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Your marketing sucks…

…said David Maister, of most professional service firms.

When Maister first presented his ideas on ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’ and how to develop a position as ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (together with Charles Green and Robert Galford), he preached that success was less about the content of glossy brochures and more about the substance of relationships. I was (quite literally) in the room when Maister denounced all marketing as a waste of time and effort and urged the partners of a Global firm to ‘just get out there’ and demonstrate their value. I wholeheartedly agreed with Maister’s perspective, although I do think his definition of marketing was perjorative. His criticism was targeted at a specific genre of marketing – that which pushes and self-promotes rather than educates and validates.

Maister remains absolutely correct to this day. The road to riches is not paved with slick marketing brochures. Clients don’t buy your services simply because you’re open for business and have survived longer than the next guy. They don’t care about the founding fathers of your firm. Clients want to know three things:

  • How well do you understand my problems?
  • Have you resolved these kinds of problems before?
  • Will I enjoy working with you?

With the advances of social media and other technology there are so many more ways to answer these inherent questions and to develop a position as a trusted advisor. For those of us looking to change the way in-house counsel select and retain external service providers the following information might be useful to consider.

A 2013 Inside Counsel survey shows that more in-house counsel are turning to lawyer-generated blogs and online data sources for professional reasons (as much if not more than journalist-generated content)
Click here for a Bloomberg law interview and summary of the report.

My synopsisMany (most) usage by in-house counsel of new media channels is as a silent listener/consumer of data. They may not be actively engaging in online dialogue/discussion forums but they are certainly downloading information and being influenced by high quality content. They are forming impressions of lawyers who generate this content.

According to this survey of GCs, Chief Legal officers, Inhouse counsel and related titles, the primary factor influencing the potential hire of outside lawyers BY FAR is still (direct) recommendation from trusted sources (92% state this as very important to their decision).

Other factors affecting potential hire include:
• Bios on firm’s website (29% v imp, 62% somewhat imp),
• Articles and speeches authored by lawyer (18% v. imp, 61% somewhat imp)
• And blogs published by lawyers on topics of relevance to business (15% v. imp, 55% somewhat imp)

Interestingly – amongst the LEAST Influential factors affecting potential hire are peer-driven rankings like Chambers, Best Lawyers etc. with 39% of respondents saying these are not important to their decision to hire outside counsel.

This reinforces the message that creating and curating highly valuable content is essential to influencing change in the profession. So next time you approach your marketing team for a glossy brochure or practice sheet describing all the wonderful things you and your team can do – please STOP! Your time and energy would be better spent on creating thought-provoking and insightful commentary on the client issues you can resolve. Offer stories, examples, tips and guides that the marketing team can share on your behalf to create a positive impression of your expertise. That way – when someone refers you to another, your prospect will discover multiple validation points of your expertise (beyond your firm’s website).

The Elephant named Google and the Brand called YOU!

Every bit as relevant as it was the day it was published in 1997, Tom Peters article on “The Brand Called You” has become one of those common sense and fundamental ideas that is often talked about in universities and business schools as a way to stand out in the job market and a way to ensure you land that all important first ‘career’ position. If you haven’t read it recently, click here for a copy!

Since the publication of that article, a whole industry has grown up around personal branding and helping people to manage the impressions formed by recruiters, head hunters and potential employers to secure a place in their chosen profession. Many see personal branding as a tool to use if you happen to be actively seeking a new position. You set up a Linked-in profile, add a few recommendations, dust off your resume, clean out your Facebook profile and un-friend any dubious characters in preparation for putting yourself back on the market. Not really something that you need to think about unless you are actively looking for a new adventure, right?


If you are an Entrepreneur or Business Owner, including Equity Partners in Professional Service Firms; your personal brand and your overall business brand are often synonymous.

Hard to convince your clients and prospective clients that your business will act in their best interests, or that responsiveness, accountability and value are intrinsic to your service if these characteristics are not portrayed by you as an individual.

