Modern Marketing Challenges

Figuring out which of the seemingly endless barrage of the supposedly “innovative” new marketing concepts and practices to put into action—and which old school approaches to keep and which to kick to the curb—can be an exercise in frustration. What tangible benefits have new marketing platforms and tech tools brought to the law firm marketing landscape? And why should certain tried-and-true marketing methods remain firmly in the toolbox? In this month’s roundtable, law firm marketing leaders discuss what’s working, what’s not, and how to steer clear of the noise and hype in the quest for marketing success.

Round Table Moderator: Nicholas Gaffney (NG) is a member of the Law Practice Today Board and is a veteran public relations practitioner.

Our Panelists:

Michelle Klopp (MK) is the CMO and director of business development at Hanson Bridgett. She is responsible for overseeing the marketing and business development activities for the firm’s practice groups.
Jim Durham (JD) is the chief marketing & business development officer at Littler Mendelson, P.C.  He is the author of The Essential Little Book of Great Lawyering, the co-editor of the ABA book The Lawyer’s Guide to Marketing Your Practice, and in 2010 he was inducted into the Legal Marketing Association Hall of Fame.
Alan Breslauer (AB) is the chief strategy officer at Michelman & Robinson, LLP , a national law firm with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Orange County, Sacramento, and San Francisco. He manages marketing, business development, public relations, professional development and helps lead the implementation of the firm’s five-year business plan.
Joe Calve (JC) a former practicing lawyer and longtime legal journalist, has served as head of business development, communications and marketing for some of the world’s leading global law firms, including McGuireWoods, where he currently serves as chief marketing & business development officer.


NG: How have technology innovations changed the law firm marketing landscape? What recently introduced tool do you leverage, and love?

MK: Technology has expanded the channels through which we can disseminate information and enabled us to get information out faster and to a broader audience. We recently started using ClearView Social and love it. ClearView Social allows users, in this case, our attorneys, to quickly share an article or alert to their entire LinkedIn network. An added bonus is the leaderboard feature that plays to our attorney’s friendly competitive streak.

JD: More than using marketing technology, we are actually using technology innovations to change the legal products and services we offer to clients. So, instead of just talking about innovation, we build our marketing and sales strategy around going to clients with technology-based solutions to labor and employment legal and business problems. Offerings such as Littler CaseSmart®, PolicySmart™ and Compliance HR change the landscape entirely. When it comes to new “marketing technologies,” nothing since Contact Net, which was introduced a number of years ago, has made me say “wow.” I am old school and believe relationships, service, and a focus on real value still win, as long as you have innovative products and services to offer.

AB: Few probably think of websites when it comes to law firm marketing technology innovation, but we recently launched an award-winning site that challenged the status quo. We relied heavily on video to tell our story and evidence our expertise. One video explaining our class action practice directly led a client to dropping its current representation in favor of our team. While many law firms loathe video, we trust the statistics that show it to be the overwhelmingly favored choice for content consumption. We also went against the grain and housed all of our blogs under one roof. What we lose in SEO, or a lack of catchy blog names, we gain in consistent active blogging in line with our industry emphasis. We rely on JD Supra, eblasts, and social media to disseminate our content.

JC: I wish I could name a few key technology innovations that recently have changed my world, but I can’t. Many legal marketers still seem to be mired in the struggle to wrestle certain basics to the ground – to efficiently capture and deploy experience, to integrate CRM into everything we do, to use advanced data analytics to better understand the short- and long-term impact of our tactics. For my money, the evolution of new digital distribution channels for thought leadership has made a big difference, but it’s hardly a flat-out game changer for legal marketing any more than Uber is. Sad to say, no single innovation comes immediately to mind.

NG: Have new understandings in behavioral psychology impacted your approach to marketing?

MK: We definitely take this into consideration. For example, we know that you have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention and that a video needs to be around three minutes in length to keep the viewer from moving on to something else. We also try to be cognizant that our audience is viewing these materials on their phones and tablets instead of their PCs. We also know that the majority of users go to the attorney bios on our website and no other pages, so we try to focus on keeping the bios up to date and relevant.

