Articles Posted in Professional Services Marketing

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Last week, McElhaney on Litigation posted a piece in the ABA Journal about effective trial lawyers and their ability to tell a story. He makes the point that “lawyers who want to become effective communicators must understand that stories are at the heart of how people think, learn, exchange ideas and struggle to understand the world around them.”

Professional Stories Are Compelling, Facts are Just That

I totally agree with this premise and want to extrapolate out to the importance of storytelling in effective marketing communications for both lawyers and law firms.

In my opinion, many law firms and lawyers do not tell a clear, refined and compelling story about themselves or their law practice in their communications, particularly on the web. Just take a quick run through law firm websites and you will probably find this to be the case. Most law firm sites inform visitors with somewhat dry and factual copy about the specific areas of practice and personnel.

But in my view, very few tell a great story. This includes not only some context or history of the practice, but getting to the heart of who you are as a law firm and what makes your lawyers unique. One exception is the Kilpatrick Townsend site, which leads on its home page with case stories. The cases and attorneys involved are highlighted with photography, great short headlines, as well as graphics that grab interest. This draws the viewer into the story and connects it back into the firm’s strengths.

McElhaney makes the fine point that good stories are about interrelationships, rather than “snapshots of isolated events.” I agree and contend that those interrelationships include people, events and a combination of the two in the context of professional marketing and positioning.

Consider this point and go back to your own site and ask yourself whether there is a compelling clear story that is integrated into the higher purpose and values of your brand. You might find its time for a rewrite.

Every Picture …

Dry, expected copy is not compelling and the same is true of photography. Most law firms do not portray their lawyers or law firm with interesting photos. I have two words to solve this problem: custom photography. And two more that are critical for compelling head shots: natural light.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of integrating custom photographs that tell a story into your law firm website. I have advised many clients to do this and have storyboarded and directed photo shoots and sessions for law firms and lawyers when I have redone their sites.

Custom photography carries great impact in storytelling. Stock photos are more difficult to integrate into a compelling story. Finally, taking bio headshots in natural light with a feeling that does not come across as posed, is very compelling if done well.

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Interesting view from AdAge on using internal resources for branding and focus groups. This got me thinking, should professional firms consider going to internal audiences for brand enhancements and understanding?

The AdAge piece looks at consumer packaged goods, finance and retail brands, noting the use of employees for branding, product development and social-media evangelism. Some brands are using employees for the pitch, like Pizza Hut and Overstock.

In professional settings, we often go to very sophisticated business development experts, as well as branding and identity firms to develop and pitch business and establish brands.

We need to consider engaging internal employee audiences in ways we routinely ignore. Perhaps there is a benefit in engaging employees in our professional services settings to not only understand more of the work, but engage them to support the brand.

In the piece, Fidelity’s Jim Speros notes that, ” ‘[m]any companies forget that their employees are their ultimate brand ambassadors.’ ” Could this also be true for professional services? Maybe, to a degree.

Your employees are often on the front lines, answering phones and greeting your clients. They will certainly do this differently with a basic knowledge depth about the firm’s differentiators and client base. Every interface with the public says something about your brand. It’s worthwhile for employees to understand something about the firm’s goals and areas of expertise.

You never know when an employee will be in a setting to mention the firm or to influence bringing a referral into the firm. It is probably a good bet that employees should not be ignored in branding deployment.

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The National Law Journal reports that an alarming number of law firms have drastically cut recruiting and professional development staff over the past two years. The NLJ quotes an Altman Weil consultant saying that this is one of the first areas of cost cutting.

It’s an interesting development and not surprising. It seems doubtful that hard-pressed bottom-line-driven senior associates and partners will pick up the slack on professional development.

The survey found that firms with 250 or more attorneys suffered the biggest losses in this area and placed more duties on existing staff. Unfortunately, these departments also work on other important efforts with professional staff, including mentoring and diversity, work-life balance and pro bono initiatives. Many of the most critical areas that our profession must address.

In stressful economic times, let’s hope our profession doesn’t lose sight of the long-term impact of ignoring such important efforts as furthering greater diversity and providing pro bono services — some of the most important values we hold as lawyers.

We can only hope that corporate clients will continue to seek out outside counsel that are committed improving areas of deficiency in our profession, as well as providing efficiencies in client services.

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As a communications professional, every day I get broadcast emails from around the country that promote use of the web in professional services marketing. So many offers to sit in on webinars, podcasts and other on-line teach-ins, my head spins. Many of the entities sending these invites add the word “university” to lend some lofty credibility to their content.

All this noise raises a question in my mind. Is it wise to jump into the social media pool without auditing your firm’s current communications status? I believe the answer is no.

Although there is value in understanding how to use social media and other tactics in professional services marketing, I am certain that this is not the place to start.

Frame Before Building Your Social Media Presence

If someone handed you a box of nails and asked you to start framing a house, you would not dream of starting without having the blueprints.

Before you or your firm begins a social media push, whether it be blogging or twittering, please consider buttoning up your firm’s messaging. Better yet, take a step back and consider the identity of your firm or organization and the ways you are communicating your identity.

If you have a great web presence and a clear identity, jump in with solid, informative content. If you have not taken an inventory of your communications and how your publics are receiving your message, get this done first.

