Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Relationship Story

Today I am sharing another great story from guest blogger and business networking specialist Jeff Black of McDermott & Bull. Enjoy!

The Freakonomics of The Conventional Wisdom

Things are not always what they seem, and it takes a clear view of reality (and the data to support it) to get our perceptions out of our way. Here’s an example. I think we all share a perception that drug dealers are all driving cool cars and rolling in dough…so why do nearly all of them still live with their Mothers? In Freakonomics - a book by a self-admitted "rogue economist" about how prevailing incentives make things what they really are – the real world of the drug dealer is described based on exhaustive research. The stark reality is that it’s a classic pyramid, where for every one person with a cool car, there is a giant pyramid of foot soldiers who are effectively enslaved at far below poverty wage. The author contends that based on their own perceptions, getting to be the boss is the only "success" they can hope for, and there is nothing that protects them from being exploited.

While this book addresses some very controversial issues - and I’m not endorsing all the assertions it contains - I am endorsing the idea that we need to look beyond the perceived "obvious" to seek the truth. I think our world encourages us to believe in conventional wisdom, and also that somebody’s incentives are being realized by getting us to believe. It’s sort of a Question Authority thing for me, and it bugs me.

A perfect conventional wisdom example is something I come across all the time…what is most important for people in getting the best reception from potential employers (I also believe this is true for all relationships). The conventional wisdom tells people they need to morph into what the market is looking for. I don’t buy that. If they try to morph, they’re going to be half-baked, and they won’t fool anybody. This isn’t science fiction, it’s people, and people just don’t "transform" themselves very well. Face it, people are what they are, and they’re always more effective just being themselves and leveraging their natural strengths. What I tell people is that they need to find ways to get people excited about what they really are - and then let the network give them leverage - instead of trying extra hard to be a square peg for a round hole.

Another conventional wisdom old standby is that you can’t trust others or you’ll get screwed. I hate that one, although I’m no fool and I know some people have gone to the dark side…I just prefer to try to keep them out of my life.

So ok, let’s try an experiment. Let’s assess the conventional wisdom within our own little community as it relates to honesty. Just press reply and send me your quick answer to this very simple question:

On a 0% - 100% scale, from dishonest (0%) to honest (100%), what is the average % for successful people? Don’t think too hard, just press reply with one number between 0% and 100%. I’ll compile the data (confidentiality is assured) and share it with you all in an upcoming story.

Another note – I would welcome your introductions to organizations or company groups that might value my involvement for a speaking engagement or panel discussion. A selection of example topics follows. Please let me know if you could help me connect with speaking opportunities. Thanks.

Speaking Topics
  • Why People Leave, Why They Stay, and What Companies Can Do About It - 3 Big Misconceptions and 3 New Ways to Think
  • A Tale of Two Companies…and the Big Difference - Respect Power at "Brand Y" versus "Brand X"
  • Authentic Relationships are Good Business - Machiavelli Was Wrong!
  • The Cardinal Rules of Business Networking for Success and Fulfillment - Enjoying the Journey while Building a Your Own Community
  • Jumping Off the Cliff…and Enjoying It! - A Personal Story about Mid-life Career Renewal
Note from Bruce: Jeff Black is a respected member of the Southern California business community and a successful search professional for McDermott & Bull, Inc. a retained executive search firm based in Irvine, California. M&B specializes in recruiting difficult-to-find and critical talent for its clients and is the fastest growing executive search firm in Southern California.
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Monday, November 28, 2005

Took the Weekend OFF

From blawging, from thinking about blawging, from just about anything electronic including, "gasp!", my Treo. I was so successful at disconnecting that here it is Monday evening and I have not a thought or idea to share with even myself. Actually, it feels good; But I do write because it helps me both express myself and relax. Was never a good painter, can't play an instrument. Just like thinking and letting the words come out. I'm certain my brain will kickstart soon....

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Is Printed Collateral Dead?

As a I charge forward at my new firm in the branding project the answer to one question remains elusive. Do I need to create new printed collateral?

