For most of the last decade, law firm marketing has embraced technology to increase reach, decrease cost and create business development opportunities we did not even know existed. With websites, extranets, blogs, social networking and email, the tools are now endless. Yet, here in 2012, law firms are increasingly seeking new “old” stuff. Can anyone spare a brochure?
There has been a repeated refrain: “I need something to hand out at my meeting—and I don’t want something just printed out from the website.” In recent months, I realized that we were having the same conversations at firms throughout the country—big, medium and small; plaintiff and defense; heavy marketers and light marketers alike. Automation is great; but so many firms are using such similar tools that it gives a whole new meaning to the term “cookie cutter.”
Somewhere along the way, many of those traditional pieces of law firm marketing collateral have either become extinct, or the look, feel and content have become too outdated to maintain any value. It has probably been in the last year or two that I’ve noticed a trend among many of my law firm clients: a desire to develop some new hard-copy materials. Between tutorials on LinkedIn, adding a blog post or submitting another form for lawyer rankings, we had lost sight of a cold, hard fact: Most new business transactions still involve real people in a real meeting room, and you can’t go in empty-handed.
Yes, investing in SEO and being found on Google is still important. Nobody wants to take away from expanding the website or waxing poetic on some online discussion forum. Heaven forbid we take away a minute from all the social media channels. And if your marketing team does not submit a list of clients and cases for the 2013 “great lawyers of planet Earth,” you may not be touted as one of planet Earth’s great lawyers (and that would be a shame).
But what does that corporate general counsel have from you on his or her desk? Does that firm brochure still have the same level of quality in written word and layout? I’m not talking about Encyclopedia Britannica-thick brochures; I’m talking about the simple firm overview. What do you have to take into a pitch meeting, pop in the mail (and I mean U.S. snail mail), or hand out at a conference or trade show?
You should understand that I’m not advocating an exodus from the modern day. I’m simply suggesting taking advantage of the printing technology advancements that make development of materials significantly cheaper and easier.
No, I’m not suggesting going back to spending tens of thousands of dollars on an annual report. That sort of stuff remains Web-worthy. However, you might take a few of those hours devoted to the umpteenth survey this week to put some elbow grease into improving your written-word products.
WHERE MONEY NO LONGER MATTERS
The most important thing to remember in terms of producing decent hard-copy content—be it a standard firm brochure, an attorney biography, a practice group profile or representative matters—is that the cost of production has decreased to the point where money should no longer be a consideration.
The bottom line is that many great graphic designers simply can’t charge what they used to. Unfortunately, there are many outstanding graphic designers looking for business. To some extent, new software programs have made it an easier profession to tackle. And when you add a soft economy (in which many companies switched to outsourcing design), the end result is great work at rather low costs. If you are still paying through the nose for design work, that’s your own fault. I could probably repeat the same argument for photography as well. There are still plenty of law firms that use ridiculously overpriced agencies to produce this work—and again, that is their own fault.
On the printing and production front, technology allows for the creation of strong print pieces at a fraction of the cost from a decade ago. I’ve successfully utilized great local printing companies, virtual online printers (with no people contact), and even sharp-looking rush jobs at Kinko’s (or FedEx Office, as they are now known). While I’ve tried to develop a good stable of templates, the core value is the ability to create a custom piece on the fly, one in which the production cost is inconsequential.
Even in this day and age, there is nothing that stands out stronger than when you are making a pitch and the prospective client is presented with a clearly written, professionally produced handout. Like a handwritten thank-you note, it is a lost art that carries great value.
For firms in which request for proposal participation is a daily occurrence, many have become too automated. The computerized “RFP makers” tend to take much of the uniqueness out of the process. In some cases, proposal generators spit out canned content like something from Willy Wonka’s factory. The wise in-house counsel can sniff a canned product a mile away. And because many firms use the same tools to put them together, they tend to look and feel similar. It is important to make sure there is enough done to make the recipient feel like this was written for him or her. Whether or not it’s worth responding to RFPs is the topic of a column for another issue. If you believe it is a path to revenue, make sure it reads like something produced specifically and specially for the recipient.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, as we moved so much of our communication online, one of the earliest refrains was the importance of understanding that the length, style and approach taken to writing for the Web could not simply be cutting and pasting what you had previously used in print. Fast-forward to today, and you need to put your writing in reverse when putting pen to paper. You will still be writing fewer words—as the expectation continues to be that any hard-copy communication will be continued online—but remember that the styles still differ.
IF YOU ARE READING THIS, I KNOW YOU STILL LIKE A HARD COPY.
There will be readers who find this column utterly ridiculous. You might be thinking, “How old is this guy—100?” No. Much of my career in law practice management has been built on technology. The vast majority of day-to-day projects still revolve around websites, CRM, SEO, apps, blogs, webinars and podcasts. Another big chunk of time is eaten up trying to organize the next submission for the next big rating, ranking or review. Yet another is tied to business development training and strategy. Somewhere in between getting all these things paid for and accomplished, think about old-time hard-copy handouts and printouts. They still play a vital role. And for many of us, having them handy has become lost in the shuffle.