ALM Claims its Streetcorner

American Lawyer Media has been a trusted source of news and commentary for the legal community, from such “must-read” publications as the Legal Intelligencer and the New York Law Journal to such sketchy ones as the American Liar and the National Law Journal, And then there’s its web presence, with such mainstays as  Legal Blog Watch, Blog of Legal Times and its best named domain,

The problem with ALM, however, is that for all it has, it’s never been a hugely profitable company, and it’s always been limited by its universe, the legal community.  As a business, like any business, the goal of profitability is at its core, and certainly no one can blame it for that.  In fact, it says so right under the title “Our Core Values“:

As a dynamic global business ALM is committed to the development and success of the people we work with and the communities we serve. We aim to deliver the highest standards of integrity, fair-dealing and quality in the services we provide.

There you go, profit. And I, for one, have no qualm with that.  I do, unfortunately, have a qualm with this :

ALM, known as a leading provider of news and business information to the legal and real estate industries, announced last week the formation of a Marketing Services team that will work with law firm clients to plan, execute and measure a comprehensive marketing campaign.

The objective of the new team is to deliver greater return on investment for clients by offering a full suite of marketing services from a single source, reducing the need to engage with multiple vendors to acquire new leads and build customer relationships. The team will meet with clients to assess their overall marketing goals, then customize a package of services – including market research, national and regional advertising, live events, Webcasts, email marketing, advertorials, and other ALM offerings – in order to build a turnkey marketing campaign, and finally to provide lead management and measure campaign results.

How thrilling to learn that a business built on providing information, news and commentary to lawyers can also provide “new leads” and “customer relationships.”  Notice that there is no mention of the arcane and archaic word “client.”  There’s gold in them thar leads, and ALM wants to mine it.

Over time, I’ve gotten to know a good number of folks who work or are related to ALM, and for the most part, they’re good people and many are good lawyers.  They handled themselves with integrity, and never let their association with ALM sway what they wrote or who they wrote about. There was often some question as to what their relationship to ALM meant, given that it wasn’t exactly a great payor and when trouble happened, was the first to leave the sinking ship.  But they didn’t strong arm their people to do their corporate bidding, which reflected well upon the integrity of ALM’s publications.

But then look at what happened with other businesses that began as honest brokers and ended up walking the boulevard.  Findlaw comes immediately to mind.  Not Yodle, as was never considered an honest broker, nor a host of others who staked out their street corners already.

Granted, the toxic combination of ignorance and desperation makes this move by ALM a good business decision from the perspective of scarfing up those marketing dollars that would go elsewhere, perhaps to a less “dynamic” business.  But as Kevin Vermeulen, senior vice president at ALM and the head of this new venture says, he has the “other ALM offerings” to sell, to use to bolster your one stop marketing behemoth.

Does this mean that Legal Blog Watch will now be an integral part of ALM’s lead generator?  Bruce Carton probably gets a bunch of press releases and tips every day from people who want him to take notice of their incredibly important bloggy news, and promote the living crap out of them.  While I can’t imagine Bruce selling his keyboard, I can easily imagine his handing off the reins to another who might be more amendable to the corporate good.

This would never happen with an honorable company, you say?  Consider Exhibit A, the law firm of Womble Carlyle  announces that it was “ranked #1 for social media outreach among law firms reviewed.”  The ranking was done by Adrian Dayton, who turned “social media guru” after his eight months practicing law didn’t work out too well.  And for whom does Adrian guru?  Womble Carlyle! 

As it happens, Adrian is also a social media writer for The National Law Journal.  And the NLJ just happens to be owned by whom?

While this might be an appropriate opportunity to explain, again, why a quarter million websites proclaiming their lawyers to be caring, experienced and aggressive isn’t going to work.  As each tries to outdo the other, to take another step down the slippery slope of deceit and slime and SEO hegemony, there will never be a winner.  But I will resist the temptation to mention these problems.

Instead, consider that even trusted sources of news, information and commentary want to make sure that they have a hand in your pocket, and a street corner to call their very own.  Let no lawyer be untouched by marketing.  Let no “lead” or “customer” be missed by the business that once was a profession.

5 comments on “ALM Claims its Streetcorner

  1. Bob Ambrogi

    This is unacceptable — maybe even the first nail in the coffin — for a company that has long stood up for integrity in journalism. And I say that as someone who used to work for ALM and was editor of the NLJ.

    How can the same company sell marketing to law firms with one hand and objectively cover those same firms with the other? Even if it could erect some pseudo Chinese wall between its Marketing Services department and its editorial department, readers would always be left to wonder. Is the firm glorified on the cover of The American Lawyer an ALM client? Is the firm trashed in another article one that spurned ALM’s marketing services?

    If ALM still sees its primary mission as unimpeachable journalism, then it needs to immediately get out of the business of promoting the very industry it covers. It can’t be both a critic and a cheerleader.

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