If you are not yet a business owner, but imagine one day adding the word Partner or President to your card, then you must treat personal branding as an essential part of how you operate daily. Knowing what it takes to create a strong reputation and to manage the impression that you form with clients, colleagues and prospects through every interaction is essential to ensuring that when the time comes, the best opportunities will find their way to you.

So what does Google have to do with it?

In these days of social and digital media, we have never had so many tools to enable us to amplify and manage our personal reputations. What you say, what you do, where you are seen, who you choose to associate with, what you think about a particular business issue… all these elements of your personal brand can be demonstrated and shared through social tools.  When people meet you for the first time you can bet they will be ‘googling’ your name as fast as you can say “nice to meet you”.  When they do, its important that your name and your accomplishments are congruent with the way you present yourself.

The opposite is also true; a poorly considered comment, a questionable display of behaviour, inappropriate actions, indiscriminate associations can also appear as part of the tapestry that becomes your personal brand and reputation. Google never forgets!!

Three things I know about Branding (personal or traditional)

  • Brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what others say and think about you.
  • Your brand is created through every experience and interaction people have with you – live, online, in written form, from a distance, third hand, and brand impressions can be both fleeting and memorable…
  • ACTION trumps Intellect every time. Unless you are an academic, you don’t build a reputation on what you think, or what you know, or what you understand, but rather how you apply all that to what you do and how that impacts others. 

Branding tools for everyone…

Linkedin, Facebook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Face to Face Meetings, Telephone Calls, Coffee meetings Emails, Blogs, Articles, Seminars, Conferences, Public Presentations, Teaching opportunities, Volunteering opportunities… These are all part of the personal branding tool-kit. How many of these are you using purposefully today to manage and sustain your chosen brand characteristics? Social media may have made it easier for you to develop your reputation, but once you have built it, you also need to nurture and protect it. Choose your tools (shields) wisely!

Hot On The Presses…

Having your content published in the newspaper or a quality trade journal can add credibility and exposure for your professional expertise, but how should you go about selecting a readable topic, developing a story idea and pitching your story to an interested editor?
Here are some quick tips inspired by great questions from one of my clients

Read first …

If there is a publication you admire, feel is well suited to your ideas or has an ideal subscriber base for you to reach, scan through several recent editions. Get a feel for the kinds of articles and columns the publication covers. Get a sense of the tone and pitch of their stories: are they deep and detailed, or light and breezy? Do they reference a range of other sources or simply provide “top tips” and practical ideas? What are the hot topics or themes in the area you wish to write about?

Figure out what you might have to say…

Before you write anything, have a clear idea of what you might want to write about and what might be of interest to your target reader. If your topic has been covered recently, how can you build on what has been published already? Where can you add a new or slightly different perspective? Can you bring additional concrete examples or “how to” steps into the discussion?

Why should anyone read it? …

Once you have thought about what’s already been written and what new slant or perspective you might be able to offer – think about what the reader might have to gain from reading your article or listening to your ideas. While an article is a potential soapbox for providing your point of view to a wider audience, it should also provide a call to action and leave the reader better for having taken away some of your ideas. What are the 3-5 points that someone will learn as a result of reading your piece?

Write the Abstract …

Now write a “pitch paragraph” or abstract rather than the full article. This will save you a lot of time and wasted effort writing an article that struggles to find a placement, or rewriting an article which hits the right notes but is not best suited to a publication’s audience. Use 300 to 500 words to outline your core theme, highlight the main points your article will touch on, and an overview of the leave behinds you will deposit in the mind of the reader.

Show where it fits…

If you can, show how your article will fit into the landscape of the discussion topic (i.e., x writer recently referenced this, this article will go beyond that idea to discuss y & z in more detail and demonstrate how n happens …).

These are just a few ideas on how to get your content noticed by editors.  I’d love to hear your hot tips for getting ‘on’ the presses.  

How do you stay connected to what your clients REALLY need from you?

If you are a marketing professional, how do you stay tuned to the dual role you have?

On the one hand, you help the organization to connect more efficiently with their customer base.

