Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Market “Positioning” and What it Means For Branding Your Firm

Last week in this blog, we spoke about law firm branding and its relevancy in the information age.

But exactly what is the firm brand? What does it really mean?

We’ve always looked at law firm branding as the outward manifestation of the firm positioning. By this I mean that the brand and all the logos, web sites, ads, blogs, articles and slogans that go with it are, or at least should be, a reflection of the essence of the firm. And by essence, I am referring to what the firm stands for, its point of difference versus competitors, its reason for being.

To ascertain all of this can be a difficult challenge when different personalities, egos, and practice groups all have disparate needs for how they want to be presented to their target markets.

For example, consider the firm with multiple practice groups that seeks to establish a new or revised identity. The folks in the family law group suggest that the “positioning” of the firm should revolve around a history of showing care and compassion. “Not so,” says the head of the corporate litigation practice group. “We need to convey that this firm is powerful and has a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to its services.” “Wait a minute,” says the guy from IP. “This firm should promote the fact that we are cutting edge and utilize the latest technological resources.” Finally, the most senior partner in the room, smiles and attempts to put closure on the debate by stating, “This law practice has been around for over 100 years. We are well known by just about everyone and the smartest approach is to simply tout our longevity.”

Who is right? And where do you think this debate will ultimately lead? Chances are that one of two things will happen. Either the “strongest” member (be it the Managing Partner, the Senior Partner, etc.) will dictate the positioning or, more likely, nothing will happen at all. In the latter case, the firm will just proceed as it always has and will continue to communicate the same disparate messages to its target markets.

How might this scenario be altered?

The key here lies in finding the underlying qualities that tie the various individuals and practice groups together. What is it common throughout the firm? There’s a reason why attorneys in these departments work at this firm at this given point in time. Is it the culture of the firm? Is there a similar approach to the practice of law or to the servicing of clients?  For example, we worked with one law firm that after intense discussions, realized that each individual in the firm took immense pride in finding “innovative” solutions to their clients’ problems. Thus “innovativeness” became the positioning from which the brand was created. In another case, the firm leveraged its knowledge and experience in working with governmental agencies as a means for underscoring its ability to help individuals and businesses.

In discovering the firm positioning, it is critical to uncover that which sets the firm apart (what is it about the firm that one would be hard-pressed to say the same thing about a competitor). Too often, firms make the mistake of developing a “me too” positioning that does little to enhance the firm’s standing.  For example, “Big City Know-How, but with Lower Fees” is an all too familiar positioning employed by so many firms that work outside the city.  

In short, smart law firms know who they are and then develop the brand from that. The hard part is knowing who you are, but once that is accomplished, the developed brand (and hence the firm) is that much stronger for it.

This is the fourth in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Law Firm Branding Still Relevant in the Information Age?

Of all the things we do at our marketing agency – everything from creating plans to executing PR campaigns, online initiatives, special events, etc., by far the activity I’ve always enjoyed the most has been “branding” organizations.  There is something special about taking an entity (be it a law firm, a service or a product) and concepting how to make it relevant to a target audience – or in some cases, to several diverse target groups.

Yet today, as with everything else, the whole concept of branding has changed dramatically.  Much of this is due to the emergence of all kinds of on-line media options. Whereas before, marketing messages competed for your attention by jumping out at you (whether you wanted them to or not), today it is we, the consumer of legal services, who seek out the message.

This alters the ways in which law firms can and should brand themselves. Unless they are blessed with the financial resources to stay the course with traditional media alternatives, they must find a way to get an integrated, single-themed message out to their prospects through multiple channels and by multiple sources.

The difficulty in this is that most of those sources are the individual attorneys themselves who now have the ability to a) create their own individual web site and b) post to numerous professional and personal social media outlets. While there are many, many positives to being able to publish without any third party (i.e. editors, producers, etc.) vetting, it also means that firm management and legal marketers no longer have control over the “cumulative” message that is being disseminated. I’m not talking here about the misguided attorney who may post disparaging or unethical content about the firm, a client, a judge, etc.  Rather, I am talking about how the style and language (and even the content) used by an individual may run counter to the manner in which the firm wishes to be portrayed.   In short, the question is how can the law firm speak with one voice?

