A lot happens in the two days of the ABA Bar Leadership Institute every March. Between hallway conversations, a whole other conversation going on at the Twitter hashtag for the event, and the programs themselves, it can be hard to relay everything later to someone who wasn’t there.
It’s difficult for Bar Leader, too, but we’ll try. In addition to the BLI 2014 programs that we’ve covered in full, here are a few bits and pieces that we thought were worth sharing. Did we leave anything out? Let us know! And make sure that your officers and key staff members attend next year, so they can experience BLI in the best way possible—in person.
Jeffrey Cufaude’s ketchup packet example
We’re leading with something from the closing program of BLI 2014 because it was so vivid. Jeffrey Cufaude, president and CEO of Idea Architects (and a contributor to a previous issue of Bar Leader), advised attendees to go home and try to identify “the ketchup packet equivalent at your bar association.”
What did he mean?
Think about all the times you’ve gone to a fast-food restaurant, particularly the drive-through, and ordered fries. You get a couple packets of ketchup (when it really “takes 43 of them to get enough”), which you then struggle to tear open. If you like to put ketchup on top of your fries, it tends to squirt all over when you squeeze it. And if you like to dip your fries, you’ll have to put some on a food wrapper because there’s no way to dip into the packet.
This is the kind of problem, Cufaude said, that often goes unnoticed or unacknowledged—until someone solves it. After all, he noted, “There’s no ketchup packet hotline” for people to complain to—just a lot of frustrated customers finding their own workarounds.
Heinz recently came out with a new ketchup packet, Cufaude said—one that neatly accommodates both dipping into the ketchup and squeezing it onto the fries. So? Well, even though this is a small problem, once there’s a good solution to it, “Your life is different, isn’t it?” Cufaude asked.
Though his example was lighthearted, Cufaude was serious about the need to identify those small problems that your members and other constituents might not even be complaining about but for which a solution would make a surprisingly big difference—and could make your bar association the hero.
When looking for your “ketchup packet,” Cufaude noted, it’s important to talk to members and others who are not exactly like you, because they might have problems and priorities that are very different from yours. You can’t solve a “ketchup packet” problem if it’s not something you’re aware of and care about, he added.
Kaihan Krippendorff: Leave something for your competition
In the breakout session after his opening plenary, Kaihan Krippendorff, CEO at Outthinker Inc., stressed the importance of identifying your core customer—not just “lawyers”—and catering to him or her. Even for state and local bar associations that serve all lawyers in their area, he said, it’s important to identify niches of members or potential members and figure out what you can offer that no one else can.
In order to do that, he added, “You have to leave something for the competition.” Why? If you try to “do it all,” he explained, then your competitors must respond and challenge you. But if you focus on what you can do well—and leave the rest to your competitors—you can begin to effectively develop your niche.
As an example of a company that excels at some things while letting other things go, Krippendorff cited IKEA. It does a great job of making affordable, stylish-looking furniture that you assemble yourself, with little to no help from customer service—and that falls apart fairly quickly.
Rather than pouring a lot of effort and money into improving the quality and the level of service, Krippendorff said, IKEA has turned those lapses into something positive. It bills itself as offering “commitment-free furniture” that you can enjoy even when you’re fresh out of college, he explained. The “low-service,” do-it-yourself aspect can be “empowering,” Krippendorff added—and can even bring people together as they struggle with the instructions.
What can you do better than anyone else? And what can you leave for your competition?
Mark Engle: “Put generative issues first”
That is, he explained, rather than beginning the board meeting with minutiae such as approving the minutes, correcting typos in them, etc., the more successful organizations in a recent study began their board meetings with issues or questions that were sure to generate a lot of discussion.
For example, he said, one high-performing association for hospice care providers put first on its agenda a question about whether hospice and palliative care would lead or follow when it comes to health care reform.
One way to focus on generative issues, Engle said, is for the board to conduct an “environmental scan” in which it looks beyond itself to consider issues and trends in its field or in society that might affect the association.
Whatever generative issues the board takes up, Engle said, there’s tremendous benefit in putting them first, when board members are at their freshest and most alert. Besides, he added, the beginning of the meeting often sets the tone for the rest of it: If the meeting opens with items that might be better handled via a consent agenda, then the board will continue to focus on “inconsequential issues and mundane, routine aspects.”
Candy Lee’s risqué quote about social media
“Social media is like teen sex,” said Candy Lee, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communication. “Everyone wants to do it. Nobody knows how. And when it’s done, there’s surprise that it isn’t better.”
So, why not just abstain from it? For one thing, Lee said, the volume of traffic is now such that social media can’t be ignored. Taking into account all users on all the various platforms, “Every day, we write the equivalent of 36 million books on social media and in email,” Lee said.
To tap into that potential, Lee offered a tip that goes against the common practice of keeping bar association content behind a member wall: Make your content not only compelling, but also easy for people to share on the social media platform of their choice. A full 20 percent of all Web traffic now comes from shared content, she said.
Like Krippendorff, Lee recommended thinking of members in terms of niches. In fact, she said, bar members could be encouraged to form “digital communities.” Typically, she said, these form in two different ways: 1) People congregate online because of a shared passion, such as sports, or 2) They form “trigger communities” around some milestone event, such as buying a home or getting married.
Either or both of those could work for a bar association, Lee believes. For example, she said, take a tip from The Washington Post, which recently decided to send e-newsletters that relate to readers’ passions and contain content that isn’t in the newspaper.
A bar association could send, say, a law-related sports e-newsletter every two weeks, Lee suggested. This could help create an affinity group of members who share both a profession and a passion.
Whatever you do in the digital arena, Lee said, you should “always create and invite interaction.” How do you do that? Don’t be afraid to have some fun, Lee advised, noting that “The No. 1 most retweeted article for The New York Times last year was a quiz.”