I think it was in the late ’90’s that Anderson Consulting eliminated all printed collateral. But for a run-in with Enron, Anderson was the most successful firm of its breed and a lack of printed collateral did not appear to put a dent in their success. I’ve heard stories of other companies and service providers that have significantly cut back on what they print. And I am wondering if that is a direction I’d like to take.

The discovery process for prospective buyers of professional services has changed significantly in recent years. Before the internet a potential buyer would call a list of firms and invite them to come to meetings to present themselves and their services. The only way to discover information would have been through what a firm brought to the meeting or sent ahead of time.

Now, before a buyer even contacts a firm they go straight to the internet and do their own discovery through firm websites or directory services like, martindale or Bringing marketing collateral to a meeting feels pretty redundant.

On my new firm web site every page will have a print version. From bios to practice descriptions, white papers and news; Everything will have a printable version.

By making my internet site buyer friendly is there a need to also produce expensive marketing pieces on paper? Right now I am thinking; No.

I would love to hear from others that have walked a similar path and made this choice.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Gaining Partner Consensus

It is a golden dream; To have every partner on-board and a champion of every marketing program. Not gonna happen! It’s not just lawyers. No matter the firm or company, gaining unconditional support and acceptance to any idea escalates in difficulty in proportion to the size of the group. More people; less agreement.

My programs are staying on track (for now) even as there are those that feel confident in their opinion that we are going to fast or moving in the wrong direction. I believe the “why” of how everything is moving forward comes in a few simple steps:
  • I never stop walking the floors. I answer emails and voicemail in person as often as it is reasonable rather than responding remotely. Talking face to face almost always concludes a discussion.
  • I am a professional at being insecure. That means I constantly check in with the people around me and LISTEN to what they are saying. I am always ready to turn a comment into an action item.
  • I believe in the passion of my partners. Whether for or against the changes taking place I know every voice has reason and belief behind their opinion.
  • I share anything anytime. The enemy of change is not enough information.
  • I believe in my choices. That is not a statement of ego but a place of conviction. Too many people do not give their own opinions as much value as they give to the opinions of others.
  • I get it that all of this is not life or death. It’s just marketing. Words and messages that may help people make more money, accomplish career goals, live in better houses, feel better about themselves, or gain a higher reputation.
Being a marketer at a law firm is weird enough just because the product I market is people; The very same people that may fight to prevent me from marketing them. I will not get total support in everything I propose to accomplish. But I can gain momentum enough to accomplish my goals and win the support that makes that possible. If you have other ways that help you get things done I would welcome your comments.
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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Creating Memorable Business Relationship Bonding Experiences

I am just home from attending an advance screening of the newest Harry Potter movie. Approaching the theater this evening with my two daughters and a friend from the office we strolled past long lines of people who had been waiting untold hours so that they could be the first in line when the movie opens to the public at midnight tonight. As we were wisked past the ticket office into the lobby I paused to chat with several business friends from other service providers and companies in the area. We checked in with our hosts, chatted some more and then the lights dimmed before the movie began.

I would not say that I am a huge Potter fan, but my daughters are (aged 22 and 30). As the movie unfolded my youngest giggled with delight as the forth book of the Potter series unfolded before us. It is ALWAYS a great night when my daughters are having a good time!

The night was courtesy of Merrill Corporation; a service provider to law firms (and others) that really gets the whole business relationship thing. My friends with Merrill, James Hickey and Jerry Wilkinson (whom I have blawged in the past) were the hosts. They invited friends and clients of their firm and their families to this special treat. Do you think they will be well remembered in business? Yes, and I do to.

Taking clients to lunch, out for drinks, to a sporting event, or even providing exceptional service are all good ways to strengthen a business bond. But creating memorable moments is a bit tougher than just doing the "usual".

By including my family in a unique experience they became personal associates. Listening to my daughter giggle like she was ten again is a moment not forgotten. And I can thank Merrill for the moment (even though I know they will never take credit).

