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March 7, 2012

What Words Say ... About Us?

Recent interesting reading in the Harvard Business Review supports the sound advice -- choose your words carefully -- if you can. Say what?

In computer-assisted research over the past couple of decades, Professor James Pennebacker, author of the The Secret Life of Pronouns, What Our Words Say About Us, has determined that words like pronouns say big things about a person's stability and honesty, among other things. In fact, his research reveals that these words actually say more than "content words." That means words we usually throw around to connect what we are trying to express -- such as pronouns and prepositions really say a great deal about us.

Professor Pennebacker explains his research quite powerfully. He says "function" words are more socially bound than other content words. And he says that we really cannot control the way we use these words, they just happen and are difficult to track without the use of computer analytics.

One example given is a simple sentence with lots of pronouns. " 'I don't think I buy it' " reveals a focus on self, but " 'That's ridiculous' " doesn't. The Professor also explains what happens when a person lies. Perhaps these words are a way to couch their real feelings? So that use of the word "we" is used more often than "I." And when we are being more honest, we use words such as "but" and "without."

The Professor also notes that in researching the use of words, he did not anticipate this result. He says " 'In study after study, we kept finding the same thing ... it was the pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and other function words that made a difference, not the content words.' "

Not only does the research reveal that our brains react differently to function words, but they are more tied to emotional state and other revealing factors such as social standing and personality. These subtleties are not easy to discern without applying computer analysis to language. Who knew that we reveal so much in the little connectors "we" used to think weren't so important.

Choosing pronouns carefully, "I" commend the HBR piece as good, interesting and unexpected reading.

September 16, 2011

Reflection -- Doing Strategy Better

582334_rain_falling_in_the_water.jpgI am intrigued by Josh Erlich's recent piece in the HBR Blog Network, For Great Leadership, Clear Your Head. It is well worth considering his rationale for what he calls "mindshifting" -- in which he persuasively advocates that in order for senior executives to best do their jobs, thinking time is key.

WIthout having done a scientific study, I would bet that many good ideas are formulated when we put down the devices. Why? Because at times our minds need a break from the onslaught of incoming information to get to the big ideas.

"Mindshifting" is purposeful reflection that has a methodology and includes, among others, some common sense steps that most executives, managers and busy professionals in leadership positions likely do not think is value-time. And replicating that reflective time is essential for the first step for the successful mind shift ... which is key, Erlich says, for strategy to percolate.

Erlich suggests we must first "[r]emove the obstacles" which will mean different things to different people. In one case, that meant he says creating a strong enough team so that leadership can delegate and free-up time to work on the "big picture." Another step in this process is to "[q]uiet the noise" and create time to breathe and practice "mindfulness" which is akin to a meditative state in which greater focus is achieved.

Other specific ways to reach a state of mind in which the big ideas and strategy will develop are to: "[p]ercolate" which requires effective reflection using valued networks such as mentors and peers to cross-check what appear to be your good ideas; "[c]larify your message" which should be at the top of leaderships' list of communications must-do's; and "[k]eep reflecting and adjusting" which is similar to a rebalancing system in your investment portfolio, to ensure the strategy you have set for your business is working and when it isn't, be strong enough and honest enough to alter your course.

WIthout leadership at the top of any organization that is clearly working through and communicating objectives, it is much more difficult to ensure that strategies will be implemented correctly and will be successful. In my opinion, what Mr. Erlich is advocating for leadership is business-critical and applies to professional services, as well as other organizations. Put the Blackberry down and go to the reflecting pool, you might just come back with your best strategic plan ever.

June 29, 2011

Smart Network Must-Haves


Networks have a mind of their own. When they work as they should, they can enhance our business lives in very big ways. But they can also pull focus and time away from other important business development efforts.

Networks are not created overnight and then need attention. Left neglected, they can languish and fall away.

Recently, I came across a fine piece in the Harvard Business Review about people with really successful networks and why and how they work. In their piece Managing Yourself: A Smarter Way to Network, the authors describe the key attributes of really good networks and the people who use them wisely and well.

Good networks don't have to be big, but they do need to be effective. They need to include key participants that not only actually DO something when asked, but also provide ideas and support.

I have long been a believer that being generous in your own network, is the only way one can expect generosity back. "Reciprocal relationships also tend to be more fruitful; the most successful leaders always look for ways to give more to their contacts," say the authors of Managing Yourself. And this point is noted over and over again.

One of the most effective executives interviewed for the piece described her business success managing a major tech company's business unit this way: " 'People may chalk it up to luck, but I think more often than not luck happens through networks where people give first and are authentic in all they do.' "

If you are not thinking about "giving" and "generosity" in your own network when asked, and if you are not reciprocating without hesitation, it is urgently important that you study the HBR piece for the data that will alter your approach and help you develop a better, more effective network. And, if you are a giver and find that some in your network are not, remove them from your network. But whatever you do, when someone in your networks seeks your support and has given theirs, withhold at your own peril.

