Tips from general counsel for staying on their shortlist
Silvia L. Coulter
Alfreda Bradley Coar
VP and GC
GE Healthcare, U.S. & Canada
Executive VP and GC
MassMutual Financial Group
Suzanne Rich Folsom
GC & Senior VP – Governmental Affairs
United States Steel Corporation
Biggest challenges facing general counsel when hiring law firms
Suzanne said that the greatest challenge for them is finding the best value and experience as a combination. Alfreda said that her biggest challenge is finding counsel that will give her early warning signals on regulations in her industry, so she can see around corners. Mark said that you are only as good as your people and teams, and that he looks for people that can supplement his in-house team in a way that aligns with their brand objectives.
They seem to indicate that it is not only important that you have relevant experience to their particular business, but that you read about the top five things that the chairman of their company is talking about with regard to where their business is headed so you align with that. You need to really understand what the company is going through and not just show off your shiny new attorneys. Mark said that if you want to meet with him, don’t just mention your new team members but say “Can I come in and hear about your key strategy and how we can help you?” Your motto should be that you want to walk in the shoes of the general counsel if you want to get and keep their business.
It was mentioned several times that glossy brochures, while they are okay, all mostly look the same and are nothing compared to your particular talent that relates to their exact needs and understanding their business. It reminds me a lot of when you’re pitching a journalist. You need to fit in with their format and what their audience is looking for and not just brag about your story. If your story is not exactly relevant, it will go nowhere.
Mark said that if you really want to get in with him, don’t just write an article in a publication and share it with him about how great you are, but write an article with him! If you make him look good and you are both in the same article, you will create a much deeper relationship.
Mark also said you can do training for his staff, which deepens your thought leadership in connection to the firm and in-person relationships.
There was also some excellent discussion on diversity and the pressure on corporations and their counsel to have a diverse staff. If you have a new business meeting and bring in a black female for example, they mention that you can’t just do it for show and that you need to make sure that she is a key part of the team as well. White people are going to be a minority by 2042, so the sooner the better for making a more diverse team.
I just had a great chat yesterday with John Grimley of the Asia Law Portal and he was discussing how important it is moving forward, even for small firms, to extend their reach overseas and so there are many reasons to have people of all cultures on your teams. You should also have content on your website and in blog posts about international issues and some content in multiple languages. This will create deeper relationships with people of other cultures.
Mark said he has never even looked at the legal directories in any serious way! Not that they are bad, but the general feeling is that you should pick your shots of which ones to do and don’t over-focus on them.
A major takeaway that I got was that having relevant content and experience that is highly specific to the exact needs of your prospects is critical. Whether it is a client alert, a newsletter, or a blog post, make sure that it is relevant.
Redefining thought leadership
This session was one of my favorite as I am very engaged in the move toward influence and authority as part of your Internet marketing, not only from a general perspective but from a Google author rank and conversion optimization perspective.
A couple of links are below to give you an idea of Google patents relating to authorship.
Ranking authors in social media systems
Google’s agent rank/author rank patent application
Overselling versus thought leadership
A McKenzie study was cited with regard to the rule of three that says that if you are perceived as being in the top three top firms, you can sell 70% of the time instead of 40% of time, and that a firm’s knowledge is their product, yet most websites are chest-pumping crap – oversell – and that attorneys need to take thought leadership more seriously.
Research surveys for law firms
One great way to show off your thought leadership is to do a research survey. You can then do the following:
- show it off as a white paper
- blog it in bits and pieces to keep the energy going
- give a webinar or hold a seminar on the survey results
- get a lot of publicity from the survey and the thought leadership it provides
- promote it on social media
- generate lots of backlinks for your website from it
- turn it into an infographic and slideshow
- use it in email marketing campaigns
- use it as a foundation for new business prospecting
Erika Ritzer, Principal of Greenfield/Belser, and others gave some excellent advice on how to run surveys. Basically you need to pick a specific topic and a specific group of people to survey. Then either by hiring a research firm or possibly doing it yourself, you need to interview at least 100 people either by phone or have them fill out a survey of up to approximately 25 questions.
I have been thinking about doing this myself, and we are currently in the final stages of selecting our topic within the legal community for a survey. We are also looking of partner for this endeavor. I welcome any comments below if anyone has any ideas of things they would like researched with regard to law firm Internet marketing.
Thought leaders do and/or should consider the following
- write blog posts, articles, and books
- hold seminars and join industry groups
- start or take part in LinkedIn groups
- are the hubs of community conversations
- are connected with influencers
- hold luncheons to facilitate groups getting together
- get lots of publicity
- are highly connected on social media
- perform research surveys, etc.
Daniel Weede, Shareholder of Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, said that at the end of the day, it is about the 3R’s of reputation and relationships that equal referrals, but that you must build your reputation and relationships through thought leadership and content as well as through the traditional methods. He said that demand is flat, so you need to take it from the person next to you and not just wait for them to die!
He joked how lawyers love this kind of language and say things like you have to “hunt in packs” and be like sharks, but at the end of the day potential clients don’t want to be hunted, they want to be wowed by your knowledge.
Public relations for attorneys
The people on this panel joked about how the term Content is King should be changed to Content is Queen and should be used to create relationships, connections, and engagement.
