Sunday, January 29, 2006

When Clients and Partners Retire

Aging-up of key clients and attorneys is worthy of planning in any firm with a long history, or a firm with a hope for a sustained future. At my firm many of the most prestigious old-money generals of the region are numbered among our clients. Our relationships go back as far as 30 and 50 years. But, by golly, these people, the generals and partners, are going to retire (which they have certainly earned).

What are you doing if you find yourself facing a similar future of aging (literally) relationships? What we are doing is talking, frankly, with our generals to discover what future they are plotting for the legacy of their companies, and finding out who are the bright young lieutenants that will step up to carry the flag.

More importantly, we are identifying our young partners that can step up to claim these new relationships. We’re matchmaking business relationships in the hope of continued success with legacy clients.

We do not forget that, no matter how carefully groomed, lieutenants come with their own ideas and agenda. The passing of the reigns is equal to ‘it won’t be the same as it has always been.’

So take a minute to look at the existing relationships at your firm. Put on your wizard hat and guesstimate how long before client or partner retires. If your guesstimate is under two years for either party in a relationship the time to act in NOW!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Why you must lead or follow

This is a fun and well written post by Scott Burkun. Just follow my lead on this.... By the way, I found it by keeping an eye on Andy Rutledge's blog, DesignView.

Is Advertising the Right Tactic for Law Firms?

It depends. At least that was our conclusion last night at the PSER event I spoke at last night. When asked that question fellow panelist Rod McDermott of McDermott & Bull Executive Search had one viewpoint (His partnership develops business in almost identical ways as law firms so his answer was on point).

He stated that at his firm of 25 it hasn't made any sense yet. They are very focused on using past and existing clients to pump new opportunities into their pipeline, and in making a choice with limited budget, direct mail has been decidedly more effective for their goal.

What he is doing is sending letters to their contact base, every month, that lists the type of searches they are doing and highlights what their successes have been. It does not say, "hey you should call us..." Just what his firm has been up to. And it works. The calls for new work come in from those letters.

For him, advertising is shouting at too large an audience to be effective.

Of course, I had a counterpoint. Unlike his firm, mine is much larger and advertising is not so much about generating sales on "this day", but about controlling our core message. Everyday I have 145 attorneys in the marketplace interacting with clients and prospects, each telling the story of the firm in their own words. In a perfect world each will describe the firm with similar words and consistent message; But it is not a perfect world.

Advertising permits me to state the core message of the firm across a broader audience and bring together all of their "mini-messages" under a single banner.

How an attorney in our public law section describes the firm WILL be a bit different from how an attorney in our corporate practice describes us. They are trying to say the same thing but will use different words based on perspective and practice. Advertising offers me the opportunity to help their words make sense for the whole firm.

So the answer is; It depends. Advertising is just one tactic available in the big mix of all marketing tactics. Picking tactics is a strategic choice and it is up to you to pick the right ones.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chemistry Matters in Professional Relationships

The discussion tonight ventured into the realm of sales professional working at professional services firms. I spoke on a panel on the topic of extending the effectiveness of professional networks. The group was the Professional Services Executive Roundtable meeting in Westlake Village just west of downtown Los Angeles (the groups short name is the 101 Roundtable referring to the 101 Freeway that feeds much of that area). Side note: if you are a professional services executive in that area my advise is to JOIN THAT GROUP.

Anyway... Toward the end of the discussion with the audience the questions turned towards that murky ground around sales professionals selling services when they are not the person who will ultimately hold the relationship. Fellow panelist Duane X (I will replace the X as soon as I retrieve it from my office workstation) of Mercer Insurance is a just such a sales professional. His answer was eloquent and on point.

His role is not to create relationships that only he can manage, but to create relationships of trust in his guidance toward who is best suited to taking care of the clients need. In essence, Duane is a matchmaker. His role is not so much to understand the service of his firm or the need of the client as much as it is to know the personalities of each side and make the correct introductions.

Of course there is much on the technical side of things to know, but take it from Duane, the chemistry of paired partners is critical to building something that will last.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Brand DNA and the Founding Brain

Creating all of the parts of a brand is a tricky, complex trail. In a well managed brand everything said, done, printed, published or promoted has to look like it came from none but one origin.

At my firm the latest iteration of our brand is chugging toward a grand launch, and as the number of pieces within the brand increase so too increases the difficulty of keeping it all together.

It's a function really of the number of hands that touch different parts as the number of parts continues to grow.

