Thursday, November 30, 2006

If Your Law Firm Could Only Do One Marketing Thing

Some firms initiate large plans but only wind up getting one thing done while others are not sure what to do first and never get anything off the ground. More commonly law firms dive enthusiastically into a grand plan but after the first effort gains no visible ground, the grand plan is abandoned. So the question is: What is the one thing that might succeed if a law firm only did that one thing? My answer: Gain agreement among all the partners that, "this is who we are" as a firm. The answer is easy to say and not so easy to do, but if you only get one shot by whatever road you travel -- this is the shot to take. Here's how I do it.
  • Hire a great facilitator (This go-round I had Merry Neitlich and Jim Hughes facilitating). Someone experienced at working with groups of individuals, collecting their thoughts, and capable of boiling down a myriad of thinking into concise, easy to understand statements.
  • Get all (or as many as possible) of your attorneys into a large room and ask them the question, "What does (your firm name here) mean to you?"
  • Write down everything they say on a large flip chart (this may take several pages). They may state things relevant to themselves, relevant to clients, or relevant to nothing at all. Just write it all down.
Let it rest for a few days.
  • Get the group(s) back together. Have all of the pages of statements lined up around the room for all to see.
  • Using the facilitator as discussion leader work through the list of statements and combine thoughts and ideas where it makes sense (Here's where a great facilitator's talent really comes into play) . You may start with 300 statements that can be reduced to 100.
  • After the first go-around do it again. Get the list down to 60... then to 40... then to 10. It is a hard process that will invoke passionate discussion -- and yet that is exactly what you want -- passion.
  • Once you can work the list to 10 or less
Let it rest for a few days.
  • Using the 10 or less statements write one or two paragraphs that capture, in story form, the essence of what the firm has been boiled down to.
  • Take the essence statement back to the attorneys for more discussion. Always refer any discussion to the agreed list. Resist all efforts to reopen the discussion of what should be on the list and instead get people to focus on the best way to tell the story.
  • Success!
So what is this one, really hard thing all about? It's about creating a common language. Firms that need marketing typically need marketing less than they need a common language.

Imagine this: 300 brilliant scientists who all speak different languages working on the different parts of the same goal. Each has something equally important to contribute, but because they cannot understand the words of their colleagues will each be brilliant in a vacuum. They may each achieve wondrous results but ultimately the grand goal will not be reached because they could not talk about how each was adding to the whole.

Without an essence statement each lawyer (and employee) will have their own way of describing the firm. Create an essence statement and everyone starts saying similar things and more importantly, everyone starts feeling like they are part of something bigger and grander than themselves.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Hardest Part of Creating a Relationship Network

A few weeks ago I sent a copy of Thom Singer's book, "Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships" to a close friend. Today my friend wrote me a short note stating that he'd taken Thom's free quiz, the Networking Quotient, designed to help a person learn about their individual social networking skills for business and how their skills compare with those of peers in several demographics. My friend scored in the 4.o percentile (of 100). Ooops! The dilemma for this person that I know got me thinking about what is the hardest part of getting from 4% to 70%, or even 80% and above.

The short answer -- show up.

Let me explain. In just the county I live in (Orange County, CA) there must be tens of thousands of people engaged as company executives, up-and-comers, career advancers, business development professionals, etc.

Of those tens of thousands, less than 5% are actively involved in relationship development activities outside of what specifically involves their current position or clients.

For example: Locally there is an association of venture capitalists and early stage entrepreneurs that conducts monthly meetings. Each meeting draws about 100-200 attendees. In a marketplace with (probably) 3,000-5,000 individuals that could benefit from attending, the meetings draws 100-200. At least 50% of the attendees at each meeting are repeat attendees. So... in a marketplace of thousands there are less than 100 that have made themselves available for creating an extended network of relationships.

My simple math says that in order to jump from 4% to 70%-80% (and probably higher) all a business person needs to do is show up at business events. Even if your relationship development skills are rough, or you're scared to death, just showing up is a HUGE leap. You are ahead of most of your peers already! Unless you're drooling in a corner muttering to yourself you are bound to make at least one connection. Show up six times and you've made six connections.