May 8, 2011

Talk About It -- Democracy Needs Advocates

Full disclosure: I am the sort of person who gets off the plane in DC and heads directly to the National Archives before doing anything else. I wholeheartedly admit that I am a fan of seeing these documents up close and personal and have been asked by security to "move along" as I stand mesmerized by their enormity.

Apparently, not many young Americans would likely beg their parents to head to the Archives. But they probably all should go there before stopping elsewhere in our beautiful capital city.

This year, the ABA is focusing its educational effort on civics education for young Americans. The ABA has noted that many of us are not as well-versed as we should be in the documents that are at the core of our Democracy.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I stopped by the National Constitution Center. I walked through the Balance of Powers section and much to my amazement there was a student sitting poised on a board, a real live person that is, to demonstrate the balance of powers and to tell visitors what it means. The student was reluctant to spend time explaining this to me once I revealed my profession. "You already know about this," she said, "I am supposed to explain this to kids who don't know about what this means." I was thrilled to see the display and the student volunteer and happy to move on, just like in the Archives, sort of.

Several years ago, former ABA president Mike Greco asked members to wear gavels on our lapels and explain the Separation of Powers to anyone who asked. An intelligent 30-something friend of mine did ask and when I responded "the gavel stands for Separation of Powers -- would you like to talk about this?" She responded graciously, "No, I am not interested in politics." When young intelligent Americans of voting age believe that Separation of Powers is a political issue, you know we are in trouble.

It takes time to become an expert on the Constitution, but being an American doesn't require that much expertise. Basic knowledge is better than none. And although I applaud the efforts of those who mention the Constitution for their own purposes, one wonders whether they have actually read it. (You all might recall recently when one Senate candidate who disclaimed being a witch, also claimed she was a constitutional expert because she went to a graduate school program for a week. Need I say more?)

Go to Twitter, tell your kids, tell your friends' kids, share your knowledge. Blog about it on your marketing blogs just once -- it won't be a problem for your SEO I promise.

If you have a chance to educate just one person about American Democracy, please do. It's the only way we have a prayer of keeping it viable for the long term.

April 10, 2011

Tell Your Story. Why Storytelling Matters in Professional Communications


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.

January 21, 2011

Five Ways to Combat Social Media "Overwhelm"


Avoid the overwhelming and daunting task of establishing a business or professional social media presence with this excellent post by a seasoned marketer. This is a reasoned list of considerations that will help anyone trying to work through a social media strategy.

This valuable advice applies to many other communications efforts and is particularly helpful for marketing and communications professionals trying to make social media work for our clients, firms and businesses.

Briefly summarized, these five important recommendations include that social media users should: set goals, have realistic expectations about results, take on one social media site at a time, be consistent about attending to profiles, and schedule social media activity as a regular part of the work day.

Great advice.

January 13, 2011

Ohhhh The Places They'll Go -- DOJ Subpoena to Twitter


When the DOJ recently subpoenaed Twitter for access to the accounts related to Mr. Assange, as well as other individuals involved with WikiLeaks, we were all reminded that there are evidentiary components to our social media posts.

It wasn't that long ago that we were frantically disseminating usage policies to employees, law firm personnel and clients on the perils of the electronic age, including the new fangled electronic discovery. Once you have seen captured emails in major litigations and investigations, you ask yourself: Did these executives fail to realize that these emails exist in perpetuity?

We have migrated from what only recently was "web 2.0" to a sophisticated social media world that has quickly matured far beyond our expectations perhaps.

Twitter has a policy of notifying users that information has been requested by the government, but that is generally not possible since most government requests also preclude this step. As noted by Mashable, Twitter's spokesperson explained that "to help users protect their rights, it's our policy to notify users about law enforcement and governmental requests for their information, unless we are prevented by law from doing so."

In the WikiLeaks matter Twitter was permitted by the court to avoid the gag order usually in place and to notify users of the request. Mashable's opinion is that "Twitter's challenge to notify users when their information is being sought by a government entity is a step in the right direction in protecting users who may be exchanging sensitive information in the name of journalism."

Although most of us are not posting tweets that are of interest to governmental agencies, it is a good reminder that social media is now a mature channel of communication and that tweeting too is serious business.

December 23, 2010

Professional Services -- Kicking and Screaming into Social Media


The time has come to admit to ourselves the significance of social media and the fact that it is not going to get less important. There is a place for social media in the legal profession and lots of us know we just need to accept it and dig in.

Recently I asked a very bright young adult (24) with a social media job a at a tech giant, why she values sites like Twitter and Facebook. She said she "loves it" because it allows her to have, what I would call various "communities of interest" in all areas of her interests such as news, work and entertainment. But more than this, it allows her to see what matters to the people in her network -- and to use that as a way to know more about things she might never otherwise see or learn.

I finally got it. Social media replicates and enhances interactions within communities that are multi-dimensional. Rather than getting a link to an interesting article and seeing that in one dimension, social media allows us to see who else cares about an issue and even better, enhances our community depth and breadth. For example, not only does one of my formidable FB "friends" have a journalistic background in tech and science, he presents his research "finds" to our FB community and we enhance that by our knowledge base. In other words: we learn about cool stuff we never knew about before.