If your clients are anything like mine, they probably know they need help with:

  • finding ways to increase the volume of work done for each client
  • increasing the longevity of each client relationship
  • identifying which clients are most profitable and where we might find more like them
  • clarifying which clients are least profitable and either find economical ways to serve them or ways to share the work potential with others who could serve them more efficiently
  • providing solid and tangible discussion ideas to fuel conversations with clients and prospects (based on research and market trends)
  • Making it easy/easier to stay in touch with existing clients by providing tools and systems to provoke connections

On the other hand, you are uniquely placed to help your internal clients develop the knowledge, skills and business acumen they need to serve their client base profitably.

That makes marketing both a functional expertise and a means for aligning strategy and organizational culture.

  • Helping to coordinate activities more effectively across the business, so we amplify rather than duplicate efforts
  • Helping to determine which behaviours enhance the firm’s reputation and contribute towards the organizations strategic goals, and which behaviours are holding them back
  • Helping to develop trust and respect for each other’s contribution and expertise so they can confidently broaden relationships with our clients across different practices or business units
  • Helping to establish more systematic and disciplined approached to the ways they initiate, build and deepen relationships with clients

Just as you might implement listening posts, market research and client feedback tools for your external clients, are you doing the same for your internal clients?

Do you invest time and energy in getting to understand your employers business model? Do you know how they make money and stay profitable? Do you spend time watching them in action, delivering product or service to their clients? Do you attend sales calls with them, or get to know how the products are developed so you can advise how and where they might improve coordination and efficiency?

What are the ways you stay connected to what your clients really need from you?

I see dead people…

If you’re a fan of M.Night Shayamalan then you’ll recognize this memorable line from the Movie The Sixth Sense.  This is the moment when Haley Joel Osment provides Bruce Willis with a huge insight into what might be going on. He goes on to share that they are… “Walking around like regular people. They don’t see each other. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know they’re dead.”

At the time, Bruce’s character Malcolm puts this odd comment down to a young boy’s morbid imagination. It takes several more scenes for Bruce’s character Malcolm Crowe, and the audience watching, to realise what Cole really meant with these words.  The power of the movie comes from this slow realisation that a change in mindset and perspective is needed to truly see what is happening all around them.

I sometimes wonder if that’s what’s going on in the corporate world today. In amongst the change agents and innovators, the doers and decision makers, are a large number of ‘ghosts’ not realising that the conversations they are having and work they are doing are part of an old reality. People clinging to a sense of what used to work, the way things have always been done, and the comfortable tried and true… But the world of work has changed. As people are shouting from the rooftops all around us – lead, rise up, make a difference, bring value, build business based on trust, give away knowledge, attract followers, stop interrupting people, give people a reason to invest in you or your business (by providing deep value…)

Don’t wait for the splashes of red to learn you’re one of the dead people…

Uniquely, exquisitely you…

I’m so energised and inspired by the many bloggers and authors who are calling on us to find our niche, revel in our strengths and bring our unique self to the world. Whether your favourite flavour is Hugh MacLeod, Pam Slim, Seth Godin or any number of others worthy of honourable mention, there’s a lot to be said for knowing what makes you uniquely and exquisitely you and then working hard to keep original. I agree with them that passion, energy and commitment is very alluring and contagious.

Whether you are focused on yourself as an individual, or how you define the special difference that your business brings to the world, understanding what others gain from meeting and knowing you is essential to branding yourself.

  • What do people/organisations gain from interacting with you? How do you aid their world?
  • What did you bring to the table today that might otherwise not have happened had you not been there?
  • Did you enable them to do something quicker, smoother, more effectively, cheaper than they might have otherwise done on their own?
  • Did you spark a new idea? Create something? Help move something forward? Alleviate the pressure from someone else?
  • What change in the world did you enable (big or small, noticed or not) that would not have been possible were it not for your contribution.
  • Did you leave the people you met today better for having spent time with you?

I hope I did.

Have a fantastic Canada Day everyone!