This article appears in the July 5, 2010 edition of National Law Journal. Visit www.nlj.com.
Also published by Law Technology Magazine, July 14, 2010. View Article.
As law firms continue to evaluate their marketing and business development spending and approach new initiatives with caution, their leaders want to know what they are getting for their money. And they want the money they are spending to work harder and faster.
In this slowly recovering economy, a firm that is serious about strategic marketing, business development and public relations must employ simple research tools and techniques and seek data that can help it focus strategy, messaging and investment. Over time, this directed approach can help the firm convince its client targets that the firm's way of thinking is right for them.
For a firm that hasn't embraced research as an arrow in its marketing quiver, here are two research strategies — one internal and the other external — that can provide some business intelligence.
Clients and prospects want to know what a firm has done, for whom it has done it and what the firm can do for them. Lawyers can recite broad practice areas: mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property litigation, employment counseling/litigation. But, in a conversation with, or pitch to, a prospect about an area other than their personal expertise, how effectively can lawyers tell the story of their firm's restructuring and bankruptcy work or how lawyers at their firm have represented pharmaceutical companies in their highest-stakes infringement cases? It's one of the most basic reasons that cross-selling doesn't work. Lawyers historically don't have the depth of knowledge or facts about what their colleagues do.
Those data need to be at the lawyers' fingertips, and they need to be sortable, parsable and keyword-searchable. Most importantly, lawyers must trust the integrity of these data.
Using knowledge management (KM), lawyers can — through a robust, fully integrated experience database — get quick answers to questions such as:
- What kinds of work has the firm done, and for which industries andclients?
- Which of the firm's lawyers should be assigned to Client X's service team?
- What is a fair and competitive price to charge Client Z for securities litigation services?
- Where are the firm's best client relationships and best new business opportunities?
- How can the firm get an introduction or make a connection to a Fortune 50 prospect?
- What attributes of the firm's past work assignments are relevant to current or future work?
Despite 25 years of significant KM progress, why haven't law firms embraced it even more closely? One reason is culture (as in not liking to share with others). KM at many firms is too far removed from the client relationship and the firm's actual delivery of legal services.
The solution is simple, but implementing it is not. Technology plays a key role in facilitating the gathering, storing and easy retrieving of lawyers' experience. But enterprisewide experience databases, which are increasingly popular in law firms, require an effective marriage of people, process and technology.
These projects often get bogged down in planning. When building these systems, a law firm needs to capture what clients want to know most (specifics of what matters the firm has handled, including client names, if possible; the dollar values at stake; where the projects were located; what industries were served; what types of legal issues were handled; which lawyers worked on the projects; what jurisdictions were involved; etc.).
Although it's tempting to capture "nice to know" bits of data, a firm should resist the temptation. Clients judge a firm by how closely the firm aligns the information it gives the clients with what they asked for and what they really needed to know.
People act based on their own perception of the facts before them. Publicity tactics, of course, have their place in shaping perceptions and can be effective if part of a firm's integrated positioning and marketing strategy. But there is so much more a firm can do.
What research can help a firm test how its most important external audience perceives the firm's operations, services and people? If the audience's perceptions are driving its members to buy or not buy, how they think and feel can measurably help or hurt a firm's chances to increase revenue.
Many firms aren't taking advantage of this yet, but a smart first step is to conduct public relations/marketing penetration studies. The goal is to have data that can drive the choices a firm makes and hone the focus of its PR and marketing strategy.
How can a firm obtain and observe perceptions? By interviewing nonclient targets of its most important outside audiences. At the most basic level, a firm can ask questions such as: How much do you know about our firm? Have you had prior contact with us and what are your perceptions based on that contact? What do you know about our services and practice areas?
These perception surveys can be conducted by a firm's chief marketing officer or the firm can work with professional research and public relations companies. The firm should seek to identify falsehoods, false assumptions, inaccuracies and misconceptions and use this information to formulate the firm's positioning and PR strategies. The ultimate marketing goal is to address the worst distortions and, hopefully, over time, change the perceptions that are hurting the firm.
A firm should then prioritize what comes next — changing some perceptions, establishing a solid perception when there may be none or reinforcing certain elements over others. What tactics best support the firm's priorities and fit within a stretched budget? Who is accountable and responsible? What is the firm's timeline, and will the firm commit to measure perceptions again in 12 to 18 months now that it has a benchmark?
The communications tactics that will be the most effective in reaching a firm's target audience will vary, based on how sweeping the change must be. Using speeches, well-placed articles, office and other facility tours, collateral support, media interviews, e-newsletters, one-on-one or larger in-person meetings, and Internet and social media tactics, a firm can ensure that it reaches its target audience via the integrated tactics it chooses.
The firm should then schedule the second perception monitoring session. That means repeating the first step with the same nonclient members of the original external audience. The firm should build on the original questions used in the first benchmark session and add questions that measure perception change — positive or negative.
The only way to measure a firm's return on research investment is to structure a high-integrity process: It needs to benchmark research, evaluate tactics that can potentially influence the desired change, re-research, then adjust the mix of tactics so that they better support the marketing/PR goals that the firm want to achieve.
People act upon their perceptions of the facts they hear about a particular operation. That leaves a firm with little choice but to deal promptly and effectively with those perceptions by doing what is necessary to reach and move key external audiences to action.
Elizabeth Lampert is president of Elizabeth Lampert PR and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Deborah McMurray is the chief executive officer at Content Pilot LLCand can be reached at email@example.com