Monday, October 30, 2006

The New Talent Agents of Corporate America

In the world of executive recruitment two disciplines are converging. Executive search and executive coaches... with a twist. I met this morning with Susan Howington who has spent several years in executive search, but now has gone independent. But she is no longer in executive search. She has switched to being an "executive agent". Now don't think that what she is doing is anything like the "pay-to-find-a job" services that are already out there. She is not.

What she is is more like being a sports agent, or a talent agent of the Hollywood sense. She finds business talent of the highest level and signs them up as a "client". What these executives want is someone to find them "the next best place" to demonstrate their talent -- while they continue to shine in the place where they are. Cool!

Imagine, in corporate America, having a personal agent on the street making connections, searching opportunities... looking for the next "star" gig. My first thought is, "it's about time!"

Her thoughts on the matter -- Too many of the corporate stars are so busy being corporate stars that they have no time to capitalize on what they do best. Why shouldn't they have an agent to promote their talent and enable even greater success? In the end everyone wins. The best person doing exactly what will produce the largest results. And then there is executive coaching.

An executive agent, like Susan, can mentor an executive in understanding what they do best. And she holds them accountable for producing on their own commitments. "Do you want to be a star? You have to act like one and produce like one!" Like in the movie "Jerry McGuire", "help me help you!"

I like this new role in the infrastructure of corporate America. Agents of business talent that can match roles to people and people to roles so that the best things happen fast. As soon as Susan has a web presence I will provide the link. Considering how busy she is it just might be a few months before she needs to advertise.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Stop Thinking Like Your Competition

Ever wonder what your competition is thinking? They're thinking exactly what you are thinking -- "I wonder what my competition is thinking?" The truth is that most law firms are so busy trying to guess what other law firms are thinking that they're not being strategic, or creating some great new campaign, or doing anything productive at all. Mostly, law firms are being reactive... not proactive. Kind of sad isn't it? But I depend on this truth.

Several months ago I launched an ad campaign featuring the attorneys at my firm. Recently a pack of other firms are doing the same. PLUS, the local publications are filling up with advertisements from local firms. Interesting.... If I do anything that is different from the herd -- the herd follows.

So, being a strategically minded marketer, what is my next move, considering that whatever I do the pack will follow?

My next move is to NOT do anything they are already doing! I call this "180° Marketing". In order to stand away from the crowd and have my message heard I need to be doing anything that is different from everyone else. Now that my competition is spending their precious budget on ad space I need to focus somewhere different. Of course you'd like to know where... but that would be telling too much. I'll just say that 2007 marketing dollars will be spent on something different than my competition.

I don't spend a lot time on wondering what my competition is thinking. I choose instead to think about what they are not thinking. That place is where I will accomplish the most good. If you spend any part of your day reacting to the marketing moves of your competition by doing similar things than STOP IT RIGHT NOW! I can assure you that being different will always pay greater dividends that being similar.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Season of Law Firm Giving Approaches

The season of giving approaches... the season of choosing is here. Every year law firms, just like every business out there, spends time considering what gifts or gestures the lawyers will put before clients and friends of the firm. It is an age old tradition that begs renewal every holiday season. It is also a tradition that begs for new ideas.

At my firm the attorneys are presented with a laundry list of gift options and depending on the importance of the client make an appropriate choice with regard to gift value. Other attorneys at my firm make cash donations to a charity on behalf of a client and notate that in their holiday card. Both practices are quite typical for all law firms, service providers, and companies et al. Last year in a moment of inspiration one of the attorneys at my firm handed out iPod's to his clients. Nice!

An annual ritual for letting individuals know they are important is a good thing. My "thing" is wanting that gift to mean something. The gift has to be something more than a basket that's relegated to the lunch room or gesture without relevance. Here are my ideas on the subject:
  • If your gift has to be a basket -- deliver in-person. It may wind up in the lunch room but the moment of delivery is really what counts. If the recipient is a air-flight away... so be it. Get on the plane and make the delivery.
  • If you make a donation make it to a charity that matters to the client. Not the one that matters most to you. Relevance matters.
  • Whenever possible select gifts that are personal to the individual. If your client is a fly fisherman than give a fly fishing related item. Your client is a new mom or dad? Give them something a parent can appreciate. If you know your client you'll know what to give.
  • Don't put your firm logo on any gift. TOTALLY tacky.
  • If a big client has a close relationship with a smaller client -- both get the same thing. People talk and feelings will be hurt if you do otherwise. You do know which of your clients know each other... don't you?
  • Know your clients well enough to know if gifts or gestures matter to them. Some might actually be offended by your generosity during this particular time of year.
One of the most successful attorneys I know doesn't give out gifts at all. He hosts an annual dinner gathering of his most important clients and their spouses at a great restaurant. He hires in music, picks a great menu and creates an special atmosphere making a special evening for all. His clients are cherished friends.