Does your firm have a clear, well-stated identity?
Do you have integrated communications or is your identity flailing and unclear?
Who are your audiences?
What are your long terms goals and practice area strengths?
Where are the points of expansion?

These are just some of the questions to ask before jumping into the social media mix. Taking the time to go through some preliminaries will make your social media effort more effective and purposeful.

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So, you’ve decided to brand your firm or company and you have either identified internal resources or hired an expert to help. See previous post Brand Aid (part one).

Once you have the right expertise involved, and have determined who within your company or firm will own this process, the real work can begin. Whether you are naming a new company, rebranding your existing firm, creating a tagline to go along with your existing identity, it’s actually a good idea to start from the beginning.

Brand strategy starts with perception. Yours and theirs.

Taking an audit of your market and how they currently perceive your business is a critical first step in the branding process. This should begin with internal interviews with your key people and should fan out to your market, including clients or customers.

It is vital to begin with the way you are currently perceived in the market. This process should also include some questions about your competition and how they are perceived. This evaluation can also include taking a snap shot of your current brand strategy and how you currently manage your brand assets.

Identify and / or review core values.

Using qualitative and hopefully quantitative research, the next step is looking at your core values and the differentiators that set your business apart. No two businesses are the same. Even as a professional services entity, the people within your organization, your history and your accomplishments will differ from your competitors.

Get a clear picture of what makes your firm and business different and unique. This will help immensely in the branding strategy overall.

Align your branding to those values and aspirations.

Many components make for a strong brand. But one very important component is to ensure that your brand in fact aligns with reality or is aspirational and aligns with your business goals. Your branding needs to connect with essential truths about your business.

A great example of this is a tag line that was developed by a friend’s law firm in San Francisco. I was asked to help this firm create a new website and provide other communications services for them. When I read the tag line that was on their old firm site I asked who developed it? They did, they said. I immediately asked if I could service mark the tag line because it was that good. Why was it that good? Because it completely aligned with differentiators about their practice, while also reflecting the truth.

The tag line consisted of four words. Those four words reflected something very powerful about the firm and their practice. I have developed some pretty good tag lines in my work, but I could not improve on this one.

This was a rare example of the internal branding getting it right. Usually this does not happen, but somehow these folks happen to have intuited what to say about their business.

More on professional services branding in Brand Aid installments coming soon.


For some thoughtful comments on branding well, check out Brand Thinking.

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One of my favorite brand names is Kodak — probably because the story behind the brand is almost as good as the name itself. Visiting the Eastman house in Rochester a couple of years ago, I was mesmerized by George Eastman’s foresight in creating a brand that not only sounds right (like a camera snapping), but is a completely made-up name (so much easier to protect as a trademark).

According to the story, he wanted a simple name that was easy to pronounce and that would not be associated with anything but itself. He succeeded.

It’s a little different for professional service firms. Over the past decade, law firms have taken shape through branding efforts. Traditionally, these firms are named for their original founders and partners, but the trend seems to be using truncated versions of traditional names or the use of initials.

Perhaps because legal tech’s market is often law firms or corporate law departments, some companies have tended to be more conservative in their branding. Others have branded their services in alignment with the tech side, rather than the legal side and have moved away from traditional branding.

One thing we know for sure. The legal industry, whether law firm or legal tech, has fully embraced the fact that branding and identity are important components of communications and marketing.

Some law firms have retained heavy-hitting branding and identity companies for the work. Some have tasked this effort to their internal marketers. Unless your internal creative team is having a very good day, this might not be the best choice.

Generally, it takes a great deal of thought and research to create a great brand. Not only does the initial branding effort require a commitment of time and resources, it also requires some components that are not so evident at first glance.

Branding initiatives are a positive step for most businesses. But there also are several aspects to the branding process that may not be obvious.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting on the exercise of branding which does not end once you have chosen your logo or created a tag line. Brand management is also a critical follow-up component to integrated communications and reputation management. Branding efforts do not end with the selection of your name, logo or colors. That is just the beginning.

Identify or Hire the Right Expertise

An important first step in the branding process is to determine whether using internal expertise or hiring outside expertise is the best approach. If you have this expertise internally (in marketing communications or elsewhere in your organization), this also is where branding ownership should probably reside once you have gone through the branding process.

If you do not have this expertise internally (and even if you do), consider hiring a branding or identity expert even for a part of the process. This does not have to break the bank. Retaining branding expertise from outside your business can help ensure objectivity that might be more difficult from an internal position.

If you decide to go forward with branding initiatives with your internal expertise, be cautious. Great branding needs objectivity.

A recent example is a law firm that created a logo internally with colors, look and feel that are, to be blunt, outdated. The firm wants to be viewed as having a great tradition, but is also moving towards cutting edge work. The logo created internally does not project this image at all. But because the firm leadership directed the effort and “liked” it — as did some of the firm’s clients — it was selected.

The logo was not tested with objective audiences. An objective test with a broader audience could have some surprising results for this firm.

This is an example of a very subtle process problem with internal branding. It is a wise move to step back and open up your branding process to your markets, not selectively, but broadly to ensure that you are making the best decision about your branding.

Everything that goes into the branding mix needs to speak to your firm or business identity and aspirations. Hiring the right expertise should make it more likely that you will end up with an identity that actually reflects your business or firm. And if your business does not have the resources to hire a branding and identity firm for the entire project, consider getting limited support for key benchmarks in the process.