Regardless of your feelings about the outcomes of 2016’s controversial elections, most of us probably shared relief that another campaign season had come to an end. Finally—a reprieve from the constant campaign commercials during Jeopardy!, calls from pollsters, and yard signs that seemed to inexplicably reproduce and spread throughout our neighborhoods. For law firms hoping to set themselves apart in the market, however, constant campaigning can be a good thing—and one with internal and external benefits for both existing and potential clients.
What is a marketing campaign?
While marketing campaigns at law firms and other professional services companies vary from those launched by companies selling products and consumer services, the goal is the same. Simply put, campaigns (whether for legal services, car insurance, or a new brand of potato chip) are an ongoing effort to create an identity or perception in the marketplace such that clients or customers associate your brand with an issue, feeling, or goal.
For companies selling jewelry or insurance to mass audiences, marketing campaigns often rely on the emotional (“Every kiss begins with Kay”) or the humorous (“So easy, a caveman can do it.”). In the professional services, successful campaigns typically leverage a more rational or pragmatic approach, generally rooted in emerging developments and thought leadership. Maria Jennings, head of thought leadership at PWC, has defined thought leadership as a company’s ability to employ its “creativity and knowledge to innovate, influence trends, and drive an industry to new levels.” Thought leadership, she continues, is about “having a distinctive view on issues that are important to audiences that matter… whilst saying something new and insightful.”
Where do law firm marketing campaigns come from?
For law firms, the prospect of undertaking a marketing or business development campaign may seem daunting. However, a successful campaign may incorporate many elements that already exist as part of a firm’s ongoing marketing efforts. In that case, centralizing them into a campaign may create efficiencies and increase the return on investment for those existing efforts. A campaign also may present itself organically based on developments in the firm or practice group’s industry, or the marketplace at large. Take, for instance, Brexit.
In the spring and early summer of 2016, as citizens of Great Britain readied for a vote on whether or not to remain in the European Union, lawyers in the UK and abroad noticed an uptick in inquiries from journalists and clients about the potential ramifications of a Leave vote. While the polls and gambling sites showed that Brexit was unlikely to come to fruition, legal and trade publications nonetheless covered the topic broadly. Lawyers in Dechert’s International Trade and Government Regulation Practice took particular notice of this interest, and dedicated resources within the group to understanding the potential outcomes of both a vote to stay as well as a vote to leave. The group published several client alerts with practical tips for clients with questions about what Brexit (or a narrow vote to stay in the EU) would mean for them.
Fast forward to June 24, the day after the referendum vote. Many people around the world were shocked to wake up to news that British citizens had, in fact, voted to leave. Suddenly, the unlikely scenarios contemplated by the client alerts in the weeks leading up to the vote were no longer academic. Clients were nervous and wanted answers. Thanks to the preparation done before the vote, Dechert was able to respond immediately to client concerns, launching client alerts, webinars and a 24/7 Brexit hotline within days of the referendum. The firm’s trade team was sought after for TV and print interviews as well as to serve on seminar panels. Before long, the first Brexit-related billable matters were opened. Thanks to listening to the market before the vote and ensuring that preparation was undertaken in advance for both possible outcomes, the Dechert team was able to capitalize on profile raising opportunities immediately following the vote, which led (and continues to lead) in turn to new billable work.
Finally, marketing campaigns can be implemented to address an identified need in the marketplace. Members of Dechert’s antitrust team recognized in 2015 that while the timing of merger investigations is critical to whether a given deal would ultimately be successful, nobody had come up with a way to track the timing of ongoing investigations. The group decided to fill the void in the market, building a database from public information that tracked the time from deal announcement to agency resolution. The report was launched in September 2015 as the “Dechert Antitrust Merger Investigation Timing Tracker,” a name that captured both the substance of the analysis, and, under the acronym DAMITT, clients’ most common reaction to its findings.
DAMITT not only provides readers with substantive information difficult to track down elsewhere, but it also gave Dechert an effective marketing and business development tool. Its name, unsurprisingly, caught editors’ attention. “Kudos to Dechert for the best acronym ever,” wrote The American Lawyer. Media coverage ran from the Wall Street Journal and Fortune to Time, in which Dechert lawyers were portrayed as clever analysts and leading authorities on an issue of primary importance to much of the corporate world—and as advisers with a sense of humor.
What are the benefits to law firms of campaign-based marketing?
As mentioned above, coordinating marketing efforts through campaigns may provide both internal and external benefits to the law firms that undertake them.
Internally, taking a campaign-based approach to marketing and business development efforts provides an opportunity for firms and their partnerships to organize around a key issue. Especially in instances where the campaign crosses geographies, practice groups, or industries, the campaign may bring together partners and other lawyers who rarely, if ever, work together. Within the campaign and generally, the more partners know about each other and the work they are doing, the better. Working together with new partners, within campaigns or generally, allows partners to build rapport and trust with each other, both of which are key to successful cross-marketing efforts.
Another internal benefit of a campaign-based marketing approach is the way it may elevate a practice within a firm. A group of partners that historically market and develop business individually may realize that working together allows them to combine resources and expertise in a way that is more efficient and more sophisticated. Working together on campaigns allows different constituencies within firms to identify previously untapped synergies.
Externally, the benefits of campaign-based marketing may be even more striking. By getting ahead of an issue, like the trade team did with Brexit or filling a gap in the marketplace (as the antitrust team did with DAMITT), Dechert’s lawyers have positioned themselves as owners of key issues in the market. This is important in at least two respects. First, it allowed them to serve as thought leaders directly in front of the key audiences they rely on to bring them and refer them work. As Dechert became associated with issues surrounding Britain’s exit from the EU, clients calling the 24/7 hotline knew they were reaching a firm dedicated to Brexit issues. The Trade team became a direct resource for many companies who had observed the firm’s proactivity toward addressing Brexit issues.
Second, the production of thought leadership pieces serve not only as guides to clients in the moment, but bolster attorney bios and resumes on an ongoing basis. As many legal marketers will tell you, law firm bios are the most commonly viewed pages on law firm websites, and a steady stream of publications and speaking engagements goes a long way in establishing expertise and understanding of a given topic. Each time a new quarterly DAMITT report is published, its readers are reminded that Dechert’s antitrust team is dedicated to providing up-to-date quantifiable data in a way that no other firm or vendor had thought to do.
While launching a new marketing campaign may seem intimidating to a firm that hasn’t done it, doing so can provide benefits both within the firm and for clients. In a nutshell, campaigns, whether developed proactively to address a client need or seized opportunistically in response to marketplace developments, allow firms to organize around relevant issues, identify previously unknown ways to work together, and improve a team’s ability to network and cross-sell its services. By positioning itself as the owner of an issue or solution in the marketplace, a firm may identify new opportunities to write and speak about a topic, becoming thought leaders and resources for its key constituencies.
About the Authors
Stuart Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the global director of marketing and business development, litigation, and Julia Figurelli-Masucci (email@example.com) is a business development and marketing manager at Dechert LLP.