For the past five years I have done something similar for my firms with Snow Day; A one day excursion to a local ski area (all expenses paid) for the key people that provide referrals to my firm(s). The hook at this event is; Bring your family. No speeches, no business, just have fun. What might appear to be a boondoggle has been a steady source of new business and wonderful, lasting relationships for the different partners of firms I've served.

So, tonight's lesson. Work less on being memorable, and work more on creating memories. There are many things that matter to each of us and it is nice that there are people in business who know that.

(Did I mention that Merrill Corp is my choice for document services?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Internal Marketing Rollout Update

I did my first presentation to the non-attorney staff of the firm yesterday at noon. Short story: When I was done they applauded! Yah! Applauded. (Note to self: do not let it go to your head, do not let it go to your head.)

They asked serious questions about timing, logistics, and customer impressions. They wondered if the attorneys would be on-board. And they willingly wanted to be champions of the change!

So.... This can't be a valuable post unless I search for the why's and how's of this presentation working this one time so far. Here is what I think:
  • I changed "branding" to "reputation" to explain why a change was needed.
  • I was up front about the research supporting the current "reputation" of the firm.
  • The slides held limited information. Lots of visual with few words. The story they heard came from me. Not by reading it on a screen.
  • I briefly explained the "bell curve" to acknowledge that not everyone is the same and some in the room worked with attorneys at the narrow ends (they seemed to like that).
  • I was emphatic that the people of the firm did not have to change, but instead that the marketing would change to match the people of the firm.
  • I acknowledged that other staff in the firm would "want to know everything" right away from anyone that had seen the presentation. I asked the first group to be honest, good or bad, about what they thought.
  • I openly cared about their feelings about this change. It matters to me what they think and I let them know it.
There were a few partners in the room, and I noticed the times their eyebrows raised as they questioned the words I chose to tell the story. But the result was unanimous. I gained a room full of ambassador's in the quest to make this change stick.

Tomorrow is meeting number two of three with the staff. I can only hope it goes as well.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sneak Peak at a Branding Presentation

Tomorrow is BIG DAY number one of three. Possibly the biggest day. Tomorrow is the first of three lunch meetings where I roll out the refreshed look of Rutan for the staff of the firm. Whether it sizzles or shines the news will travel faster than dating rumors in junior high school. I am pretty sure the PowerPoint is on target. Very few words, big on visceral impressions.

And my sneak peak for you is the opener. The first slide simply asks, "who is routine?" I will ask everyone to stand up and introduce themselves to someone at least one table away from where they sat. Of course, everyone in the room already knows each other, but once they are seated I will offer them the reminder that THEY are routine. It will create some laughter, much noise and babble, a bit of discomfort, and ultimately I hope, an attentive audience.

It has been THE goal in refreshing the look and feel of Rutan to create something that looks and feels exactly like the firm Rutan already is. It is so much easier to create a look that matches the people, than to try and get people to match a look. One step, not two.

I will report later how it goes. I am hopeful of positive results. If not, I may become a full-time blogger trying to extend the income potential of being an Amazon Associate site.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

What Might Really Intimidate a Law Firm Marketer

Next Monday is the first of three lunch meetings with the staff of firm. At these three lunches I will be presenting the new "look" of Rutan. The goal of course is to let them know what is going on, how it will effect each of them, and, if possible, get them excited about what I believe is a really good thing. I must confess this is intimidating!

The staff of a firm are it's heart and sole. The attorneys of a firm can posture themselves any which way they want, but staff will feel and speak the truth. And therein lies the challenge. If what I have created does not ring true internally it will never work externally.

I would like to believe that I have hit on the right messages and images to communicate the truth of my firm. Starting next Monday I will know if I am right.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Is Humor Part of Your Firm Culture?

This article at Fast Company about top-down humor in the workplace asks an intriguing question about work culture; "When was the last time you teased your boss?"