A simple goal to achieve a wondrous benefit. Just show up and you are ahead of most....

Friday, November 24, 2006

Is it a Blawg or is it Just Electronic Collateral

I came across a new blawg (law firm blog) on a link from the navigation bar of the same firm. It had two posts -- both posts were simply statements about why someone would want to use this particular firm. That's not a blawg. That's advertising (at least in my opinion). I don't like the idea of feeling like a blog snob, but where is the line.

I remember using clothes pins to attach baseball cards to my bicycle so that, when riding the bike, the cards would slap on the spokes of the wheels and make this really cool sound -- like the exhaust of a hot rod. Riding that bike and hearing the sound of those cards I felt like I was straddling the coolest Harley in the world. But that didn't make it a Harley. And of course anyone seeing me riding my very loud bike didn't see a kid on a Harley. They saw a kid on a bike.

Blogs have been around long enough that people know what a real one looks like. They're about opinions, daily life, learning, teaching, exploring... They're a journal peeking into a person. Simply spewing sales stuff onto something you call a blog does not make it one. Worst of all, do the whole sales thing and people know it right off. They see the cards in the spokes. Get it?

If you are such a firm, and you read this tiny rant, send me an email. I am happy to explain how you might turn that around.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Fitting a Law Firm Brand to Individuals Lawyers

The question was asked, “How can an individual attorney communicate the firm brand AND communicate their special expertise and/or client focus?" Answer: Always state the message of the firm immediately followed by individual traits. It is the “My/I” statement.
  • Example: My firm is a full service business law firm and I specialize in handling bankruptcy cases for large banks.
  • Example: My firm specializes in representing insurance providers. I focus on litigating insurance fraud.
  • Example: My firm is the largest intellectual property firm in California and I specialize in helping consumer electronics manufacturers in protecting their products and ideas.
The value of belonging to a firm that provides expertise beyond one specific practice area is often the cache of the firm reputation – especially if the firm is large enough to have dominance in a defined region (local, national or international). If an attorney only states their individual practice they have passed up on a ton of credibility inherent in the reputation of their firm.

If you are a law firm marketer start teaching this simple messaging concept to your attorneys. If you are an attorney… start taking advantage of this incredible value proposition.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Law Firm Messaging Creep: How Brand Gets Distorted

"The whispered sentence" is a popular old parlor game for entertaining at least five guests. The game starts with one person writing a (made-up) sentence onto a piece of paper that is kept secret from all other players. The writer then whispers what he/she wrote into the ear of the person next to him/her. Each player in turn whispers what they heard to the person next to them until the last person has heard it. The last person then speaks the sentence out loud to be compared with what was originally written.

The sentence may have started out, "My dog really likes wearing blue shoes." But by the time it has been whispered across the room the last person will swear they heard, "Fly grogs like really swearing at a new moon. The more people in the whisper-chain, the more hilarious the difference.

Sometimes what happens in this parlor game is exactly what happens to law firm messaging – it's called "message creep". One of the ways that happens is the result of seeking too much consensus. Here is how you can test the theory at your firm (and discover how effective your "whisper-chain" is at maintaining the firm message).
  • Create a headline and paragraph of copy for an advertisement that is smack on top of your firm message.
  • Interoffice the headline and copy to one of the people in your "approval" circuit.
  • When you get it back send the marked-up original to the next person in the circuit. Each time you receive it back forward it along until all in the circuit has reviewed the copy (and commented/edited if so inclined).
  • Now create a new headline and copy document based on all of their changes.
  • Print out both the new and the original and compare them.
Here is what you will find:
  1. The changes modified a few words, expressions, and corrected punctuation but in-all left the message and essence absolutely intact and on-target.
  2. The headline and copy changes created a message a football field away from the firm message, but matches up well to some individuals within the firm.
  3. The headline and copy matches some other firm.
  4. The headline doesn't match the copy and the copy never gets to any clear point.
If you find that you are in situation #1 – Excellent! If you find you are in #2 - #4 then your next step is to work on the circuit. Is it the wrong circuit? Is it too big? Do the participants really understand the firm brand? Are there forces at work intra-circuit that prevent unbiased review? And, last but not least, does your brand/message truly resonate with the attorneys that make up your firm?

