technology providers, knowledge managers and readers need to engage in some ‘joined up’ thinking – reflecting together why things may not currently always hit their target and how to ensure that they do hit the ‘bull’s eye’ in the future.

From a publisher’s perspective, the panel agreed that there is work to do ‘author side’.  Feedback suggests that there are many authors who do not have sufficient (or sometimes any) awareness of what happens after they sign off their text or click send.  As Nick Callister Radcliffe noted that authors need to understand not only who they are writing for but also when, where and how that person will receive and read their piece.  Authors then need to use that knowledge to inform what and how they write.  This includes not only focusing on the text of an individual piece but also headlines, abstracts and keywords, other metadata and the use of links.  It should also drive author thinking about individual topic v ’round-up’ publications and also the format of publications (eg HTML, Word, PDF, webcast or podcast) and how they are distributed. 

Looking at technology, the panel reflected on our ‘interesting times’, technologically and culturally.  Our current generation of lawyers are wedded to e-mail and everything hitting their inbox. But as Stuart Barr eloquently put it ‘e-mail is broken’: it was never designed as a publishing channel even before our corporate and individual misuse of it made us ‘slaves to our inboxes’.  However, Generation Z – born between the early Nineties and Noughties – bring a fresh perspective.  Feedback suggests that they don’t ‘do’ email.  They are willing and able to go out and make their own connections rather than sit back and hope what and who is relevant finds their way to them.  As a result they have zero tolerance for the generic and irrelevant.  Publishers and authors need to be live to these cultural trends and focus on technology that can allow content be distributed and consumed in as relevant, timely and personal a way as possible.  This is likely to include the development of specialised channels that can deliver content reflecting group and individual interests.  It is also likely to include a greater focus on authors as individual thought-leaders and influencers, through the increasing use of video and audio, blogs and Twitter, and online networking sites. 

From a consumer perspective, Matthew Whalley commented that, while he is keen to see all his ‘author side’ partners being more pro-active in using the latest technology to deliver know-how to HSBC in a more targeted and segmented way, clients also must play their part.  Matthew explained how HSBC Legal uses Autonomy’s IDOL engine to power its ‘Smartsearch’ tool that allows HSBC lawyers globally to search across an archive of around 200,000 panel firm and PLC publications.  HSBC also makes use of NewsGator RSS software to ‘push’ the latest legal updates to relevant HSBC legal teams via the HSBC Legal intranet. 

Lively conversation and joined up thinking continued into the night reflecting what a live issue this is for many SCL members in their different roles.  If SCL members would like to continue or add to the discussion with their own reflections and ideas, please add comments online.  

Stuart Barr’s slide presentation can be accessed here.