JD: Not sure I would go that far, but we certainly consider how people’s communication preferences impact the ways in which they prefer to receive and process information. I find the principles and application of Myers-Briggs™ to be very helpful, but you do not have to go much beyond Myers-Briggs™ to know how to best communicate marketing information and have meaningful conversations with clients and prospects. Knowing statistical norms about attention spans, patterns of use for social media, and motivation influencers helps to some degree, but we do not rely solely on any of this.

AB: Clients want attorneys who understand their industries and businesses. This has resulted in a universal shift away from marketing practice groups to a focus on industries. We’ve gone a step further, and created vertically integrated industry groups, comprised of attorneys from multiple practice areas, working in conjunction to service the needs of our clients. In addition to providing better client service, these groups are ideal for saturating industries with valuable content. By speaking at industry events, writing articles for trade publications, and partnering with trade associations, our industry groups are viewed as industry authorities.

JC: As we learn more about what drives strong and enduring relationships and motivates buying preferences, we can feed that knowledge into our marketing mix to spur better results. To give just one example, consider the various studies of the impact word-of-mouth marketing can have on building brand awareness. Many other examples are embedded in advances in behavioral psychology and being used, quite effectively, in the political arena, among others.

NG: What role does social media play in your marketing strategy? Is it a necessary evil, or are the bottom-line benefits real?

MK: While it is not often easy to make a direct connection to social media and new clients, I do think it’s fair to say that social media plays an important role in marketing a law firm and that it’s here to stay. We use our Facebook and Twitter pages to showcase our community involvement and to give the outside world a peek into our unique law firm culture. It’s important to let clients, prospects and recruits know the human side of the attorneys that make up the fabric of our firm. We also use social media to share breaking legal news as well.

JD: Social media is a part of the marketing mix. Any time lawyers can be involved with clients and prospects who are discussing issues they care about, that is a good thing. Using social media to remain in regular contact with clients and contacts is also a good thing. Providing genuinely valuable insights and true thought leadership via social media is certainly valuable, but for large international firms like ours, using social media smartly is essentially “table stakes.” Firms need to continue looking for ways to improve and maximize the impact of social media marketing, but I think we gain more (and separate ourselves) by putting our efforts into innovating our service delivery models.

AB: Both. Social media is a necessary evil, in that, its benefits are questionable and measuring ROI is difficult. That said, we have been fortunate to land a couple of clients through LinkedIn. And having a strong social media presence is essential to recruiting summer associates.

JC: Social media is a bedrock reality. Those who embrace this can reap important advantages in terms of recognition, referrals, and relationships. Far from being an evil, many very tangible business benefits arise from intelligent, energetic engagement with new media. Add value for clients and potential clients, and the bottom-line returns will follow. Just because it’s hard to track and measure does not mean it’s not real. Try harder!

NG: What kind of marketing initiatives are you seeing firms implement this year? How do they differ from what you’ve seen in the past?

MK: Many firms are shifting some of their traditional roles into more relevant roles. For instance, the traditional library structure in law firms has changed dramatically over the past decade as more and more law grads are computer literate and able to conduct much of their own research. To that end, we recently replaced one of our open library positions with a competitive intelligence specialist which more and more firms are doing. In addition, firms are placing more of an emphasis on value pricing and hiring specialists from the outside which we recently did. In addition, we hired a chief strategy officer as well, another new area of many firms but one that is here to stay and that many firms will be embracing in the near future.

JD: I see more collaborative approaches to client management, pitches, and knowledge management across departments in law firms. Firms are finally figuring out that a client’s favorite word is “value.” This doesn’t mean discounts, it means giving them something more than just good legal work. You can only provide this value through smart, collaborative thinking across marketing, finance, pricing, legal project management, recruiting, and other departments.

AB: Law firms have ramped up their business development efforts, rolling out targeted, strategic plans that hone in on ways to secure new clients. Technology is starting to play a significant role in these efforts, with a plethora of new software/platforms hitting legal marketing that have the industry abuzz. Manzama, Practice Pipeline and Clear View Social are but a few of the new entries into the marketplace that excite marketers. Of course, valuing these tools, convincing firm leadership of the need and finding room in budgets are proving to be significant hurdles.

JC: I’m seeing bits and pieces of more creative thought leadership, but for the most part much of what is happening has a certain depressing sameness to it. The innovation occurring in the legal market – and there is plenty of it – Is not, with noteworthy exceptions, arising from big-firm marketing departments. New products, service advancements, technology-driven changes – It’s an exciting time in the legal industry. But marketing is not, for the most part, the life of this particular party. Hey, it’s still early. Stay tuned.

