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June 2008 Issue | Volume 34 Number 4| Page 16
FRONTLINES

What REALLY Works

Fashioning a Window into a Revamped Identity

When a firm’s public image lags behind the reality of its fast-changing identity, you have to change its entire reputation, from top to bottom. It takes showing versus simply saying. In this case, it also meant a 30-day makeover.

WHO Hinshaw & Culbertson, a 475-lawyer Chicago-based firm with 25 offices coast to coast.

 

  BACKGROUND Hinshaw & Culbertson has long been known as one of the nation’s largest insurance-oriented law firms—even though over the years it had diversified to include sophisticated business litigation and transactional practices. The firm had also built depth in health care, manufacturing, transportation and other specific industries. But the insurance-heavy reputation lingered, and the lawyers, having represented insurance companies for so many years, were reluctant to raise their rates to reflect the more complex work they were now taking on.

The firm wasn’t fleeing from insurance work, but it did want to showcase a wider array of skills—to direct the public’s attention away from the insurance focus, without actually saying so. It wanted the market to know about its successes in sophisticated business matters, its prominent clients, its varied practices, and its efficient approach to the wider marketplace.

The firm had just hired Kelly Fox, its first sophisticated marketer, and an annual firm retreat loomed on the horizon. Fox, along with the firm’s chair and managing partner, wanted to use the retreat to revitalize the firm. It was the ideal time and place to roll out a new look and campaign, to energize the attendees with a fresh vision of the firm’s future.

But the retreat was just a month away and they would not have another one for at least a year. For larger firms, these branding campaigns typically take a year or more to develop and approve. Fortunately, the firm’s leadership was strong and decisive and could make tough decisions quickly. Creative work doesn’t generally improve with multiple meetings with red-pen-wielding lawyers anyway.

 

MARKETING OBJECTIVES This firm not only needed to expand and reshape its external reputation—it also needed a re-branding to help persuade the firm’s own lawyers to think of themselves in a new way, as more than insurance practitioners. This required developing an aggressive and creative business-oriented brand message, as well as producing a dynamic advertising campaign showing Hinshaw as a full-service, litigation-oriented firm.

We needed a “look” that could form the foundation of the campaign—something that would be immediately noticed and remembered—and a clear, clever, concise way to convey the new brand message in words. Simply saying “we’re not just insurance litigators” wasn’t going to be sufficient—we had to find a way to prove it, to persuade the target audience that we were credible when saying that the firm had a range of potent practices beyond its strong insurance reputation. When changing long-held preconceptions, you need tangible evidence to back up your assertions.

The key, we determined, was to use client and case study information for a range of practices and industries in combination with a powerful visual theme that would grab the attention of target audience members.

We decided to begin by creating an ad that would serve as the platform for other marketing materials, like the firm’s brochure, its stationery and other identity materials, and its Web site. That’s a lot to accomplish with one little ad. Oh yeah, and remember, we only had a month.

 

IMPLEMENTATION Hinshaw’s marketing had been conservative, but they seemed ready to loosen up, so the first element we addressed was the firm’s logo. The Hinshaw & Culbertson name was unwieldy; its street name, though, was simply “Hinshaw,” which is a strong name—short, memorable, easy to spell, and it rhymes with “law.” Although retired, Mr. Culbertson was well-known and well regarded so we didn’t want to eliminate his name, but it made some sense to reduce its visual impact in the logo.

So we chose a strong typeface for the “Hinshaw,” with a light gray “& Culbertson” in smaller type below. The primary color was a burgundy the lawyers were already using. It wasn’t terribly original, but we didn’t have the time for a drawn-out color-swatch battle. I know of a firm that, after a solid year of the marketing partner’s inability to find the perfect shade of navy blue, finally saw it on the designer’s blazer and made him match that color. You don’t want to fight about colors with lawyers unless you have a lot of time.

Then we developed a campaign built around a windowpane design using the word “Hinshaw,” with dynamic images representing different practices and industries popping out from behind the Hinshaw windowpane. We added “Law” below, so the headline was the rhyming “Hinshaw Law,” telling everyone exactly what Hinshaw does, and reinforced it with the HinshawLaw.com domain name. Below that, sparse text highlights the firm’s successes for clients in a range of related industries and practice areas.

Finally, capping off the re-branding, the engravers were cajoled into turning around beautiful new letterhead and business cards at a rapid speed (a speed, they made it clear, that was not to be regarded as a precedent).

 

RESULTS The bold look is visible on a page at almost any size, so it can be used opportunistically even at 1/16 of a page. It works in color and black and white, and for recruiting as well as client advertising. Clients and prospects have learned the firm’s broad practice mix, and the lawyers have raised their rates. The campaign certainly did not cause all of these changes, but it solidified the message in the lawyers’ minds and gave everyone a message they could use to solidify their new image and business development efforts.

Coincidentally, since the launch, Chivas Regal adopted a similar windowpane design. I’ve started drinking their scotch, so that makes us even.

About the Author

Ross Fishman specializes in marketing training and creating differentiation programs for law firms worldwide.

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