Do not be mistaken into believing that you're working with attorneys that will just never "get it". Brand creep most often happens because some attorneys do not not clearly understand what the "brand" is or how to communicate it clearly in concert with their own goals... Which is a topic for an entirely different post.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What is Your Favorite Thanksgiving Memory?

This is a good one. Steve Harper over at "The Ripple Effect" has a contest running as he looks for, "What is your favorite Thanksgiving Memory?" I found the link at Thom Singer's blog, "Some Assembly Required." For me it was a fun exercise in fond memories. Go there and give it a shot.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Politely Saying No to Charitable Causes

Law firms are not alone in receiving many, many calls, emails, and letters asking for support of viable, deserving charitable efforts. At my firm we line up behind charities that my lawyers can relate to and champion. Unfortunately that leaves a lot of charities outside our giving, or ability to give. I believe that saying no should involve more than a quick trip to the round file. And I believe that the business community has some measure of social responsibility for helping community take care of itself. To that end, when a request crosses my desk here is what I do.

  • I take the time to look up the local chapter or presence of the organization on the Internet to see what they're doing and the community goal they're working towards. I also look at other individuals and corporations involved in volunteering, giving, and representing (trustees, advisory boards, etc.)
  • If there are connections to their people (i.e. client supported) to lawyers in my firm, or the cause is closely related to other causes that we've stepped up to I will approach the appropriate partners and let them know about the opportunity.
  • If an attorney wishes to support the cause then it will be presented to the business development committee to determine of the firm can provide support.
What I do iwhen the answer is no (whether at initial look or after further consideration):
  • Every rejected cause receives a posted letter from me (on behalf of the firm) stating that we are not able to support them this year.
  • The letter explains that our budgeted giving is reviewed once a year and they are welcome to re-submit at that time.
Community support is far too important to treat lightly. I myself sit on boards of two organizations and know how serious we take the activity of asking for support. At the firm I wish to acknowledge the seriousness of the request and handle it appropriately. Good people deserve diligent effort.

Of course that means that annually their requests are renewed but that seems to be hardly an inconvenience. Who knows when it may come that their cause is the perfect cause. Being a good corporate citizen has rewards at every level!

BTW, the image above is from the winter program at the United States Adaptive Recreation Center in Big Bear Lake, California.... One of the organizations I am passionate about (

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Law Firm Advertising -- Meet the Tombstone

I will confess that on this blog I have been an advocate against tombstone advertisements for law firms. In short, a wall-to-wall page of graphics and words that show off everyone else better than the law firm placing the ad is not my idea of a good spend. Of course, I am happy to stay on record that any advertisment that is wall-to-wall layouts (words and graphics filling as much white space as possible) is an aboration and a waste of money and message.

But -- yesterday I was talking with a marketer from another professional services category about their press releases and what will get picked up in media, and what will not. This firm (not a law firm) completes a ton of transactional type assignments that are not "news worthy" but certainly have value in proving the worth of their expertise... Much like law firm transactions and cases on behalf of clients.

Here's the kicker: I recommended that he/she buy ad space and display the names of companies they're working with as a means of demonstrating their value (when entering new markets). Essentially I had recommended a none-law firm version of a tombstone ad! A few hours later was my head spinning or what!

OK... so I might have been hasty is judging law firm tombstone ads as completely useless. BUT -- the current practices employed by law firms in advertising transactions cannot possibly be right. Look at my last post on eye-tracking and you'll know I'm mostly right. The truth revealed to me is that there are things a law firm does that have incredible marketing value and will not be revealed through traditional public relations activities. I actually need to spend some advertising budget on promoting accomplishments that will not get picked up as a press release.

(Last BUT) But, the traditional practice of wall-to-wall tombstone ads will not do! There HAS to be a way to use accomplishments such that they fall into a great layout AND reveal value. This is my task. Find the right combination. If you have ideas let me know. Or, just keep an eye here for a few months. I'll post what I discover.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Simplify Your Law Firm Competitor List

Some firms and attorneys appear to be obsessed with everything that every other firm or attorney is doing. I feel pretty certain it does not need to be that way. If I am constantly watching what everyone else is doing when will I find time for marketing my firm.

Instead I focus on our niche of expertise and client demographic. I've taken the time to understand what our sweet spot is, why clients buy specifically from us, and which other firms in town match us on most points. What I've found is that we actually have very few "real" competitors. Perfect!

I have also been able to observe is that most of my competitors are absorbed with frustrating over clients and pitches that are a match for one type of firm but not right for both. For instance, an international firm will have a very different ideal client demographic than a regional firm. The differences are in resource requirements, billable spread and tolerance, and, partner compensation systems.

In my little part of the country I find that instead of having hundreds of firms and attorneys to keep an eye on I have less than two dozen. And most of them are stagnant marketers.... Even better! In the end I spend a lot less time wondering about others and more time planning and executing. Stop looking over your shoulder and pay attention to what matters most!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Designing Ads That Get Read

It has been too many years since I learned this simple principle of ad design ergonomics so I cannot, at least today, find the reference material that taught me this -- but it continues to be a successful tactic for designing advertisements for law firms.

The study, as I recall, tracked eye movements as readers were flipping through magazines. Specifically the study tracked the eye movement of readers as they glanced at advertising pages. What they found was a distinctive pattern of where the reader first looked as the page came into view, and the path of their eye movement until the reader had flipped to the next page.

It is common knowledge that advertisers have only a fraction of a second to grab the attention of a reader. In this critical nano-second a targeted reader must find objects or words that encourages them to move from Point 1, to Point 2, to Point 3 and so on. As I recall from the study, the moment the reader looses interest their eyes stop tracking and the page is turned. Loose the reader at Point 1 and they are gone.

Think of this simple principle as you design your next ad. It is easy, and I can testify that it works!
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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

How to Become an "A" Player Attorney

A few days ago I wrote about how to rank your referral resources with a promise to write about my ideas on what it takes to become an "A" player yourself. Being THE person that everyone wants to know is hard work. It takes consistent attention, dedication, and a single-minded, principled effort to accomplish such a thing. But, when you go to events, there they are -- the 2% in the room that everyone wants to know. That could be you! Here are the things I believe you must do to enter that 2% stratosphere:
  • Be principled, honest, giving, open-hearted, and dedicated to helping other people achieve their dreams. Within limits and safe boundaries every 2%'r I've known made me feel like I was far more important than themselves. And I felt immediate trust in their words. This quality is not something easily faked. It takes real discipline and faith in something greater than yourself.
  • Believe in yourself enough to be able to say, "No." This is a tough one but a 2%'r knows that only the best clients with the most interesting work are the best clients. In slow periods saying no is really hard, but if you seek special status only work with special clients. Anything you turn down can be passed to others within your firm.
  • Be rock-solid on delivering what you promise or imply, both in your profession and with your business relationships. You do not have to be the best attorney in town but you do need to be the most reliable.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for inclusion (in parties, events, meetings and matters). Too many attorneys are intimidated by asking for what they want. 2%'rs know that asking is almost always rewarded. It's not pushy to ask. It's expected.
  • NEVER gossip, tell stories that belittle others, or laugh at "the rest of us." A 2%'r always appreciates what others might contribute even when they're working against themselves.
  • Dress and groom with common sense and demonstrate good manners and etiquette no matter the situation.
  • Never intrude on someone else's spotlight. A 2%'r already appreciates all of the attention they receive and do not need more attention just for the sake of getting attention.
  • Treat people as if they are for more important and interesting and than yourself. Talk about what they want to talk about and look them in the eye when they speak.
Being a 2%'r is not about wealth and fantastic success. It is only about being truly popular among others. Too many people of wealth or success are shunned socially destined to always be "B" players for lack of grace and manner. A 2%'r achieves their perceived status because, well -- they're just all-round, really likable people.
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Thom Singer delivered a great message to my attorneys at lunch today. Of course I used the lure of hot food to gather attendees but that really wasn't necessary as I am fortunate to have a majority of lawyers genuinely interested in learning new relationship skills. Tom stopped in to tell some entertaining stories about real-life business development faux-pas and walk everyone through a step-by-step for finding, making and sustaining good business relationships.

Of the many good tips he offered the one that had the most immediate result was: "Send a hand written note, not an email." Now I know this one thing is said time and time again, but it is said so often because it is such good advice. Not long after the lunch was over... in come requests for resupply on firm-branded note cards. Yes! They were listening!

Thom has a great message and a fun delivery. I find it immensely valuable to bring in speakers to talk with the attorneys on business development topics and Thom was perfect.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Right Sizing Your Law Firm Marketing Department

Question: What is the right number of marketers to effectively market a law firm, or any professional services firm? Answer: As many as it takes to do it right. Here is my take on people, numbers, and timing.

  • Marketer #1 (small firm growing) is a mid-level marketer capable of contributing to strategy, and definitely capable of being a hands-on performer. This manager can use PhotoShop, manage mailing lists, coordinate events, coordinate RFPs, handle memberships and sponsorships, etc. Small firms usually have a named partner that takes huge ownership in marketing direction (and often, unfortunately, are not ready to listen to anyone else). The firm also uses outside resources which might include a PR specialist, a strategic mind, and a professional graphic artist and/or web team.
  • Marketer #2 is an marketing coordinator. If your first marketer has gotten things running on most cylinders and the firm is growing there is just too much for one person to sustain. Your second marketer can be an administrative/secretarial person assigned full-time to marketing.
  • Marketer #3 (firm has gained significant momentum and has at least 50 market-facing professionals) is skills-capable of being a marketing director. This person is a strategic thinker who KNOWS what to do next. This is a tough period of adjustment for some partners... because here comes someone that might have a different opinion about what to do.
  • Marketer #4 is an additional marketing coordinator. By now your first coordinator is ready for greater responsibility and can easily be assigned to work with a group, office, or practice area.
  • Marketer #5 is either a communications specialist to replace most of the PR activities that are being outsourced or; a graphic specialist capable of taking on all advertising, collateral, and RFP responsibilities. You’re ready for these people when your outsourced vendors are spending 40%-50% of there time on just your work.

There are no iron-clad rules about the order of hiring but the general rule-of-thumb is to maintain a ration of one marketer for every 20-30 selling professionals. A "selling" professional is a partner or associate responsible for bringing in new business or maintaining the daily relationship with existing clients.

Note 1: A good marketing effort requires the right amount of PEOPLE, a PLAN for what needs to happen, and a BUDGET of the appropriate size so that the right PEOPLE can execute on THE PLAN. The most common order of “inadequate” is: Plan; Budget; People.

Note 2: On average most firms do not have a plan beyond "just knowing" they want good things to happen. But even with a plan, many firms do not allocate an appropriate amount of money to execute. Figure 1.5% to 3% of revenue. No less, no more.~

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Where Does Writing Material Come From?

Today a friend asked me how I found new stuff to write about after having written so much. My answer, "Everyday is a new canvas." Whenever I start thinking there might be nothing more to think on, and nothing more to observe and share out-out, I read a few of the billions of words already written by other observers.... And there I go thinking and writing again.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Women in Business: Here is Your Sandra Pelletier Opportunity

Next week Saundra Pelletier is conducting a seminar: "Putting Yourself First -- Refining the "Total You" Gives You More to Give Back" in San Diego at the Marriott Del Mar. If you can walk, run, wheel or fly, get there and learn what I already know.... Saundra has got it figured out and you will be rewarded!

If you have spent any time at all on my blog you may have clicked on the link to "Imaginor" and seen my most recent photo's of sailing out of San Diego harbor. All were from the deck of Saundra and Christian's sailboat, the Manuia (man-we-ah). So in this sense I have had the wonderful opportunity to get to know Saundra and her passion for what she teaches and what she writes about (yes, a book is almost on the street). Her passion is helping women in business become absolutely comfortable with expecting all of the best things for themselves while sustaining all of the responsibilities that are unique.

Flyer is (here) and a short audio clip is (here).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ranking Your Referral Resources

It is sad but true -- most people actively networking for business relationships are not relationships worth developing. There, I've said it out loud. We know it and just don't say it. But I have sat in close meetings with people rating the (business) relationship qualities of others. And I do it myself because, in the bigger picture, who has time to waste on building unproductive relationships. Here are my blunt observations about differentiating "Players" from "Non-Players".
  • At receptions and mixers the Players never stand alone. They are constantly being engaged by others in conversation and stand toward the middle of small clusters.
  • Players rarely want anything... Information, leads, introductions, etc. Non-Players consistently ask for help with this or that and offer little in return.
  • Players are not just known by many, they are working with many.
  • A Player seems to be everywhere and yet remains elusive. A Non-Player can be everywhere as well but it feels like too much.
  • A conversation with a Player feels fresh and new every time. Like... a lot is happening all the time every time I talk with them. A Non-Player pretty much says the same thing over and over again.
  • Players never keep score but consistently reward good information with greater information. Non-Players run dry rather quickly.
  • Players pony-up with whatever is needed when asked (sponsorships, resources, personal effort, etc.). Non-Players are constantly looking for a deal, something free, or opportunity with little commitment.
  • Players give more than they want....
Some people rank their business relationships, A to C, or they rank them numerically. I often hear someone referred to as a "B" player which means "someone less desirable for business development." No matter your feeling on this topic it is a business truth. The smart thing to do (professionally) is to cultivate Player relationships and weed out the Non-Players.

In all, this post begs another post, "How to Become a Player". Check MC Blog out in a few days. It will be the next topic.
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Cultivating the Right Business Development Network

At law firms, just like any professional service firm, the partners, attorneys and business development teams rely heavily on personal relationships in the business community to keep their pipeline full. I have found that being able to focus on specific types of relationships in my networking groups, depending on the needs of my attorneys and the firm, has been invaluable in accelerating new business activity. Here is my take on the types of relationship circles and where they are most productive.
  • Client Only: This is a networking group of clients only. Typically all share the same approximate title. This group gets together to discuss shared business issues and seek answers to tough questions. Creating this type of mentoring/professional growth opportunity with a group of clients is a tremendous way of bonding the clients with the firm. It is a perfect value-add for a new client or for a client relationship on the ropes.
  • Client and Prospects: Much like the group above, this group, by adding prospects, becomes a tremendous testament for proving why my firm should be their next choice... plus, through client participants, have a built-in cheer leading section. Of course, the group is never about "selling" my firm -- it's about bringing value to the executives.
  • Referral: This group is the most common for me. I identify a buyer (e.g. CEO, CFO, or CG), then locate other service providers selling services to that buyer. Then I invite one active business development person from each service category to meet regularly to share their business development activities and relationships. Unlike the first two categories (which focus mostly on strengthening existing client bonds) this type of group is purely about surfacing new introductions and helping others sell more, faster. I have facilitated at least a couple dozen of these groups in the past 10 years and have realized millions of dollars in new client billings.
  • Legal Peers: This a tough group depending on the type of firm you work at. The group includes lawyers that compliment the services of my firm without crossover. If the right lawyers are in the mix a significant amount of relationship and client sharing can occur.
  • Hierarchy Peers: This group is definitely about personal, professional development. The most successful groups of this type has been "leaders" groups. I bring together the top person at several professional services firms and turn them loose on discussing management topics. How to handle people; how to lead; operational challenges; etc. The bonding of leaders almost always turns into a collaboration of firms/companies.
  • Community Interest: Here is another tough one. The challenge here is to find people that are equally, highly involved in community-interest activities, and, successful business leaders or business relationship hubs. I have found that this type of group is most effective in smaller cities or townships. Often the most successful business people are looking for a way to "give something back". Being a unifier around a common cause is almost always reciprocated.
No matter which group you're putting together remember that the key is meeting consistently, and enabling trust to develop between members. Keep the groups small (7-11 max) and hold the group members accountable to the purpose of the group. Build the right groups and the rewards are always satisfying.

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...