I am fortunate to have a 'founding brain' to turn to with every creative and practical question.

Today it was refining the initial ad layouts that will publish on the day of launch. The question; Do the pictures, words, and layout all equal the foundation of our brand (the essence of the firm and instant impression we wish to make)? The only person that can answer that, and make the proper tweaks is the 'founding brain'. In this case it is the wizard of a brand consultant that initially discovered and put words to the reality of what my firm is.

As the branding project has progressed from its simplest form to the many, many parts it is today I have kept near me this person with the original kernel of DNA. Even when I show him something that he was not a part of developing he can immediately identify its fit (or non-fit). He's like a family historian... so tuned to the intricacies of our brand genealogy that he can tell in a sniff if something is related or not.

My advise: Keep your 'founding brain'. Many consultants come and go; are in favor and then out; appear to have much purpose and then suddenly less. If your consultant is the genius (like mine) who discovers your brand essence then it is pretty likely that only he/she can best keep everything together and on message.
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Monday, January 23, 2006

Working with Reporters

"My photographer will be there in about 30 minutes." was the call I received on Thursday afternoon at 3:00 PM from the photo editor at the Orange County Register (the daily newspaper for OC). And right behind the photographer would arrive the reporter.

Now it is true that my PR guru had been talking with the Register business editor to get some mileage on the impending 100 year anniversary for the firm... but 30 minutes is a tough deadline for arranging ducks. "Once more into the valley we ride..."

Months earlier we had laid out plans and words for positioning the firm in this occasion (which will repeat itself with other media in our region). I was not uncertain about the message we wanted to communicate.

So I walked the halls recruiting partners to stand for a group shot (requested by the photography editor) and managed a fairly diverse crowd from different practice groups (not all groups, but most). And in the published picture I think we're looking very nice.

When the reporter arrived only two of my partners made themselves available for an "informal chat". One, the incoming Managing Partner (from the litigation practice), and the other a well respected partner from our Public Law practice.

In the interview the PL partner was very dominant in the conversation. He had a seasoned knack for stating quotable sentences. My incoming managing partner held himself well but I could see he was trying to flatten the practice emphasis of my PL partner.

On Friday we sat with the reporter again at an event honoring my firm; And I was able to isolate him with the current managing partner (who is in our Corporate practice). They spent about 40 minutes conversing.

So.... On Saturday the story comes out (free registration required to view article) in the business section of the Orange County Register.

It was a fantastic placement. 1/2 page, above the fold ($30K minimum in advertising if I'd bought the space) on the cover page of the business section. And it was a nice, fluffy, and a complimentary article about my firm. Except....

The reporter positioned us as a firm with a long tradition in representing cities and government entities just now expanding into broader business interests. Not to discredit the reporter; In the very big picture that is true. Before 1960 we were the firm of reckoning in all things civil. But as the region changed so too changed the firm. You can imagine that, as generally complimentary of the firm as the article was, I did catch some flack on the timber of the article....

I am pretty pleased overall with what was published. Our name was big and the article was complimentary; Clients in public, private, and civic sectors were named; We were highlighted as the most successful of locally based firms; and, the article had a note of mystery to it (they leaked that we are about to release a new "brand" for the firm).

Working with reporters is never easy for someone like me (total "A" type wanting full control of everything) yet it is part of what helps a firm achieve sustained success. Believe me, we are working on what happens next time an editor calls and says, "in 30 minutes...."

Friday, January 20, 2006

What Customers Want from Your Lawyers

This will make your brain pop at the seams. The quote, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" is just a hint at thinking beyond normal. The idea put forward by the authors Clayton M. Christensen, Scott Cook, and Taddy Hall writing for Harvard Business School "Working Knowledge" is that marketers are too focused on cornering demographic segments and not enough time on figuring out what a customer really wants.

So what is the application of this thinking for a law firm?

Let's mess with the quote a bit. "Clients don't want a merger agreement. They want to generate/renew/sustain success." Or, "Clients don't want make a class action matter settle. They want to not live with shame."

So how can we market to that desire? What if we stop filling attorney biographies with "product specifications" detailing degrees and articles published and started telling "what happened when." Maybe we need to describe the accomplishments of our clients instead of detailing professional hallmarks achieved by our attorneys.