The answer, I believe, is three-fold. 

First, now more than ever, the firm’s staff (all of whom are ambassadors for the firm) must be made aware of and buy into the firm brand. This, of course assumes that the firm has, in fact, determined what its core message in and the positioning it wishes to have in the market.

Second, these same firm ambassadors must be encouraged to utilize all of the many media options that are now at their disposal – and to do so in a way that underscores and reinforces the firm brand.

And finally, given that it is, in fact, the accumulation of all messages (online and off) that ultimately reflects the firm brand, it is more important than ever that individual posts, tweets, and other types of contents be tied to an identifiable element of the overall firm – be that a logo, a tagline etc. Consumers of legal services are bombarded by information from so many sources that most become just “noise.”  In a world where disseminating quantity of messages seems to be more important than the quality of a message, it is the wise law practice that can brand itself through the sum of the content stemming from its own hallways.

This is the third in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Won’t Those ‘Darn’ Associates Make More Rain?

In my last post, I discussed the fear many managing partners hold, that the firm may be leaving money on the table by not effectively cross-promoting the full range of legal services and not encouraging internal referrals.

Today, I would like to discuss a little bit about a second concern that law firm management often express to us.  It is much less a fear than it is a frustration that associates in the firm do not generate the requisite new business activity necessary to move the firm forward.

This creates a conundrum that firms often find difficult to resolve. On the one hand, lower level attorneys offer the possibilities of greater profitability because they command lower rates of compensation.  Yet, in spending time on providing such legal services to the firm’s clients (i.e., billable hours), they are, by definition not rustling up new business.

To resolve this dilemma, smart law firms must ask themselves exactly what they see as the role of their associates.  Typically, most would say that the function of the firm’s lower level attorney’s requires a hybrid of both client-related work and new business initiatives. We have seen instances however, where firm management has determined that associates should focus on clients while management itself should be responsible for generating new revenues.  That is not necessarily a bad approach because, at the very least, it is clearly defined. Less positive are those situations in which firm management chastises attorneys for the lack of billable time while also lamenting the lack of energies towards acquiring new clients.  Hence, most important is developing a clear definition of roles and an articulate conveyance of them to the firm’s staff.

But it cannot really stop there. Generating business is a skill.  And as a skill, it requires proper training. Most young attorneys do not learn how to do bring in business in law school and depending on the firm in which they practice, they may not acquire such training at work either. Firm management must understand that generating new business (whether it be through social media, referrals, internal cross-promotion, more revenue from existing clients, etc.) all requires an investment – not just in marketing and business development activities, but in the people being counted on to build the practice as well.

And even there it cannot stop.  It is foolish to think that each individual possesses the same set of skills of every other. Some attorneys are particularly good at getting out and meeting the world; others at writing engaging legal articles. Similarly, some attorneys may be innately limited in their ability to create new revenue, but contribute to the firm through their legal brilliance and capacity to solve their clients’ problems. Identifying the specific talents and the deficiencies of each associate is a far better way to leverage the collective manpower of the firm than is to make general assumptions about associates as a whole. Much of this evaluation can be made qualitatively. Yet, believe it or not, there is a software application (RainGauge) which allows management to quantitatively assess the degree to which associates (and senior attorneys as well) contribute to the firm through different marketing and business development activities and even offers the potential to compare such versus their working on strictly client-related business.

The bottom line is that getting the most out of associates requires removing the label “associate” from the equation and instead, harnessing the talents of each individual towards the greater good of the firm.

This is the second in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Managing Partner’s Nightmare: Leaving Money on the Table

In our over 20 years of marketing law firms, one of the most often expressed concerns by managing partners is a fear that they are leaving money on the table.  By this, they are usually referring to the fact that clients are associating the firm and/or individual attorneys with specific areas of focus, rather than as a resource for resolving any of a number of legal matters.  This is typically seen in the client who contracts with a law practice for one legal matter and then walks down the street to contract with another regarding a different legal concern.

Part of this may stem from compensation arrangements that do not reward internal cross-promotion and part may simply be a function of internal politics and territoriality.