So what's wrong with that? Nothing.

As professionals we need to dispel the sense that social media is lite on substance. It doesn't have to be. Big things can be communicated through this vehicle. It's all about content and value and that will never change.

If we are not out there communicating in this spinning world of social media, we might be left out of opportunities to create communities of interest that are real and dynamic.

Many lawyers are now beginning to see the inevitable -- get in or get shut out of potential to reach broader audiences and in turn, to learn and broaden our own world and knowledge base.

Caveat: My young tech friend and I agreed that those who post only self-serving content are not interesting in the long run. Content is key. So say something of value and others will value your involvement in their community of interest.

Today, mashable business has posted a whopping list of its own resources for businesses and marketing. So, spend some time checking out the past year's guides for business and marketing as stated by one of the biggies in the social media world. In their words. 'this roundup can get you well on your way to establishing a successful business or marketing campaign."

November 19, 2010

The Legal Side of Social Media


It's getting complicated. The brandchannel.com reports that MBA programs are adding courses on digital media to ensure that their grads have the requisite knowledge base to add immediate value when they join management. Naturally, those of us who are not digital natives might well need some support in the details of social media know-how.

This of course prompts the discussion on legal issues raised in the use of digital media by businesses both internally and externally. In the piece, David Kaufman, a partner at Duane Morris cautions that " ' [c]ompliance with the rules is complicated, and mistakes are easy, and plentiful."

Kaufman has published the "Top Ten Rules to Avoid Legal Trouble in Social Media Programs and Campaigns" and they are absolutely worth a close look. He addresses everything from content to internal management of social media policy. I highly recommend a full read of his version of the ten commandments.

November 9, 2010

Look Inside

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.

August 31, 2010

What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate

Back to School
As the month closes and students of all ages and all over the country are going back to school, I would like to share my own back to school experience.

Earlier this month, I attended the American Bar Association's Annual Meeting in San Francisco, getting most of my participatory Continuing Legal Education credits and generally catching up with my profession. I saw long time friends and made some new ones as well.

Many classes had content concerning the use of social media and the need for reputation management. In the tech arena, it was amazing to see the shift in class content focus from electronic discovery and data retention which dominated our discussion over the past five years, to social media and networking.

What struck me as well is the fact that in many classes, at least one panelist referred to the difficulty lawyers have in communicating regularly with clients.

They Say Lawyers Don't Do It
That got me wondering. If it is true that lawyers do not communicate enough with clients, what is it that keeps us from being more in touch with our clients? Why are we guilty of the dreaded silo syndrome, keeping ahead of filing deadlines, but not placing a priority on our client relationships?

Are we concerned that if we are not communicating a development in a case or matter that communication is administrative, rather than billable time? Is that why we don't do it more regularly? When we choose the law as our profession, do we self-select to place less value on client communications and more value on what we perceive as the real work of the law?

We have certain duties that relate to communication. But apart from communicating the big developments in a case, how many of us either check in on a regular basis with clients to find out what they are needing or how they are, dare I say, viewing us and our services?

Communication with clients is not only good practice, it is good business. You already know that is true.

In business communications we perform audits with internal and external customers to make sure we are on track. Some lawyers already have a regular general check-in with clients and some perform more formal audits.

What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us
In addition to specific conversations about cases or matters, it is very beneficial to take client audits. A sit-down with clients to ask about their business strategies and focus. To service business clients, we really do need to be "inside" the minds of management.

We need to know as much as we can about their objectives and how we can help them meet those objectives. We need to know about their current challenges to protect their legal interests proactively.

Along the way, this discussion may well lead to greater depth and breadth of representation. I believe it is good communications practice to calendar quarterly informal conversations with clients, even when their cases or matters are not active.

Yes, social media is important and should be used as a way to keep your name and practice in front of your market. But are we losing sight of the basics and allowing tech to give way to old-fashioned direct communication?

Regular communication is a great reputation management tool to ensure clients know you are engaged in and committed to knowing and servicing their needs and proactively representing their interests and concerns.

June 16, 2010

Digital Marketing Boom for Law Firms


Just imagine the back room operations of a major law firm. You know the place where only the few and the brave venture? The place where paper once reigned and the Iron Mountain truck pulled up regularly? That place?

Things are changing, even for our profession. Even for us, the late adopters. The ones who come last to the tech table -- especially in Gen Law Boomer.

Well, welcome to the digital conference room.

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday on the significant investment many law firms are making in digital marketing. Law firms and lawyers are catching on to the use of digital marketing for everything from making it easier for clients to find them and create communities of interest.

The WSJ reports that social media has been used effectively to bring in clients needing representation in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster. It is also being used to reach potential clients who may have been harmed by allegedly defective pharmaceuticals.

Inventing on line communities will likely become more important to law firm marketing efforts. But the good news is, even small and solo firms can play in the somewhat level playing field, aka the web.

June 2, 2010

Button Up Your Messaging


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.

May 2, 2010

Brand Aid (part two)


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.

Resources

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


April 26, 2010

Brand Aid (part one)


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.