Stop/Start: Replace Unproductive Marketing Strategies with Winning Techniques
By Susan Van Dyke
When you’re grinding away on files and working on challenging matters, you don’t have time to spin your wheels. Everything you do has to count towards your business objectives. If you’re still marketing your firm the same way you did five years ago, I hear wheels spinning. You can promote your firm better, faster, and more efficiently just by making a few changes in your approach.
Here are six things you should stop doing and six things you should start doing—now:
1. STOP archiving your articles and START blogging
Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. Just make that writing count just as you do with all your other marketing activities. Recycle each piece and have them work as hard for you as possible.
Search engine rankings are the new directory listings. At one time we would thumb through a five-pound directory and now most of us will search the net.
In CBA PracticeLink’s “New Media Marketing, Part I – Blogs: How Lawyers Can Become Thought Leaders in a Niche Market” (a good introduction to lawyer blogging), author Janet Raasch tells the story of Christine Mingie, a young associate in the Vancouver office of Lang Michener. In early 2005 she launched the firm’s first weblog – Forestry Law Blog (http://forestrylaw.blogs.com). In less than a year, she became an important voice on all apects of forestry law. National media have quoted her and she consistently ranks high on search engine results.
From purely a marketing perspective, the success of a blog is measured by how well it ranks as a result of a keyword search. It feeds on fresh content (not dusty old articles), with most bloggers posting a few times a week. Add an RSS feed – a tool that delivers content to users’ desktops (in the same, but virtual, way you would subscribe to a trade publication) without them having to visit a website for the same content. Content related to the feeds that you subscribe to arrives in your e-mail box.
You would be astonished if a dollar value could be placed on the organic first-page search engine ranking results. Some companies pay for first-place positioning, but the appeal is limited for these links with most sophisticated users.
By keeping your blog focused on a narrow subject you’ll improve your rankings and relevance to a specific target market. For example, rather than starting a blog on corporate law (a mammoth subject), consider focusing on trademark issues for tech companies.
Media regularly search blogs for breaking stories or they’ll use them as a resource for things such as background information or locating an interview subject. If you’re a lawyer who understands the value of editorial coverage (if you don’t, continue reading or head straight for the nearest marketing professional for an explanation) a blog is a real-time method of reaching out to journalists who troll blogs for credible content and comments on newsworthy and topical stories.
Keep writing—just start posting your content to a blog to improve your online profile.
2. STOP running from the media and START influencing them
Now don’t cringe. I get that you’d rather attend a client event than climb into the ring with the media. But consider this: a story will be written with our without your help. Wouldn’t you rather influence how the story is written, than not? Even “gotcha” stories— the salacious, enduring stories that make (some) editors salivate—require a thorough response that goes beyond “no comment”.
Some public relations experts will tell you that “no comment” gives the impression that you’re hiding something, or even guilty of something. Sure, in some circumstances this may be the effect, but you’ll also miss an opportunity to influence the writer to be sympathetic towards your position, or you will miss a chance of getting any other related or persuasive messages in print.
Media trainers are skilled at teaching spokespersons how to keep to their key messages and use bridging statements to steer away from an undesirable question and over to safer ground to one of their carefully crafted key messages. For example, the reporter asks, “Didn’t your client’s own research indicate a significant level of risk of injury with this new product?” Your response: “I can’t comment on the research, but what I can tell you is that this company holds the best product safety statistic in their industry.” The bridging statement, “…what I can tell you”, paves the way for the spokesperson to “bridge” to one of their own key messages. Holding four or five key messages in your head while under the pressure of an interview and a variety of questions can be challenging, so practicing with and without your media trainer is key.
Start really listening to “hot seat” interviews and you’ll discover a variety of skillful bridging statements and tactics used to weave in their own message. After a while, you’ll begin to notice who got media training, and who did not.
I’ve spoken to many lawyers who have either missed incredibly valuable opportunities to respond to the media and get their names out to a massive audience (editorial content is estimated at three times the value of equivalent advertising space) or worked on a high-profile matter ill-equipped to face the media.
“Gotcha” stories or “hot seat” interviews aside, start building a trusting relationship with staff and freelance writers so you can create a win-win situation. Invite them to your seminars and events, start and maintain a blog, alert them to important decisions and translate issues into plain English when necessary, and introduce them to agreeable news-making clients whenever possible.