NG: In what ways are law firms taking multifaceted approaches to attract new business?

MK: The more ways you can touch or reach a prospect or new client the better you are. It’s important to also show them the value you can add. When pitching for new business we try to understand beyond the basic legal needs what else might be important to the client, such as regular updates on legislation that might impact their business, training for their employees on risk management issues or employment type trainings. We also host a lot of free or low-cost educational seminars or programs that showcase us as thought leaders in a particular area and reach out to those that might benefit from attending such a program.

JD: Most firms figured out a while back that you need to be able to cover the complete marketing and sales spectrum: have a useful website, provide valuable thought leadership, maximize the value of events by reviewing attendee lists and planning follow-up, use competitive intelligence to look for opportunities and understand the client’s business, have a strong industry focus, participate in social media, etc.

AB: Referrals based on personal relationships, excellent lawyering and unparalleled client service are still the best way to land new clients. Outside of that, it is important to take a multifaceted approach as the competitive landscape intensifies. New websites, content marketing, business development, social media, pitches, RFPs, and public relations are just some of the areas law firms need to master to attract new business. As such, we are seeing law firms increase the size and budget of marketing departments. One unique M&R approach is having our chairman, Sanford Michelman, annually teach an intensive, 15-hour, interactive, case-study, marketing and client development program to all new attorneys. The program is so popular and effective that named partners from leading law firms often audit the course.

JC: In our hyper-competitive era, firms that fail to pursue multiple avenues in going after new business are making a colossal error. That said, most new business for big corporate firms is going to come from old clients. So in the understandable desire to pursue new business, the worst mistake firms can make is to forget what got them where they are: current clients. Do not take them for granted. Ever.

NG: Which proven marketing methods do you think will continue to stand the test of time?

MK: I don’t think there is any better way to stand out than to provide excellent client service and to know and understand your client’s business. I also think that in terms of obtaining new business, it’s not going to happen from writing articles and giving presentation as much as developing personal relationships and rapport with decision makers.

JD: The most proven approach is meaningful account management (client teams) based on smart research, active client engagement and the development of strategies that will help clients make money, save money, look good and sleep better. We can never go wrong with this.

AB: Staying top of mind with clients and potential clients is key. Hence, a combination of active industry association involvement, content marketing, LinkedIn activity, relaying important articles related to their business, and regular lunches and office visits, all work in concert to securing existing clients and getting new ones. Lastly, knowing a client’s or prospective client’s industry inside and out in order to anticipate business problems, as well as opportunities, is key to client retention and securing new business.

JC: The basics do not change as much as some (certain consultants come to mind) would have us believe. The heart of a successful practice still lies in successful relationships with clients with steady streams of profitable business to dish out. Facebook and Twitter do not change that. Nor do legal project management or alternative fee arrangements. You have to give to get. Deliver value – every day in every possible way – and clients will sit up and take notice. Do it in person – with high-quality face time – and good results will accrue.

NG: Which business challenges facing law firms are the most urgent and how should marketing address them?

MK: There is and has been for some time a shift in terms of it being a buyers’ market. The clients are more sophisticated than ever and the internal demands placed on them in terms of keeping costs down has transferred over to law firms having to become more efficient and focused on adding value. The clients are calling the shots and expecting more than quality work, they want value and for you to understand their business.

JD: We need to use the myriad data we have about our clients’ businesses, client relationships, and how we deliver legal services, to improve efficiencies in ways that benefit both the firm and the client.

AB: While marketing is often more art than science, marketing departments need to be run more like a business. Measurable goals need to be set, and ROI needs to be calculated.

JC: The challenges today are legion. I’ll name just two. First, there is the “parity trap.” All these big firms look alike, sound alike, and smell alike. How do you stand out in a sea of sameness? No easy trick. Second, the market for high-end corporate legal services is changing in ways that are intensifying the competition for a piece of a stagnant, if not shrinking, pie. No change is more important than the move by many clients to bring more and more work in-house. When your clients become your most worrisome competitors, it’s time for marketing to engage intensely and help find the common ground we will need to survive and thrive together. Rather than moving the deck chairs around, we should be spending as much time as possible in intense engagement with clients.

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