No matter what your firm and attorneys choose to do for the holiday gift giving season I implore you to think about helping them to do special things. It matters all year long.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Slogging Through MC Blog Changes

After making converting other blogs over to the new Blogger Beta and testing things out I've made the leap with the Marketing Catalyst blog. Some things are better, and other things I still need to figure out.

The things that are better include cleaner and faster posting, greater big picture control over the placement of elements on the blog page, and best of all; CATEGORIES! With more than a few hundred posts to review and categorize it may take a bit, but I am jubilent about the change.

What needs figuring out is the new html/XML Google created for Blogger Beta. Placing images for page banners and controlling CSS elements has changed dramatically. Actually, so much so that the HTML view is like seeing a new language. So far not too many people have figured out how to tweak the code. Until that happens the MC blog will sport a generic banner and Blogger Nav bar.

On an entirely different note, someone hijacked one of my email addreesses a few weeks back evidenced by over 40,000 kickback emails waiting for me when I signed into my personal email program. Every night for a week I clicked the "send/receive" button before going to bed to download the latest batch of reject messages for deletion in the morning. My program was able to pull down about 3000-4000 headers a night. What a frustrating HASSLE!

I've been going through my web sites and changing email hotlinks to phonetic referrals (i.e. myname/at/domain/dot/com) as you can read in the my contact information on this page. Oh what fun....

OK, back to creating category links.

Friday, October 20, 2006

One Can Never Proofread Enough

OK, sad story. The last few weeks there have been spelling errors in a couple of things that went out of the marketing department. MY marketing department. Nothing too serious, but then again, is there ever a good mistake. No matter how minor, to some, a spelling mistake is as big as has ever existed. What I do for proofreading is find the most detail oriented paralegal at my firm and make sure everything passes under her/his eyes. A few weeks ago "that person" at my firm was out so I fielded the proofreading to someone different. It didn't turn out so well. One vowel in the wrong place was the result. Ouch! Taking a professional ding is never pleasant.

Here is my new rule: New proofreaders are validated with additional proofreaders. I proof it, then I send it to the new proofreader, then I send it to someone else for proofing, and then I send it to one more.

It is so weird the spelling and punctuation errors that slip by... they're like little time bombs that only go off when they can do the most damage. And at law firms where every "t" and "i" need to be perfect -- OOF! Need I say more. Pay attention to the details, and pay attention to who is paying attention to getting the details right. Your credibility stands in the balance.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Social Stability in Law Firms

The COO at my firm has a theory about firm size (number of attorneys) and their ability to grow. He surmises (and has witnessed) that firms have great growth momentum between inescapable plateaus of change. The first plateau is at 50 attorneys, then at 100, and then at 150. As I do agree with his theory I can't help but want to dig a bit deeper.

In my view, at each plateau the firm has to make it through a change in the social and operational order of things. In research it's been shown (Dunbar's Rule of 150) there is a cognitive limit to the number of stable relationships an individual can maintain. Once someone is outside (your) realm of a maintained relationships that person ceases to be relevant to you (see David Wong's Monkeysphere).

The same is true of operational process. The more moving parts there are the greater the need for order. But what administrative methods and practices work for a 50 attorney firm will certainly be inadequate at 150.

Going back to the Dunbar rule something else needs to be considered. In any firm, one attorney does not exist among only other attorneys in a firm. The firm also has staff (typically close the number of attorneys), clients, external peers, family and friends. All relationships contribute to the 150 people numbered in the Dunbar 150.

Now the plateau's are making sense. At 50 attorneys (plus 30-50 staff, plus 5-30 family, plus 50 professional and social relationships) an individual attorney is pretty tapped out for adding new people in their circle. In order for a firm to get beyond 50 they need to find a way to reorder their social structure to be inclusive of new relationships (attorneys, clients, staff, etc.) while remaining inside each attorneys capacity for stable inter-personal relationships.

Firms that adapt usually start creating highly defined specialty groups, divide leadership and responsibilities. At the 50 and 100 attorney firms this means that someone or a group of leaders may have to learn to let go of daily involvement in everything. A tough change to navigate!

As the firm gets even larger leadership will have to develop faith in the judgement of others about concerning people he/she does not know. This is when firm retreats, leadership circles, and internal news reporting becomes extremely vital.

