Friday, September 12, 2008

Community Relations Networking

Successful law firm networking through Community Relations was the topic of the South Florida Legal Marketing Association luncheon I attended yesterday .

By Community Relations, we mean working your way up through the committees and board of local, national or regional non-profit associations as a volunteer for the purpose of making strategic community contacts. Here are some "do's" and "dont's" that could be helpful in your networking efforts.

DO view your role in community programs as that of a "problem solver" first and foremost, according to panelist Charles Jones of the Miami PR firm Wragg & Casas.

DON'T arrive at 12:05 for a meeting that starts at noon, then leave at the first possible opportunity without making time for strategic networking, cautioned moderator Susan Greene, Director of Marketing at Becker & Poliakoff.

DO find out how the organization can make best use of your legal skills. Panelist Dr. Jennifer O'Flannery, CEO of the Broward County United Way, mentioned that they rely on lawyers from a variety of practice areas to help negotiate contracts with each agency they fund.

DON'T force attorneys to arbitrarily volunteer at an organization not aligned with their natural interest, warns Greene. Finding the right community program for an individual attorney is a two-way street between the firm and the lawyer.

DO use the law firm's active participation in community programs as a competitive advantage when it is significantly greater than average, suggests Shareholder Grant Smith from the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler (RRA).

DON'T forget that cumulative "word of mouth" can be an extremely formidable business development tool, advises RRA "Chief Relationship Officer" Jeff Stay. He suggests providing all the attorneys in the firm with agreed upon talking points to create a consistent, memorable word of mouth campaign.

The Rainmaking Lady would like to add that getting involved in a community program is a very productive way to reach out to industry leaders who are also prospective clients. You can use the community group as a legitimate basis for contacting a prospect while remaining in compliance with otherwise restrictive state bar advertising guidelines.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Branding or Networking ... What Gets Business?

While attending a luncheon meeting of the Legal Marketing Association South Florida City Group today that I helped to organize, one firm present was mentioning that the attorneys in their 35-member business law firm were split on the best way to promote the firm.

One group of attorneys favors a high profile branding campaign, featuring prominent advertising in local business papers and industry trade publications. (This is a very conservative firm that has never really advertised in the past.)

The other group of attorneys feels strongly that networking is the better approach, where attorneys focus on building their referral networks by attending meetings of the bar, chamber, industry groups, etc.

Who's right? The Rainmaking Lady feels there is room for both approaches in an integrated marketing campaign.

Depending on a law firm's budget, some level of advertising in today's competitive marketplace could be a good way to stake your claim as a major player. Networking is also a powerful means of building business relationships, plus you get the advantage of building a face-to-face understanding of your prospect's wants, needs and pain.

Of course, we advocate adding speaking engagements and publishing opportunities to the mix.

There is a time and place for many types of marketing campaigns in your business development plan, particularly if they work together to reinforce each other. The key is to start by establishing your goals as specifically as possible, then determining how you will measure the goals.

Once you've done that, it is best to get started on the implementation. Don't let differences of opinion hold your firm in a perpetual state of marketing inactivity. You will fairly quickly be able to determine what is and what is not working.

Remember, never stop marketing!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Case Study: The Down Side of Internet Communications

You have probably heard about the abrupt disruption in UAL's stock trading on Monday. Apparently an old newspaper article about the firm's 2002 bankruptcy court filing resurfaced on the Internet, where it was robotically determined to be "new" (since it was not properly dated) and republished. Needless to say, the stock suffered an immediate drop until trading was briefly closed.

The speed with which all this occurred is breathtaking. Google's web crawler reportedly searched the sourced site at 10:17 pm on the prior Saturday night. The crawler returned at 10:36 pm (only 19 minutes later) and found what it considered to be the new story. A few reader "hits" on the "new" story apparently gave it the search engine boost needed to generate higher visibility on the web. From there word travelled fast, aided by some other automated news distributors.

This definitely is a case of the double-edged sword. As marketers, we want the Internet to carry the great news about our business services far and wide as quickly as possible, but one wrong turn can cause tremendous damage.

Quality control and human intervention remain critical components when publishing information on the Internet. While this is certainly an extreme example, it is a reminder of the respect and care needed in both content management and systems oversight.

This case is also an interesting example of the intricate legal disputes that emerge in our interwoven, electronic world.