There was a lot of discussion about having a public relations policy. They asked the audience how many people had an actual policy for PR and a very small amount of people raised their hands. This reminded me of the workshop about content and LinkedIn strategies, and how very few people have actual strategies for these things. I am a big fan of strategy, hence my book, Web Marketing On All Cylinders, focuses a great deal on it. I am glad to see such an emphasis on strategy, since so many people are clamoring to get their content, social, and publicity together.
Legal directories and rankings
These were discussed in the context of if they help a firm with regard to their reputation. Most people agreed that they are not incredibly influential but many of them are worth doing if you really pick your shots and pick the ones that fit you the best. It was said that rankings are an extension of PR, but doing hundreds of them is a complete waste of time.
Example of legal rankings:
- Best law firms U.S. News
- Super Lawyers
- Best lawyers from Mercer Thompson LLC
- The Legal 500
- Benchmark Litigation
- Corporate International Global Awards
- National Law Journal midsize hotlist
One idea that I liked was when doing interviews for attorneys for the ranking submissions, you can kill two birds with one stone and connect it to public relations and testimonials. Tell the attorneys not to be modest, which they will love, and also tell them to just let it out and tell stories. You can then use that content in a variety of ways. A story was shared about how a ranking as a National Law Journal midsize hotlist then landed the firm an article in a New York Law Journal special report and a speaking engagement, so symbiosis is key.
Social media and law firms
It was said that social media is just a tool and a megaphone to spread your content, and that you should repurpose all of your content such as client alerts, bylined articles, and media mentions so you can share it more regularly. Social media activity without content is like a room with no furniture.
It was also said that good social media is like winning the lottery in public relations. For example:
Employment law blogs are read by HR professionals and can be spread on social and attract media engagements.
Intellectual property attorneys should report on court decisions, and it was said that judges look at blogs and tweets to see what is happening in the local courts.
Corporate governance blogs and social media were said to generate a lot of reporter calls.
When I was at the National Publicity Summit last year with 100 top journalists, they told us on a panel that they take people much more seriously if they have a blog and are active on social media. They also said that you are highly unlikely to get TV coverage if you don’t at least have examples of your speaking on YouTube, if not some existing local media video appearances.
Reputation management for law firms
It was discussed that having the PR policy is important so that when a crisis happens, you don’t just send out the pissed-off attorney in front of the microphones!
We have done reputation management for a number of clients and I can tell you that it is one of the hardest search engine optimization things that you can do. Trying to get government sites and newspaper sites that are highly trusted by Google out of the top 10 results so that you can put up 10 of your own social profiles and websites to bump down the negative content is a very expensive task.
On one of our projects, the client had a small budget and we were blogging on a domain name using his personal name and building lots of social profiles and even some backlinks, but that was not working very well, so we brought in some additional subcontractors to quote on helping with the project. One person who worked for a large entertainment company, doing reputation management for rock stars, said that she wanted to buy links from porn websites and point them at the negative results to try and tank them! While negative SEO may be possible, it is not something we were willing to do.
We got another quote from brand.com that was tens of thousands of dollars and another from one of our most trusted partners who said that it would take at least $10,000 a month in backlinks to your positive content to bump out the government and news sites that were spreading the negative information. While we have had numerous cases where we were able to move negative results down, we’ve also seen many situations where we didn’t even want to take on the project because they would be almost impossible to solve. So have a policy in place when crisis happens so you don’t make it worse, and be aware that you are going to not only need a public relations company, but someone who understands search engine optimization at the absolute highest level as well.
Takeaways from the legal marketing conference
There was a really nice session at the end of the day where people shared their takeaways, and here are just a few that people mentioned:
- 60% of the buying decision in professional services are made without any personal interaction at all, largely because of the Internet
- One person loved how a general counsel told them that the end of a quarter when they’re closing out their books is a great time to call and drum up business!
- General counsels need to see your specific experience and guidance and not glossy brochures
- Price will be low on a general counsel’s list of priorities if value and thought leadership are high
- Include general counsel in articles and attorneys will jump to be involved
- Price is not a factor if you have the vertical knowledge
While I was a bit more blown away by the Vegas LMA conference last year, that may simply be because the content marketing revolution has really settled in and a lot of the conversation around blogging, thought leadership, social media, and PR are becoming a bit repetitive.
I absolutely love these conferences! They are really well put together and I can’t wait for the next one. The key is to look at your notes right away and take immediate action. My final thought is something that was said several times at the conference, which is that ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is priceless.
Podcasting (audio interviews) and video for an easy way to make content
If you can’t get your attorneys to write, interview them with an audio recording device and turn it into either an article as is on a blog post or use it to write a premium piece of content. Video is also inexpensive now in comparison to the old days and you can interview attorneys about specific keywords and topics that are important to people and general counsel, and then put that up on YouTube and into blog posts with transcriptions. When Google flew me and our paid search director Bob – all expenses paid – to their headquarters last year, they gave me a compliment about how I do this and so I think it is safe to say it is a good content strategy from an SEO perspective as well. You can then take the podcast and video transcriptions and turn them into e-books that prospects can download from your website instead of just pushing them to fill out a contact form with nothing in it for them. That will give you some instant authority and thought leadership.
Given that there was not a single workshop on paid search marketing and that the entire conference was around content marketing, if you use the excuse that you can’t get the attorneys to write or you’re worried about compliance and social media, somebody is going to eat your lunch.
Now that the 2014 LMA is in the history books, I’m really looking forward to next year! Here’s a sneak peek: