Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ending the Law Firm Tradition of "One Gift Fits All"

Every law firm faces the same predicament each year -- what holiday gift should we send to our clients and friends? As much as each of us would like our gifts to be special to every recipient what we send is terribly predictable. We send wine, baskets of wine, baskets of wine and cheese, chocolates, flowers, baskets (again) of sausage and cheese, gift cards to (insert favorite coffee shop here), or any of a thousand generic packages of equally generic stuff.

It doesn't have to be this way!

Open a corporate account with Amazon or similar online retailer and in moments you can be purchasing individual gifts that will be unique and special for everyone on your list, within your predetermined budget.

If you know your clients and friends like you should you know that Fred will really like the fisherman's gloves you send, Betty will really like the "30 Minute Meals" recipe book, John will appreciate the latest Beethoven collection, and on and on. The beauty of many online retailers is they will also gift wrap your purchases and send them directly to your client (if you so choose).

When you send a one-of-a-kind gift your clients WILL feel special. It's quick, it's easy, and you should be doing it!

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Holiday Dinner Party to Create 12 Months of Relationship Goodwill

Here is a simple idea for doing one thing that goes a long way toward being well remembered by your network of business relationships -- host a private holiday dinner for 10-15 of your most important contacts.

In all of the year the one time that we hold the most dear is time spent with friends during the holiday season (December). It is a special time when goodwill and friendship mean the most and memories last the longest. Here is what I have in mind:
  • Look into your Rolodex and select the most important business relationships you value. Your list can include clients, potential clients, referral resources, and special VIPs.
  • Don't forget to include friends and/neighbors that could be valuable connections for others on your invitation list.
  • Be sure to include at least one "life of the party" person you can count on to ham-it-up. It always helps to invite at least one personality who is a natural entertainer (if that person is not you).
  • If at all possible host the event in your home. Making the dinner so personal has an incredible effect.
  • If your home is not an option find a good restaurant with a private dining room of significant impact. In Orange County (and in most cities) there are several high-end establishments that have "kitchen dining" -- a special room served only by the Executive Chef and a place of incredible service and culinary WOW.
  • Option: When you sit for dinner ask each guest to declare what was special in the last year and what they hope for in the next 12 months.
  • Option: Ask each guest to briefly describe the holiday traditions they enjoy with family and friends.
Each year I participate in more than a few dinners just as I describe above, and host two... each one is special and I look forward to them every year. The people I know through these dinners remain special for a long time forward.

Do this one thing. It is worth the effort.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Law Firm Holiday Card Saga

Yup, I am actually posting a story about Holiday/Christmas cards... but not one about what to do or the politics of selecting a design. This is more about a great idea that, so far, isn't reaching an audience.

Since joining this firm a few years ago I've commissioned a local artist to create an original painting which served as the cover design for our cards -- a perfect solution for creating a unique message. This year we decided to find our artist from among the children of the firm and launched a card design contest including a cash prize for the winning design. Unfortunately, no designs are forthcoming.... The deadline is two days away.

Hey! I LIKE this idea! The unfortunate truth is not every great idea works the way we want it to. For whatever reason the children of the firm are not inspired to participate.

Fortunately, we will not be without a card this year. Just in case we did locate a professional artist who is ready to set brush to canvas as a backup plan ... just in case.

So a little drama, a solvable challenge, and a marketing puzzle to solve. The puzzle? What about our campaign for child-drawn entries. What didn't work? Why didn't our audience (firm parents) connect to the opportunity?

Looks like this marketing saga needs answers.... More to follow.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sponsoring Events that Should Have Been Great

My firm is the title sponsor of a two-year-old capital conference for "middle-market private companies" -- a niche conference perfect for Southern California. Both years the quality of sponsors, presenting companies, panelists, and attendees has been A+. But the audience numbers has been disappointing. It's like producing a stellar movie and getting no sales at the box office. Arrgh!

Two years in a row we (the sponsors) have put together a dynamic conference with refreshing and new discussions, huge personalities and a crisp agenda. Then we email, and call, and email some more... but no ground swell of excitement, and nothing at the box office.

I am certain many of you reading this are already imagining a hundred ways to change, adjust, or alter the message, the conference, the outreach, etc. You're right -- we are missing "it" somewhere in the mix. And yet we are not rookies in this game either. We have fiddled and adjusted, tested our ideas and sought advise from "outside the forest".

Our choices at this point are:
  1. Abandon the conference. We tried, it didn't work and we should move on. But the hardest half DID work -- quality companies wanted to present and industry icons wanted to be speak. We really ARE onto something here!
  2. Aim the conference at the venture space or upstream at small-cap. With EVERYONE else in the Country doing these conferences why would we want to go head-to-head in such crowded space? Besides, our (the sponsors) prospect sweet-spot is smack in the center of middle-market private companies.
  3. Gain a better understanding of what middle-market private company executives would show up to see. Yeah, I think this is where we hurting. We've put too much faith in our own understanding of the market and did not do the block-and-tackle of asking our audience what they want.
Sometimes the events I sponsor do not deliver on audience or content and it is easy to walk away. And sometimes it is so close to delivering excellent results it might only take a little more effort -- if the effort is correctly focused.

My counsel is to be serious and considering after every event. Determination, in the right instance, may provide a future for a conference series that is almost great.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Marshalling the Power of Buzz for Marketing a Law Firm

I have suggested many times that law firm marketers should be engaged in the markets they serve -- knowing your market firsthand is the best platform for creating new initiatives. The question I get from many is, "How do I (a marketer) do that?" Here is one idea.

Whenever I open a new market or want to investigate an existing one I hit the street to find out who the "buzz" leaders are. It's a simple process actually. I meet with business development professionals from other service providers and ask one question, "Who are the highest profile dealmakers, executives, referral resources, and service providers in the region?" In other words, who are the people with the most buzz (the people that everyone wants to know). The list usually winds up having about 15-20 names on it.

