Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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 placed 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. The same holds true for the corporation seeking help with transactional matters, but not knowing (or bothering to find 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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Making that New Year’s Marketing Resolution

New year’s resolutions are a funny thing. No matter whether they are for an individual or for a law firm, adhering to them is difficult. For many, the beginning of January means the annual commitment to aggressively promote their services. Unfortunately, just as with promising to lose weight, to exercise or to remember that elusive wedding anniversary, actually doing so is less than certain. Sometimes, life just gets in the way.

So, for all those law firms that promise to “do something” each year and then find every excuse “not to,” this post is for you – 5 tips for jump starting your business development initiative:

Recognize the Commitment
Just as the experts recommend a disciplined approach to building a financial portfolio, so too must you take a structured, long-term approach to marketing. In order to be successful, marketing should be considered an investment – not an expense. There are no silver bullets, and while obtaining a tangible return on investment is always the goal, most integrated marketing efforts should be measured on their ability to build the practice – versus their efficacy in generating quick, but perhaps, less than ideal leads.

If You’re Going to Be In – Be in Strong
With a few exceptions, most marketing initiatives take some time to realize tangible results. There are reasons for this, but the main one is that it usually takes several exposures to a message before it resonates with its intended target.

To illustrate this, consider the ad you might see for a particular service. Given that the ad is a piece of communication for which money has been exchanged, you are rightfully skeptical as to the veracity of the exuberant claims in the copy. Visiting that organization’s web site makes you a bit more comfortable. Then, your cousin Joe recommends that service as well. So now, you’ve been exposed o the organization in several different ways – all of them positive. Your perceptions of the risks in purchasing this service are mitigated and you are more likely to pursue a relationship.

Similarly, think of another situation in which you see the same message repeatedly even within the same medium. The first time you may not even notice it. The second time, it might generate some interest. By the third, fourth or fifth time, that message has been drilled into you. Hopefully, you are ready to “buy.” But even if you are not, you will be aware of that organization and its services when that time does come.

My point in mentioning all this is to help you understand why marketing takes both time and financial resources. In most cases, being in just a little, will not take you all that far. This is as true for the dollars required for a television campaign as they are for the amount of content needed for search optimization as it is for the time that is necessary to effectively engage in face-to-face networking. It’s a little like marriage. Yes, you can get out of it if necessary. But, in order to maximize your chances for success, you have to fully commit.

Name Your Quarterback
Regardless of how you will be promoting your practice, someone is going to have to take the day-to-day responsibility for making sure the best of intentions become reality. That can be a dedicated marketing person, a chair of a marketing committee, a senior partner, etc. It can even be an consultant or marketing firm – provided that someone in-house is designated as the go-to person for that outside resource. When it comes to marketing, there can be many, many opinions (“Do you like the color green?”), but ultimately a process has to be in place for making decisions. Otherwise, plans will lay unimplemented years and special opportunities of an immediate nature will be missed.

Vet Your Marketing “Partners”
Every marketing consultant or firm will tell you that they will be your “partner.” This is great – providing what they tell you is true. Try to get a feel for what they really do. Are they an IT vendor that understands the bells of whistles of web site development, but knows little about how to attract prospects? Are they wed to a single type of marketing vehicle and thus see every solution from a very limited perspective? Ask to see their work. Ask to speak to their clients. And don’t be shy about looking at several competing firms. Personally, I have found that those firms that do the best vetting also tend to be the best clients. You’re about to engage in what will hopefully be a long-lasting relationship. Make sure you are dancing with the right partner.

Get Top-To-Bottom Buy-In At any organization, it’s important that every stakeholder be on the same page. There’s nothing more discouraging than when one or more individuals want to aggressively go after new business, while another individual or group are reticent to put the time or money into the effort. As in any team sport, unity is critical for achieving positive results.

Of course, there’s one other thing that goes almost without saying --- though Nike did a pretty good job of saying it: “Just Do It.” Yes, promoting your practice can be hard, requires time and financial resources, and can be downright scary. But isn’t that what most new year’s resolutions are all about?