In British Columbia, scooping the lion’s share of media attention are lawyers listed in the Media Contact Guide, produced by the Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. Branch. Writers and reporters sprinting to a deadline will find the quickest route to a qualified source. Is a member of your firm listed?
And do get media training from a local public relations agency if you are handling a newsworthy matter or if you’re pitching a story of your own. Removing the fear will not only bring you comfort, it will ensure a higher probability that your key message will stick and your bridging statement will be at the ready.
3. STOP overlooking client industry publications and START receiving their headlines with your e-mail
Deploying client retention strategies is among the most prudent priorities a firm can undertake. Done right, it serves to protect your current client base and it creates a solid foundation from which to approach a client for more work.
By now, we should all know that it’s a long and costly road to new clients, but a shorter, friendlier path to those who already know and trust us.
Of course, not all clients are ones we want to keep and frankly, some we’ll never want to work with again because we didn’t enjoy the experience, we had to write off too much of their bill or they just weren’t profitable. So, in this context client retention applies only to those clients who you enjoy working with and to those that are profitable.
If you’re not already subscribing to the industry publications of your clients to scan the headlines, and perhaps the first paragraph of the most important articles, you may not know what’s of greatest concern to your clients. Also, you may not be aware of looming issues that can affect your clients down the road.
You can still receive your news from top industry publications, but make it more convenient and streamlined by using Google Alerts. These are e-mail updates on search terms of your choosing. Your search terms can be as specific or general as you want. Simply sign up by entering topics you want to monitor, add your e-mail address, then the frequency with which you wish to receive the alerts and voilà! It’s that easy.
Take your five best clients and enter all variations of their company name and/or industry see what drops into your e-mail box. You can receive them instantly, as they’re posted, or on a daily or weekly basis. No, really, go ahead and do it now… I’ll wait for you. It’ll take you two minutes to create five Google Alerts. Here’s the link: http://www.google.com/alerts.
Fast, huh? Again, even if you only read the first few lines of select news items, you’ll be more knowledgable about their issues, sound like a real smarty pants when you discuss industry news and you may even identify additional business.
By occasionally e-mailing select alerts to clients and prospects you’ll demonstrate your interest in their industry and in keeping abreast of industry news and trends. If you are organized by practice or client group and hold regular meetings, ask for an associate volunteer to subscribe to this service and report on the most notable news at every meeting. And if you’ve ever been pressed to come up with a seminar or article topic (or fodder for your blog!) you’ll get some nuggets from reviewing alerts and by understanding the most important issues of your clients.
4. STOP hiring practices that focus solely on legal minds and START looking for lawyers engaged in marketing activities
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the happiest lawyers have created a practice in an area of law they love, and work with clients they like as a direct result of some form of intentional or unintentional business development.
They work in industries or fields of interest to them, they relate to the individual clients and enjoy socializing with them and they follow the industry news effortlessly because it’s likely something they probably do anyway.
I’ve come across many lawyers who have carved out interesting niche areas based on their personal interests – there’s the motorcycle lawyer, the wine (no, not whine) lawyer, the pro sports lawyer and so on. Imagine how much fun they have at work! What Confucius advised is really true: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
These are lawyers who understand business development and are equipped to create or sustain a practice that they love and a book of business that’s admired. They follow their passion, and their interest and knowledge in the client’s business or industry is genuine, so it comes across natural. Provided they are good at what they do, these are the types of lawyers clients love to work with.
This kind of energy can be infectious and it’s these lawyers who bring intangible value to a firm. I’ve witnessed marketing-oriented lateral hires that have turned around entire practice groups with their attitudes on client service, business development and prospecting. Some even arrive with their business plans tucked under their arm and head straight to the marketing department within their first week. They have high expectations of their new firm and colleagues and complacency just won’t cut it.
Some of these inspired lawyers come in younger models, too. They’re forward-thinking; they’re writing blogs, they have ideas about emerging areas of law and they come with fresh ideas and energy. It’s in your best interest to encourage them to develop plans and to support those with a strong business case with the budget they need.