Armed with my list I figure out who we (our firm) already have a relationship with and the condition of that relationship. Then it becomes a targeting exercise. The goal is to get inside the "buzz circle" by developing relationships with the buzz leaders.

To accomplish this I work out a way to meet them through their philanthropic activities, activities they attend, people they know, etc. Once met I can work on farming them to the lawyer at my firm that will be a "best match".

This is just one tactic for getting engaged in your marketplace.

Monday, October 08, 2007

5 Ways to Introduce New Marketing Ideas at Law Firms

I have been working on a new, printed brochure for the firm and have a small committee of interested partners that review progress at selected stages. The concepts we're developing will have the further impact of rippling across all parts of our communications properties.

As we go along my task is to introduce new concepts (words and images) as these ideas take solid form. As always, it is a learning experience to introduce new ideas to an audience, each of whom assimilate information in different ways. If you find yourself being a messenger and a catalyst here are five ideas for introducing new ideas.
  1. Show your ideas face-to-face. It takes time to walk the halls of a firm to visit with individual lawyers, but personal interaction makes a difference. Conversations will find the right path for each individual as they experience the “new thing” for the first time.
  2. Have a way of demonstrating new ideas both visually and in words. Each of us assimilates information in different ways.
  3. Say as little as possible. Give your audience room to comment freely. Your responses should reflect their comments, not what you “came to say.”
  4. Avoid feeling or acting defensive. People in general find different paths to identifying with and agreeing to new concepts. Oddly enough it is very much a personal thing. They are not struggling against you. I have found that most people want to get excited and be a part of bigger things.
  5. Believe in the bigger goal. The “new thing” is almost always part of a bigger story. It is too easy to get caught up in one step as if it is the beginning and the end -- but it’s not. Remember to present the "new idea" in light of its place in the bigger goal.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Ten Ways to Avoid Law Firm Marketing Success

If you're in business of marketing a professional services firm you’ll find these mistakes to be universal.

See the Herd, Be the Herd: Fitting in is so natural among the human herd that we can’t tell when it’s working against us. Making choices that feel good and natural could mean you’re creating vanilla programs that look, taste, and feel like your competition. Making choices that feel good and unnatural will elevate your programs above the rest.

Have Marketing Report to Sales Leadership: The argument has been had and beaten into submission. Marketing is not sales. The immediacy in the world of sales makes it difficult for sales leadership to comprehend the more holistic benefits of good marketing initiatives. The journey to securing a client relationship through marketing and sales needs to hold hands, but each employ distinctly different tactics to arrive there.

What Happens in Marketing Stays in Marketing: By isolating your marketing people and making sure everyone else in the firm knows that only marketing people deal with marketing stuff you can go a long way toward developing a “not my job” culture. Marketing is not a department! It’s a vision coming to life in the people of your firm that will radiate warmly on all of your external efforts.

Fads are Fun: Whenever a new, new idea comes along jump right on board. Nothing can interrupt strategy faster than fickle leaders following the crowd (remember the herd?). Strategy needs to be nudged as it matures and takes shape, not slapped around and beaten with your new, new stick.

Market from Afar: New clients are making a personal choice when they select counsel. If your marketers have no personal familiarity with the people in your marketplace you’re assured of blissful ignorance. I strongly believe marketers need to know the street scene and participate actively in the community they are marketing too.

Make Competition Your Highest Priority: By focusing on what your competition is doing day to day you’ll certainly accomplish nothing useful or original. Defensive firms do not grow. They just survive.

Keep Secrets: Hanging on to every bit of information you can until it’s absolutely necessary to share it will guarantee that the information you share will come too late. Knowledge is power; but there is no power in keeping knowledge to ourselves. Be unafraid to share as much as you legally and morally can. Successfully marketed firms gather and share knowledge like water flowing from a fountain.

Seek Perfection: If nothing can be good enough then nothing will get done. Use exhaustive approval procedures; allow no action without committee approval; assume that your input is not valued unless you can find mistakes in reality or theory.

Speak At Your Audience: The certainty that you already know what others think, need, or want is extremely useful in marketing failure. Your marketing will be a one-way street of stuff flowing out of you and nothing coming back.

Relax, You're Ahead: It is hard to get to the front of the herd. Take a break. Now that you are in the lead everyone else is going to fight over who will be #2 and leave you unchallenged. Now that we are King-of-the-Hill the rest is gravy.

So there it is -- ten ways to fail. There are certainly plenty more but these are the ones that I have found to be the most common.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Goal Reached . . . And a New Problem

Today I ran out of volunteers (ouch) but for a really good reason. This afternoon a partner came by my office and let me know that he would not be able to attend the exclusive dinner I'd arranged with a small circle of elite CFOs in the area -- too many deadlines on too many deals and not enough time. In his case I absolutely believe such was his situation. He is one of the attorneys most willing to get out there and network to build his book and his efforts are definitely paying off.

So I trotted around the office looking for a replacement from among the lawyers I've focused on for the last several months (in regard to helping them build their practices). One after another sheepishly apologized but they really were just to busy to break out of their schedule.

This is a good thing, right? I pay some attention to helping them expand their opportunities and lo and behold, they are reaping the reward. I could not have been happier to hear so many say, "no".

But that does not help me solve my problem. Who is attending the dinner, and, how am I going to keep feeding people into a very aggressive networking calendar if all of my "go-to's" are not available? For the record, I did find a replacement, so, this evening is solved.

Now my task is to recruit new volunteers to get on the practice building train.

I like that what I am doing at this firm is showing promise at a personal level (personal to the lawyers hoping for long-term success). I hope the results will encourage others to step up to play.

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