As you grow your firm keep in mind how important the social structure of the firm is to your success. Remember that you will not be able to stop the change from happening (unless you determine to halt the growth of your firm), but you can work to adapt your firm to what is inevitable.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Tips for Great Sponsored Events

Over the years I've been fortunate to sponsor events (awards, dinners, conferences, etc) run by good crews. Along the way I've learned some great ways to help event stand out from the norm:
  • Start with a good event crew -- a professional crew. I recently sponsored an financial event run by the AeA's event crew. It sure helps that the people organizing an event have the experience and resources to make everything happen well and on time. If your event is with an organization that does not have in-house resources -- hire them.
  • Don't let sponsor representatives get near the podium. Nothing turns an audience off quicker than an emcee introducing a sponsor who then introduces the speaker, awardee, or panel. Of course sponsors always come with a self-serving commercial.
  • Use a professional emcee. At the last event (a finance conference) we used Samantha McDermott who volunteered her services. This was a networking opportunity for her as well so she jumped at the offer. Having one good person on the mic all day running things makes a huge difference to the audience. A good emcee engages the audience, sets a rhythm for activities, and creates a familiarity that nurtures the purpose of the event.
  • Treat the schedule as a suggestion of what will happen when -- not as rules written in stone. Somethings always runs long and somethings always run short. Be ready to adjust and know how you will make up time or fill in dead-space.
  • Create centers of activities that help to spread people out (vs. bottlenecks in bad locations). For instance, put bars in locations that pull people across a reception space so that people don't bottleneck near the entrance. Or, put your registration tables inside sponsor booth areas so that attendees are pulled into the event and not stacked at the entrance.
  • Encourage the audience to use the event program (where sponsors have exposure) by asking them to refer to it at different parts of the program. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you turn to page 14 of the program you'll find a complete bio on the panelists...."
  • Demand... Yes. Demand, that someone from the venue/hotel is present at all times. When things go wrong or need adjusting the venue MUST respond immediately.
  • Always set up audience spaces for panels, presentations, and meals with less seats than the registered count. First off, everyone never shows up all at once. Second, having to adjust on the fly to accommodate more people adds to the allure of an event. "Standing Room Only" is a GREAT thing. Third, a room with 500 people set up for 800 looks pretty pitiful.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Protecting Sponsored Events from the Competition

Tonight was the opening reception of a capital event my firm is the title sponsor of and, of course, the competition found a way to get a few bodies into the mix. In truth, I really don't mind so much. But if it had been many and not a few -- that would've have been bad. The fact of market balance is the key. In any market, I (the firm) can only hope for a maximum of 50% market share. That's the nature of law firm competition. In every transaction, case or matter there is a law firm on the other side. With this knowledge I know I don't need to occlude every other law firm in town. There is a lot of room for all of us to play.

But I do need to keep my competition at bay. Here are my rules for dealing with competitors that desire the audience at an event I am sponsoring:
  • Talk with the leaders of the organization hosting the event (the people you're paying sponsorship to) and be blunt about protecting your services category with regard to who is invited to the event. Have other attorneys and law firms removed from the invite list.
  • If a lawyer or firm leverage their way into attending make sure they pay full-rate. If I am paying to attend (through sponsorship) then they should pay a maximum for their participation.
  • Know who they are and greet them face-to-face at the event. Intimidation is almost never a nice thing.... but they are gaining a benefit from my efforts. I want them to know that I know.
  • Offer them introductions if needed. Yup, I said that. In the bigger picture I would always like to be on the plus side of any score card. It has been my experience that being a good host pays off in lessening my competitors aggressiveness.
  • Do not badmouth any person or firm in attendance. Negative statements NEVER benefit you. Most firms are (that are your competition) are just as good as you in general. Remember that attorney-client relationships are born from personal chemistry.
  • Remember also that you are a sponsor. Maximize that in every way possible. Get maximum exposure through acknowledgments from the podium, marketing materials strategically placed, and bodies from the firm in attendance. If you pay to own an event, OWN it! Don't just show up.
Being a respectable competitor is hard work... and worth every ounce of effort.
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Friday, October 06, 2006

Losing a Beloved Partner

Last weekend a much beloved partner (ret.) of my firm died under suspicious circumstances. The family has yet to find out the whole story from the police. What an incredible tragedy! This man practically built the reputation our currently firm rides upon while being a mentor, friend and all around great human being. As much as we can we've talked with his family and helped them manage the details of what needs doing in such a time. Thankfully his family is as wonderful as he -- they're dealing with it in reason and good judgement.

In this brief week I had reason to dig into his past visiting stories, lots of photos, testimonials, and video tapes of his retirement party. I have been with the firm such a short time but did get a chance to know him a bit. He was instrumental in helping me reveal bits and pieces of this 100 year old firm, and I made sure he was in attendance at firm-honoring events these last several months. He had incredible charisma and such a joyful outlook it was inspiring.

