When developing their marketing plans, many firms seem obsessed with using only the latest trends and strategies. Yet the most successful plans generally follow the old-fashioned advice on what a bride should wear on her wedding day: "Something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue."
Therefore, since this issue of Law Practice focuses on marketing and business development basics, this seems like a good setting in which to discuss various strategies and tactics, whether they are "trendy" or not.
For years, brochures were the hottest thing in law firm marketing-usually bigger, glossier and more expensive than the ones before them. Many firms, when they finally start to address marketing seriously, begin by developing a brochure. Yet the brochure as a marketing trend seemed to die out a while ago and was replaced by the Web site.
Do firms really need brochures? Well, although they're certainly not new, brochures do still have a place in any firm's marketing program. However, they've had something of a rebirth in format. They have evolved into folders that can hold inserts on the firm, its various practice groups, lawyer biographies, firm newsletters, client alerts, reprints of articles and other relevant material. The prime reason for this is that the inserts can be updated at a fraction of the cost of designing and printing a whole new brochure. Another advantage is that each folder can be customized, depending on the interests and needs of the client, prospect or other party who'll be receiving it.
Web sites are no longer new, of course, but every firm-even solo practices-should have one. However, instead of being just an "electronic brochure" that only discusses the firm and its lawyers, a Web site today must contain information that is interesting and useful to visitors. Such information can include discussions of recent legal developments and cases, articles by the firm's lawyers on major issues, and noteworthy news about the firm, its lawyers and sometimes even its clients. Furthermore, the Web site must be kept current. Some firms update theirs, adding or deleting items, almost daily. Even the folder type of brochure cannot be updated as often or as easily as a well-maintained Web site.
Ah, now we come to a newer and hotter trend. Should one or more blogs be part of a law firm's marketing program? That's a firm, or individual lawyer, decision. Blogs certainly enable lawyers to gain visibility and also provide a platform for discussion of various issues-but their effectiveness may depend not just on how well they're done, but also on the firm's and the lawyer's targets.
If a firm is seeking to attract major corporations as clients, a blog may not be the most effective tactic, since, at least up until now, corporate general counsels rarely select a firm or lawyer based on what's in a blog. On the other hand, other lawyers and some individuals pay close attention to these types of sites and may contact the author because of the blog.
While there's nothing really new about cross-marketing, it has been one of the hottest and most discussed trends in recent years, based on the principle that 80 percent of a firm's new business comes from its current clients. However, since cross-marketing in many firms is still "more honored in the breech than in the observance," the first challenge is to actually do it. The second challenge is to do it correctly. So cross-marketing is something old" that should be looked at with new eyes.
There are many types of advertising, most of which are not new, although the concept of "institutional" advertising was borrowed from the major accounting firms, and subsequently some of the U.K. law firms, a number of years ago. This type of advertising can be effective in building firm recognition, but it must be well-done. Also, it takes time. As many an account executive has told his or her clients, "When you're getting tired of your ad, the public is just beginning to notice it." Advertising has also been one of the major vehicles used in branding.
The sales function is a new trend in the legal profession. It is also another trend that has been borrowed from the accounting profession, which has used professional salespeople to make "sales calls" and "give pitches" to targeted prospects for many years. Whether this should be part of a firm's or practice group's marketing plan depends on many factors, one of which is the size of the firm. To date, it is being employed mostly by larger firms. In some firms, "sales" falls under the name of "business development." (But there are also, of course, various other approaches to business development.)
This is another recent trend in the legal profession. Many firms think that branding is a case of developing a slogan or phrase such as "We're the go-to law firm for business." But it is really a new name for the age-old-and fundamental-strategy called positioning, in which a firm positions or distinguishes itself from its competition. This involves a whole lot more than just developing a catchy slogan.
It is another strategy that has been borrowed from other professions such as accounting, management consulting and architecture. But whether we call it "something old" or "something borrowed," industry specialization is a strategy that most firms, even smaller ones, should employ. Searching a firm's client base will frequently reveal that the firm already has a number of clients in one or more industries but may not have capitalized on-or marketed-its knowledge and reputation in these industries.
Now here's a marketing strategy that's as old as the hills, yet, as most rainmakers recognize, is one of the most successful: It means getting out of the office and going to see clients at their locations to learn how they are doing, what issues and problems they are facing, and what plans they have for the future. Of course, these visits should be done on nonbillable time and the client should be so informed. Many a lawyer has said to me, "I've never gone to visit a client without coming away with some additional work."
There are many other examples I could discuss, and I admit I haven't yet found that "something blue," but I hope I have made my point in the preceding. In sum, there are certainly many strategies and tactics-be they old, new or borrowed-that can or should be considered in every firm's and every lawyer's marketing plan.