I was at an event in the Midwest a few years back listening to war stories about partners at law firms. At one firm years ago (so the story goes) a particularly successful partner was known to leave notes taped to associates chairs stating "You're Fired" if the associate arrived at the office late or left early. At another firm, a particular partner would fire any receptionist that put him on hold when he called in. OOOF!

The company referenced in the Fast Company article is at one end of the spectrum... the stories above, if near true, would put those firms at the other end.

I know from my own experience that working with people that have and show humor is a tremendous boost within the culture. One of the questions posed recently in preparation for Halloween at the office was, "will so-and-so partner be wearing the Hawaiian cococut costume?" (One of the floors had a tropical theme). On another floor the theme was "inappropriate workplace clothing" and a partner came dressed in the most tacky, ill-fitting yellow leisure suit and glued on mutton chops to round out his "look". AND, he saw clients that day!!

I like knowing that in a business that is very serious by the nature of the work we do my firm at least knows how to laugh with and around each other. This kind of culture can only work from top down. I hope that your firms enjoy a bit of this motivational freedom.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Attorneys CAN Look This Good!

A few days ago I wrote that we are building our own photo library for use in firm communications. The pictures are certainly exceeding my expectations. The most important ingredient by far to getting great photos is having the right person behind the camera. Thanks Spiderbox Photography.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Law Firm "Refresh" Progress Report

Rutan is on the move! It's no secret I am busy helping my new firm refresh the way they are viewed by their market. This is the fifth time I've traveled this road with different firms and companies... It is so much fun and it is so much challenge!

At Rutan web development got into full swing last week, stationery is headed to the printer, group meetings are scheduled with each of the practice groups to explain what is going on. AND, as hard as I fought for it, thankfully, staff meetings to get the troops rallied are on the calendar. The first meeting is only a week away.

It feels like when I get done with this rebranding I should be awarded a hut in the South Seas and typewriter to tell the tale! Creating look and feel, graphics, logos, content and messages is stuff I can do with my eyes closed. Trying to nudge a culture always takes me by surprise! But without a culture truthfully supporting the message... we got nothing.

Ideas and tips are always welcome!!!

Focusing Value on One Client

I am constantly amazed at the smart thoughts published on Harvard Business School's "Working Knowledge". Today they let loose another gem called, "The Three "Ds" of Customer Experience".

Of particular interest is bullet number two; "They deliver these propositions by focusing the entire company on them with an emphasis on cross-functional collaboration."

Tactically it just makes sense to focus many against one and not one against many.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Living With a Marketing Committee

Tom Kane lamented recently that he, "had the dubious honor of having a marketing committee to work with." I am a huge fan of just about any words that Tom shares, including his words on the difficulty of working with firms that market by committee. But, being a CMO living with a marketing committee I am finding unexpected sunlight in the process.

My marketing committee includes the current lead partner from each of the practice groups in the firm, one member of the executive committee, plus a few additional interested volunteer partners.

The advantage I have gained because of the marketing committee includes:
  • I am new to the firm with little or no initial understanding of the internal politics and culture. Members of the committee have done an excellent job of both schooling me about the culture and have acted as ambassadors to their groups with regard to choices being made.
  • The leader of the BDC (my firm calls the marketing committee the Business Development Committee) is very respected within the partnership and has incredible internal savvy.
  • The marketing committee is made up of partners (by rank or interst) that have an aggressive attitude about marketing, programs, and making a difference.
  • My marketing preferences get challenged intelligently. Reasonable questions require reasoned answers. My committee members have asked reasonable questions.
I know that not all law firm marketers have committee members similar to mine. But I must say, the challenge of building a good business case for each recommendation I make has been incredibly refreshing. At least for me the opportunity to be challenged is incredibly satisfying. I am not "winning" every challenge but the pace of change is rewarding.

New Catalyst Photo

Raffi from Spiderbox worked his magic at my firm this week. His ability to make non-models look professional is amazing. He was even (almost) able to make me appear like a GQ man.