As large as he was in life he always preferred less attention than more... and his family wishes the same so his name will not appear here. But my advise for other law firms will;
  • Hero's should always be a part of a firm culture. Don't let people forget the efforts and individuals that contributed to "us" being here today.
  • Retired alumni are tremendous cheerleaders.
  • Honor your firm hero's. It builds pride and esprit de corps.
  • Let families of recently deceased alumni set the pace and tone of any public recognition. Their rights are far more important than anyone else's.
  • Document the days and life's of people in your firm. In trying to look back it is often too late to gather the memories that really mattered.
I am sorry this post is a bit somber... but that's the way of life isn't it? Happy could not work if we did not have markers to show us what to be happy about. My last thought; Live large and collect memories -- it matters!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Random Thoughts on Law Firm Retreats

Random thoughts that may help your law firm retreat to be a fine trip indeed:
  • Never forget the perceived distance between junior and senior lawyers at a firm. The larger the firm the greater the distance. For some young attorneys it is incredibly stressful to hang out with the partners that control their future at the firm. Organize some activities that separate the peer groups so that everyone can truly relax.
  • If there is a "big" dinner on the schedule ask the partners to quietly exit after dessert and let the associates party on. Set up a seperate space for the partners to continue their evening. Partying and drinking almost always leads to sillyness...
  • Hire a photographer to be present throughout the retreat. Though many of the lawyers will bring their own camera's an independent photographer will catch a lot of great memories for the firm archives.
  • If you have a photographer at a dinner event remember to excuse him/her for the evening before anyone starts getting silly.
  • If you give gifts/mementos to attendees be sure that everyone receives the same things.
  • Remind partners that their actions are being observed by younger lawyers.
  • Leave plenty of open time in the schedule for everyone to do as they please.
  • Ask everyone to not conduct business (as is reasonable with regard to client needs) while on the retreat. Down-time with friends is important to health and sanity.
  • After the retreat prepare some sort of "memory" book with photos. It will become a cherished artifact for attorneys and their spouses.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Working with Event Venders

This weekend I attended a non-working retreat for the attorneys at my firm. It was a fun weekend hanging out with all of the attorneys and significant others at a fine resort in San Diego. It was doubly fun because the marketing department didn't have to do any of the planning or setup. The partner who did put it together did an excellent job; very few snafu's with rooms, meals happened as planned, everyone had a good time. But, being an event and me the head of marketing I confess that I did do a little running around checking not so obvious details throughout the weekend. Here are some of things I checked on (as a reference list for things beyond the obvious):

Meal Spaces (ballrooms, patios, etc.)
  • One hour before the meal I checked table arrangements. Is everything clean and complete? Is there enough moving space between and around tables? Do linens match and are centerpieces fresh.
  • Is an initial supply of red wines uncorked and breathing?
  • Are there adequate servers for the quantity of guests?
  • Are their uniforms clean and correctly worn?
  • Who will be the on-duty dining captain from hotel staff?
  • What time will the bar close and will the servers start offering water to drinking guests?
  • Do they have enough scullery platters out for guests to set down empty drink glasses and the like?
  • What will the room lighting be? I ask someone to change the room lighting from setup bright to what it will be for the meal and entertainment.
Event Personnel (retained)
  • What time would the band begin and end? When did they break and how long? What ambient music arrangements were in place between their sets?
  • What are the photographers instructions? When the main "big" dinner started I stood with the photographer as guests walked in to identify key leaders. We also discussed what time the photographer would stop shooting (to avoid the taking of photos of people who may have diminishing control if they overindulge).
Miscellaneous to be Considered
  • Do you have enough cash in-pocket to tip the venue staff, band, photographer, etc. Typically I will tip (for one evening) $50 per entertainer (if it is a local background band or D.J.), $50 to the photographer, and $10-$20 per server that worked the dinner (paid in lump sum to the dining captain).
  • Is there adequate signage to direct guests to the correct ballroom or meal space?
  • Have arrangements been made to return-ship any special items created for the event. This last weekend that item was specially commissioned champagne glasses. Not every glass left with a guest. The rest are being shipped back to the firm.
  • Did you taste hors d'oeuvres before any guest? Did you sample wines to ensure they've not turned?
In this short post I am just pointing out a few of the lessor thought of details. Any event is hundreds of little things happening and thankfully, most hotels, having done thousands of events, know every detail backward and forward. At the hotel we were at the staff was impeccable! But no matter how good the hotel staff is, YOU have to be on your toes because if anything goes wrong.... Well, you know the rest.

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