What Broadway Can Teach Us About Legal Marketing
Great marketing, at its core, is storytelling—describing yourself and your work in a way that captures attention. In recent years, there’s been no more groundbreaking and effective storytelling vehicle than Hamilton, the rap musical about America’s first Treasury Secretary. This year, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced that Hamilton and its co-creators will receive a special award at its 2018 ceremony honoring extraordinary contributions to culture.
Like the Kennedy Center folks, we at Right Hat are inspired by Hamilton’s innovative storytelling. As historians and theatergoers know, Alexander Hamilton himself was a lawyer and a prolific writer who used words to effect change. He wrote the Federalist Papers, (most of them, anyway) to rally support for the new U.S. Constitution—an early legal PR triumph. It’s not surprising that both the musical and the man have lessons for those of us who write about law and lawyers today:
1. Any topic can be fascinating
Should the federal government assume state debts and establish a national bank? In history class, this is a snoozefest. But turn it into a rap battle between rival crews, and audiences can’t look away. You don’t have to become an expert in rap flow to write memorable law firm copy, but a little creativity can take you far. (Think about this next time you have to draft an ERISA practice description.)
2. Stay on brand
Choose a message and stick with it. The phrase “not throwing away my shot”—which refers to both the idea of seizing opportunity and the practice of intentionally missing the first shot in a duel—is heard over and over in the Hamilton libretto. By the end of the show, it has become shorthand for the main character’s key characteristics: ambition, impatience and grit. What message does your firm want to drive home? Where can you reinforce it?
3. Speak your audience’s language
Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda wanted to write a musical that would make theater relevant to young, diverse audiences. So he wrote in their language: rap music. It worked—people of all ages and ethnicities embraced the show and the history it (subtly) teaches. Similarly, when your communications use a business voice, instead of a legal voice, executives are more interested in what you have to say.
4. Change is good
Miranda knew that three hours of unceasing rap might wear on audiences. To keep the show fresh, he mixed in ample amounts of jazz, R&B, ballads and old-fashioned show tunes. You can do the same. In your writing, vary sentence lengths and structure to keep readers on their toes. In your communications strategy, mix up the platforms you use to get your message out.
5. Details matter
Everyone loves a story—and Hamilton is a compelling one because of the details it contains. Knowing who the players were, where they lived and what they cared about is part of what makes the show memorable. This is a great lesson for writing a representative matter description. You need facts and details to bring it to life. Explain why the matter was important, what was at stake and how the result helped the business involved.
6. Remember the power of youth
Hamilton was approximately 17 years old when he wrote his first political pamphlet, 18 when he first fought in the Revolutionary War and 32 when he became treasury secretary. As business disruption becomes synonymous with success, young people are wielding more power in purchasing legal services. Connect with them through the platforms where they live, such as mobile devices and social media.
7. A life story shouldn’t take a lifetime to read
The show’s opening number covers 17 years in Hamilton’s life; the first act finale, six. Apparently, biographies—even of the most accomplished professionals—don’t have to include everything a person has ever done. Edit liberally to hit the highlights and tell a strong story.
8. Understand reader behavior
Alexander Hamilton famously said, “The art of reading is to skip judiciously.” That has never been truer than it is today. Studies of eye movements have shown that “readers” don’t actually read—they scan. Use provocative headlines and subheadings, short paragraphs and infographics to grab the scarce attention that’s available.
According to the musical and the book that inspired it, Alexander Hamilton wrote “day and night, like he [was] running out of time.” While you don’t have to go that far, if you borrow a few ideas from Hamilton, you can avoid throwing away your shot at powerful marketing communications.