So how does the growth-inclined law practice avoid the dreaded “’shoulda’s’ ‘woulda’s’ and coulda’s?’”

The answer lies first in creating a culture in which the firm moves from a practice area orientation to a problem-solving one. Such an orientation often requires re-educating personnel that the firm’s major focus really is on just helping people. Administrative and human resource matters should be approached with that mindset and compensation should, in large part, be based on each attorney’s capacity to do just that. That means rewarding individuals not just for the work they bring in or the work that they do, but also for the work, internal or external, that they can bring to another member of the firm’s staff. Further, in some cases, an interdisciplinary team approach to client problem-solving should be considered. And processes should be put into place that allow firm attorneys to regularly be made aware of the legal matters in which their brethren are involved. 

Second, law firms must do a better job of educating both prospects and clients as to the full range of their legal services. This means developing the kinds of materials – both online and off, which easily convey the many ways in which the firm can be of service. Specific areas of the firm’s legal expertise that are buried deep inside a firm brochure or web site do little in communicating how the firm can help an individual or business in more ways than they might have otherwise thought. Instead, law practices – particularly those with disparate areas of focus, should consider development of collateral materials that highlight its portfolio of services upfront. Ditto for the firm web site.  Often, it is not enough for such content to be place under some “Practice Area” button. That’s because the individual looking for assistance on a family law matter may never even bother to see whether the firm can also help him on his pending bankruptcy. Ditto for the corporation seeking help with transactional matters, but not knowing (or bothering finding out) that the firm can also handle matters of litigation as well.

One way in which we have seen law firms address such issues is through the development and dissemination of e-newsletters. Here, what matters most is not the actual content (though it should still be well thought-out and well-written), but rather the subject line on the address and the title of the main article. Recipients may never actually even read the content, but even in rejecting it, will nonetheless still be exposed to other services the firm provides. The goal here is not to drum up business immediately (though its been known to happen), but to plant the seeds among the firm’s database for that day when the need for a particular service does arise.

Finally, in an age where everyone is (or should be) self-publishing, it is easy to communicate the individual skill sets of specific attorneys. What is mandated however, is ensuring that the ways in which such messages are disseminated, show a consistent regard for the firm at large. This means incorporating the firm’s logo, tag line, contact information (and possibly even practice areas) into individual  online communications. Ultimately, it is the sum of all communications that serves as the face (and even the essence) of the organization.

This is the first in a 5-part series on the concerns most often expressed by managing partners and legal marketers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Marrying IT with the Legal Marketing Function

Businesses of all kinds have historically had a difficult time reconciling the respective roles of those in the marketing and in the accounting/financial departments. It has always been understood that marketing should “pay out,” yet those who performed that function had difficulty articulating how each element of their program contributed (for better or for worse) to the company’s bottom line.

Now however, that “fuzziness” of respective roles has carried over into the IT department as well. Marketers of all kinds (and legal marketers in particular) might well ask where marketing begins and ends.   More often than not, in today’s information driven society, it begins and ends at the desk of the firm’s technical guru. 

For proof, one need look no further than the importance CRM software plays in the business development process.  If attorneys (particularly at larger firms) had to procure, understand, implement, train and then utilize such applications on their own, it is doubtful this technological advance would be as widespread as it is today. Same holds true for the marketing guys who may well understand how to develop a message, place an ad, disseminate a press release or even create a pay-per-click campaign, but who at the same time, would have difficulty recognizing the compatibility of one legal application with another.

So much of legal marketing today revolves around online activities. Yet it is the IT folks who understand the benefits (and limitations) of the various social media outlets, the changing algorithms involved in search engine optimization, the capabilities of online dissemination services, and the potential of the firm’s web site to convey everything the firm wishes to convey.

The law firm that places too great a distinction between marketing and information technologies runs the very real risk of inefficiency, but even more important, is almost certain to miss out on opportunity.  A much wiser approach is to promote the full integration of the IT folks into the marketing decision making process.

By doing so, law firms are almost certain to discover ways in which to efficiently stand out from competitors through both substance and style. And even in the information age, “standing out” is still what marketing is all about.