Conversely, lawyers who rely on files from others hardly get a chance to develop their own practice and likely don’t have much interest in doing so. If yours is a firm of rainmakers, this type of lawyer may suit your needs perfectly.
So, how do you spot the passionate candidate? I’d ask what they enjoy doing with clients. How do they get to know their clients? Do they call their clients between files and if so, what do they discuss?
Happy lawyers will not only create a better work environment for everyone, they’re often eager to spread their passion around by engaging in marketing activities.
5. STOP following and START leading
The legal profession is largely founded and based on precedents. Quite separate from the practice of law is the business of law. In the business of law, innovation is not a common marker for success. So, given that the strength of marketing programs is in their uniqueness, it flies directly in the face of an environment focused on precedents. So, I know that it’s asking a lot of you when I say “stop following and start leading.”
In a desperate attempt to market, some firms will subconsciously follow what they believe are their competitors’ marketing strategies. Advertise in this publication, sponsor that event, attend that annual conference and so on. Trouble is that what you see is only part of the whole marketing plan and you will compete based on a partial view of a perceived plan. What you’re not privy to are the discrete marketing efforts which are likely the most essential and effective elements of their plan.
This might include market research (but not likely since most law firms just hate to hear the naked truth) and probably include efforts that focus on individuals – predictably in the form of lunch, golf or hockey. Competitors are gathering intelligence on what keeps clients awake at night and they’re formulating a response that shows how their experience is unique and relevant.
If other firms are already doing it, that means that ship has sailed and you’re better off looking for a different route, or at least a different approach. Think through your prospect’s needs and take the leap. Step out in front, way in front, with a strategy that supports the goals and vision of your firm.
Here’s an example: the insurance industry is notorious for high turnover of adjusters and other key personnel. If your firm plans to grow its insurance law part of the business (there’s that word again), then your strategy might include developing a proprietary method of assisting insurance companies with the transition of files or providing relevant history to the incumbent. Find a method that flies under the radar and directly addresses a client pain or desire.
But still, the frequent response for an innovative concept is, “what other firms are doing it?” If I didn’t have any concern for the way my clients perceived my sanity, I’d hop onto the boardroom table and shout “That’s the point! No one is doing it!” A new approach gets noticed and those who get noticed are remembered. Those who are remembered hold some of the most valuable real estate of all: “share of mind”.
Take stock, from what you can see, of what your competitors are doing to market their services to a prospect or industry, only to note what NOT to necessarily do. Start a file and add clippings of their ads, make note of all the articles they write on the subject (check their websites and blogs). Note their approach, messages and style or brand. Now, talk to clients and understand their needs and identify the gaps. Easier said than done, but it will help keep you from sitting at the back of the bus.
6. STOP trying to do it all yourself and START delegating
Sticking to your core competencies will translate into better value for your clients and higher revenues for you and your firm. In solo or small practices, the reality is likely that you’re spreading yourself too thin and the marketing efforts you should be engaged in are at the bottom of the list, right after “hire more staff”. This may take some discipline and rearranging of work flow, but you will see the benefits.
Sure, there are some things only you should do. Clients most often want to know and hear from you, not a delegate. Although, there are some behind-the-scenes tasks that you can cast with an understudy, saving you the time you’ll need to start (and maintain) a blog, connect with the media, hire legal minds with marketing-know-how, and perform other marketing activities.
If you’ve been asked to prepare a paper for a conference, have a junior associate or student break the back of the research for you. A more senior associate, or even a ghost writer, can draft the piece for you. Now you’re down to just an hour or two of fact-checking, stylizing and editing. Same goes for presentations. Prepare your outline and ask a junior to help you fill in the blanks, then an assistant can drop your text into slides with your firm template or logo included.
No, things won’t get done exactly the way you might do them yourself, but they’ll get done and they’ll probably get done well. The key is to ensure the right people are taking on the right tasks so that you can stop doing the wrong things and start doing the right things.
Susan Van Dyke is the Principal of Van Dyke Marketing & Communications. She is a law firm marketing consultant based in Vancouver, B.C. She can be reached at 604-876-7769 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neither the author nor the CBA should be construed as endorsing any product or website listed in this article. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CBA.|
In this document, any reference to "jurist" or "lawyer" includes, where appropriate, "Québec notary".