Tonight I am going to ponder this great article at HBS Working Knowledge. There is something in there that is the key to creating something incredibly appealing for marketing professional services.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Staying Inside the Creative Box

Being creative at a law firm is a tall order. It is nice to think about doing all kinds of cool stuff "outside the box" yet law firms are most successful because they're bastions of order and reason...

...So I am talking to a new artist engaged to work on my branding project and trying to describe that I'd like to see creative that is edgy (we're working on advertising layouts) but it has to remain "boxable" (are you still with me?). I can only fall back on my theory of people being a herd animal, similar, but not like, sheep. I grew up around ranching so all of this makes sense to me.

Sheep in a sheep-pen cluster. In any space, without regard to its size, sheep stick together, like in box "A" to the right. At some point all of the sheep have visited every part of their pen and know that all of its confines are safe; Yet they do not spread out over all parts of the pen. They cluster together because safety is only complete when they are part of the herd.

The creative ebbs of law firm marketing are similar. At some point all of the different tactics and efforts are visited, but it seems that at any point only certain tactics are "safe" even when other approaches, at different times, have also been successful. When the herd moves (see box "B") it moves as one. So too move the marketing tactics and creative approaches taken by most law firms.

So, to be different, it is not necessary to be "outside the box", but to simply occupy a different part of an already safe space where the herd is not (have I lost you already?).

Example: I came across a printed announcement from my firm circa 1955 announcing the formation of, at that time, the latest iteration of the partnership. My first thought was, "this is really elegant and GOOD. Nobody does it like this anymore." My next thought was, "Why not?" Soooo, from inside a safe and proven box guess what my announcements will look like? Of course the announcements will tie neatly into my branding program, but we're going to have a bit of retro going on.

My point is that finding great and wonderful creative to accomplish differentiation might only require traveling as far as "C". Being different does not require us to do only those things that have never been done before. We need only to do those things that others are not doing right now.

Monday, January 16, 2006

What's in a Face

Over at Six-Figure Learnings Dave Opton offered his thoughts on the amount of attention given to creating corporate logos... His thought, based on reading a post at another location, was that "companies have more important stuff to be worried about than their logos -- like delivering a quality product and real customer service."

I would agree too if any of these three parts of an organization are out of whack because too much emphasis is paid to another, but logos are pretty important, and SHOULD be frustrated over.

A logo is a face. THE face of your company or firm. Just like looking at the face of a person, looking at a logo prompts internal, emotional choices. Based on color, lines, letters, words, and form we feel right-brain feelings. And we judge.

A logo can appear weak or strong, warm or cold, caring or indifferent; Just like the face of a person. A logo may be the only face of your company that customers might see. In the case of Kodak (from Dave's post) do any of us consumers know any other "face"?

If an element of your firm or company touches any part of your target audience, then that element requires diligent attention; Quality of product, the customer experience, AND the logo along with so many other marketing parts.
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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Finding Common Ground for a Brand Launch

In the process of uncovering and sharing the heritage of our firm I am discovering that a shared history is breaking down current boundaries and tribalism. Could this be the magic wand of esprit de corps that I can wave?

As a marketer in the midst of brand launch having everyone rallied around a common flag is paramount (duh!). And, everyone is excited. But it is still a large group of people separated by floors, departments, issues, etc. Each persons base "identity" within the firm is definitely tied to unique sets of influences. A member of our Public Law practice sees the firm quite differently than a member of the Corporate practice. What these individuals say about the firm to an outsider can vary wildly.

Even with a new brand that all introduce at one time.... Each group within the firm will have their own story UNLESS, somehow, they are reunited as a firm. You know; all for one and one for all!

I sent out a photo of the founder's first offices (second floor space above a bank in Fullerton, CA circa 1906) and suddenly the firm was buzzing, talking, laughing, and sharing. Previously, in response to requests for old information about the firm that might be found people were talking to people across daily boundaries in hopes of helping the quest for roots.

I plan to continue sharing old photos and moments with everyone in the firm, and, to explore how our common history can foster unification.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Knowing that "No" Tells Its Own Story

Getting the advertising budget approved for this year has been wonderful for discovering the priorities and beliefs of my partners. In proposing regions outside of our traditional advertising area I received feedback that spoke to what they thought was viable, and, it spoke to what they hoped to accomplish in growth.

That they did not see my plan for every area as viable is not a setback. It is a step forward because they needed to clearly think and state why a particular region was not a place for advertising (ergo; expansion of business).