Law Firm Holiday Cards

I went into the Business Development Committee meeting with an agenda packed full of decisions that would need discussion... long discussions. One meeting item was revealing my recommendation for the holiday card for the firm. The choice was reviewed and confirmed in less than two minutes. Nice! It helped that the committee shared my opinion that there is nothing really exciting or compelling out there in bulk holiday card land. So what did we choose? Custom.

I've commissioned a local artist (out of Laguna Beach) to do an oil painting reflecting the look and feel of Southern California in winter. We'll digitize it and produce the image as the cover print on the card. Once the cards are produced I will share photos and details (but not until after they go out).

By designing and printing our own cards (I'll be using Merrill Corp/Fine Arts for printing) we should save about $1800-$2500 over prior year purchases of stock cards. And, we'll own an original work for display in the office.

This was a fun and easy choice for all concerned and one you might consider for your firms.

(Note to Fine Arts webmaster: Lose the jumping frog intro page!!)
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Building My Own Photo Library

Today was exciting! It was our first editorial photoshoot at the firm and I cannot say enough about the wonderful ways that my attorneys engaged in the process. Imagine this... for every attorney, male or female, the first stop before going in front of the camera was 10-15 minutes in the hands of a makeup artist! My folks were great troopers as they willingly participated (including, for men, LIPGLOSS!!!)

Well, I must say, the photo's are the best demonstration of their effort. I have only seen the initial galleries but WOW! I can say with confidence, "competitors, the heat of competition is going up!"

Of course, the day had its challenges, and here are a few points on what I discovered.
  • I started the day with 45 attorneys scheduled in hour long blocks. From the very first session it became obvious that I needed them to be "on call" instead just scheduled to show up at an appointed time. It is never a good thing to have high billable lawyers standing around cooling their heels.
  • Map out every photo. How many attorneys will be needed in the shot? What are the demographics that are needed (height, sex, age, demeanor, camera attitude, etc. )? What will the photo communicate?
  • Communicate often with the photographer about what is being shot. The more you talk the greater the opportunity for the photographer to bond with your objectives.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of uncertainty and selfconsciousness of the photo subjects. Attorneys are not professional models and need emotional support when the camera is clicking.
  • Encourage your photographer to take shots between shots. Some of my best photos today came at unexpected moments.
  • Have lots of props handy. Books, files, laptops, coffee cups, pens.... anything that might be in the hand of or around an attorney every day.
  • Have fun! Nothing communicates confidence and certainty more than the ability to laugh with others and enjoy the moment.
In a few days I will post a couple of the shots we took. You will be amazed!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reasons for an Internal Brand Campaign

There are some that wonder why it's important to conduct a marketing campaign from the inside out. Especially when a firm is reintroducing itself to the marketplace with a refreshed image, look, and feel. As I am in the midst of this journey with my new firm I am gathering some fantastic evidence to answer the "why".
  • In a firm made up of many attorneys only a few have the opportunity to have an active hand in the choices being made. But less involvement does not translate into less interest. If I did not already plan to meet with every attorney at section and group meetings to reveal the details and explain the business case, they would demand it. As owners of the firm they may not see this part of the process as "internal campaigning", but it is.
  • I had almost forgotten how quickly rumor becomes wild and weird. Within minutes of sending out an invitation to staff members for an all-staff luncheon about the new marketing initiatives I heard the first of what will be many rumors. This particular rumor was that the firm is adopting new colors that would also apply to dress codes for staff. AND, each section would be assigned their own color. (one section is convinced their color is pink)
  • "Refreshed" is different than "new". A valid misconception I hear is that the marketing changes mean a change in everything else routine and normal. The purpose of this particular image campaign is not to change a firm, but to bring a market (the external audience) perception in line with what the firm actually is. My hope is that my firm does not change, but in fact become more set in what they already do.
As I learn more I will share more. If you have already learned lessons of your own I welcome your knowledge.
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Graphic Artists are Crazy

I might know. I am one. But, not like, "Wooo Hooooo, la la la la la, put me in a rubber room!!" Go online and look at any portfo...