Monday, February 28, 2005

Legal Marketing; Be Who You Are

A thought on self-examination: What we want to see when we look in the mirror and what we really are is often two different things. Here is a wonderful little snippet of insight from Fouro:
You can't change organizations. You can only reveal them to themselves. And they like what they see. Or not.

If they follow the "or not" path, you can offer suggestions as to the alternatives that fit for them, and for what they believe. If they haven't evolved to the point of knowing what they believe, you start there and the rest reveals itself.

It is really that simple. The rest consists of removing spackle and years of self-deception.
How many times have you looked at someone wearing the most unflattering clothing and wondered if they looked in a mirror before stepping out their front door? There are so many people trying to look like something they are not... yet in their mind they're pulling it off. Why can't they see what we see?

This same inability to see what others see happens all too often in the marketing of law and professional services partnerships. The firm wishes to appear to be a certain type of firm; Maybe they're chasing a business trend, reacting to a competitor, or trying to just show a little ‘coolness’. The truth is a firm cannot be what it is not no matter how much they insist that they are.

I recently talked with a marketing manager at a large Midwestern firm who was venting frustration about her firms inability to utilize the marketers they’d hired. The very old-school executive committee, in responding to the buzz around marketing and sales at law firms, determined that they needed to “become a marketing organization”. They hired talented marketers, created some brand messages, expanded into new markets and announced that the “firm is changing with the times.”

Unfortunately, it’s not working. Their market does not really see much difference between the “old” firm and the “new” firm. More importantly, there has been no change internally at the firm that would suggest the firm has the ability to be anything except what they have always been.

At this firm they are truly putting on ‘clothing’ that does not fit. Why? Because they think that simply wearing a new outfit will make them different. But they’re not. Their partner compensation still enforces old ways; the executive committee puts the brakes on any initiative that does not conform to the “way we’ve always done things”, and the marketers are expected to “fall in line.”

I used to work at Brobeck, the wonder child law firm of the internet/IPO bubble. They did put on new clothes. For them, at the time, it worked. Why? Because a new generation of partners were handed the controls and they absolutely transformed what the firm was from the inside out. It became ‘something different’, and then behind that change they went to market.

When all of the new generation abandoned ship the remaining traditional and conservative partners no longer fit within the new mold created by those no longer there… and the firm died.

So much of what happens in business can be closely correlated to what happens in personal relationships and personal life. How many times have you heard someone say, “I can only be what I am”, when talking about frustrations in personal relationships? Businesses and partnerships are exactly the same!

It’s easy to get excited about what we want to be. The truth is told in what we are actually capable of being. Don’t be silly and see what you want to see in a mirror. Accept what you are and then be the very best at that.