When proposing new ideas for a firm the things that come back as “no” are a great insight into the thinking of what is considered possible and an indicator of what will be supported.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Look Inside the Branding of a Law Firm

The Southern California chapter of the LMA has recruited me to speak at their next luncheon January 18th. I think the last minute recruitment means more that they had a cancellation and not that I am at the top of their "gotta hear" list... But I'm going to have a hoot anyway!

The topic? Branding of course, since that is exactly what my life is all caught up in at the moment. I will walk the audience through how I arrived at the brand I am about to launch for my firm; The treat is they will get a peek at what has yet to be revealed to the public. Of course I realize that many in the audience are also my competitors. The "peek", hopefully, will be just enough to send them screaming into the hills to plan their surrender.

If you are anywhere near SoCal on the 18th I encourage you to stop by and watch the show. Like I said, it will be a HOOT!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Marketing vs. Sales... (Again)

The Wired GC is one smart person, AND this person lives in the Midwest (I'm originally from Minnesota. GO GOLDEN GOPHERS!)... But the Wired GC has illustrated a common misconception in professional services. Marketing is not sales, and sales is not marketing. Each is separate and plays a different role in sustaining or moving the goals of a firm.

In his/her article (here) the Wired GC points at the poor advertising choices by law firms to raise a point about how excellent sales tactics are really the answer.

I agree that excellence in client contact and sales tactics are necessary for success. But, good selling tactics is not marketing. Sales is direct actions taken in the presence of clients and prospects that close the door on the start or continuation of a relationship. Marketing is about creating feelings that make a relationship feel plausible.

If advertisements go unnoticed or are simply silly, sales tactics will not correct most bad marketing situations. Better marketing is the fix. Some marketing programs ARE noticed. Some marketing programs DO get results that are reflected directly to the bottom line of sales.

I absolutely agree with the wonderful sales tactics suggested by the Wired GC. But if you are a marketer for a law firm and you want better marketing results; Be a better marketer.
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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Paging System for Law Firms

Someone needs to create a silent paging system for law firms (or maybe it already exists and I haven't found it yet). Something that effectively replaces a receptionist voice blaring overhead calling for the attention of a wondering attorney; "John Doe. Please call extension 6500. John Doe. Please call extension 6500."

Hospitals use vibrating personal pagers on the hip of all personnel. Some companies require employees to have their cell phone in hand at all times. Maintenance crews use radios. But law firms are still using overhead speaker systems.

The ideal law firm system would be a small, wireless device with a screen just big enough to flash a name and number in 24pt-36pt font, and as inexpensive as a personal pager. The system would also include a second, larger screen device for mounting in strategically selected public spaces of the firm office. Both the large and small version would need a bright light of some sort that would flash for attention without being annoying.

Of course, people would need to adapt to the system, but certainly it's better that overhead speakers and receptionists having to shout into their headsets.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

My New Year's List of Gotta Do's

This year, 2006, in business, these are my goals:
  1. To reach December 31, 2006 as CMO at this firm. Actually my goal is several more years... But one at a time seems sensible.
  2. To continue as a blawger.
  3. To get reconnected to the business network in my region. Taking almost a year off does come with consequences.
  4. To launch the new brand of my firm by February 1. Is there anything more terrifying than project creep?
  5. To continue to "walk the floors" seeking face-to-face conversations whenever possible with the people at my firm.
  6. To meet the budget I've proposed and demonstrate an undeniable ROI.
  7. To never believe I know enough.
  8. To continually acknowledge the great work of the people I work with. There is nothing more gratifying than working with exciting, smart, committed people.

Real or Memorex?

Today I heard about an interview with a marketing consultant that discussed building business relationships. It was a good interview, BUT, it nags at me that I have heard some of what was said somewhere else... HERE as a matter of fact! I am not going to name names or link to the interview, BUT, I am going to say I am unhappy to see someone else take credit for my words. In particular:
  • "The "give to get" attitude in professional services and why you need to develop it." I spoke on this exact concept at several events including the LMA, AeA, the Corporate Investment Conference, and CalCPA.
  • "Learning how to apply the lessons of romance, dating and marriage to your practice development efforts." Discussed by me here, here, and here.
Maybe I am just being lame... These concepts seem so obvious to me it would be incredible if others have not thought it as well, but the words are so close to exactly how I've stated I have to wonder.... The person being discussed here has demonstrated a wonderful marketing intellect in volumes of published materials so I hope that this is simply a good example of "great minds think alike."

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...