Don’t agree? Or maybe you do. Either way, I’d like to hear from you. Very interested to hear how your firm has or hasn’t integrated the IT and marketing functions.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Legal Marketing: How to Engage Your Prospect

Years ago, legal marketers only had to concern themselves with communicating the firm message to as many qualified prospects as they could, as many times as they could.

My, how times have changed.

Today, simply reaching prospects is no longer enough. Law firms now need to interact with them. By interaction, we mean any activity that begins to establish a relationship between the firm and the potential new client, thereby reducing the individual’s perceived risk. There are any of a number of ways in which to promote such interaction, among them:

  • Personal Networking
  • Posting on Social Media Sites
  • Participating in Online Groups
  • Offering Free White Papers
  • Webinars
  • Offering E-Newsletter Subscriptions
  • Requesting Survey Input
  • Offering Survey Results
  • Seminars

Each of these activities has inherent advantages and drawbacks depending on the type of practice area and the unique situation of the firm itself. For example, personal networking is probably the most effective, but requires a great deal of time and limits the number of prospects one can reach.  Similarly, a seminar provides a terrific means for conveying expertise and gaining the trust of potential clients, but usually costs considerably more than its webinar counterpart. In implementing the latter, most of the logistical issues of time, place and location are moot. Yet webinars lack the opportunity for face-to-face interaction that a seminar provides.

Determining which method or methods for promoting interactivity is best for a firm is not difficult.  Much more challenging is making the actual commitment towards some type of such initiative – particularly when each carries with it inherent costs of time and/or dollars. Nevertheless, today, where we live in such a cynical age, it is important that legal marketers do all they can to minimize that perceived risk and thereby lower the hurdles of turning prospect into a real, live, paying clients.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Leveraging The Media Coverage You’ve Already Received: How To Keep It Going

Last week we discussed how to recognize whether the new case that has come across your desk is “PR-worthy” -- whether it offers a story that might interest editors and producers, thus generating publicity for you and your firm?

But what happens after that case has made the news? What happens after you’ve been interviewed, filmed or videoed, and asked every silly question under the sun?  How do you leverage that experience to enhance your visibility?

The answer lies in understanding the very nature of public relations. When it comes to publicity, the more you have, the more you’ll get. And when you think about it, that actually makes a lot of sense. Just as your legal credentials allow potential clients to feel comfortable in your ability to represent them, so do your media credentials allow producers, editors and reporters to feel comfortable using you as a source for a story or as a respected “expert.” If you have been a central figure in a major event, have been articulate in presenting facts or opinions and have proven to be credible, the perceived risk of using you for future stories is dramatically reduced.  That is why we always suggest that our law firm clients be willing to speak to anyone, anywhere – even if that media outpost is a small hometown paper or radio station. They provide the foundation for bigger and better media “hits” in the future. The strategy is to build up enough of such hits so that, just like a resume, the reader is persuaded about your knowledge in a particular subject area. Keep in mind also, that the media watches the media. There is nothing that prevents them from reaching out to an individual that they have seen interviewed or written about elsewhere.

The notion of “particular subject area” is also important. Yes, you are an attorney, but that does not make you the ideal person to speak with on every aspect of the law.  You know your niche. Focus on it.  If, for example, you previously handled a big pharmaceutical liability case that generated a large amount of media attention, then anything that involves similar matters (be they new cases, new statutes, new research, etc.) becomes an opportunity to further highlight your expertise. Send pitch letters to the media that describe your story idea or opinion. And be sure to highlight your involvement in that previous “big case” along with the associated media coverage you received.

Once you have established substantive media credentials, (i.e., you’ve garnered quite a few articles, interviews, stories, etc.) it is not a bad idea to trumpet such in ongoing media pitch letters, on the firm’s web site and/or in online or offline media kits disseminated to a carefully developed list of media contacts.

In summary then, the notoriety you’ve gained on the “big case,” should be augmented with whatever additional exposure you can create – big or small.  Eventually, you will have enough mass to become the media’s “go to” guy on a particular subject.  And at that point, you won’t have to worry too much about reaching out to the media. They’ll be chasing after you!