Archives for February 2011

Notable Posts of the Week 2/27/11: No Bad News

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In the same way that real estate agents and home builders vehemently and derisively denied that anything was wrong in the housing marketing  before the recent — and ongoing — collapse, companies in the business of designing, hosting and merchandising blogs will not abide any suggestion that the tastes of social media consumers are changing.

This week the New York Times ran a thought-provoking piece on recent research that shows a drop-off in the popularity of blogging among young people. Instead, a “mixed use” model is emerging where more of the content generation is taking place on”short-form” platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. In other words, early adopters and “digital natives” are figuring out that blogging isn’t a necessary part of online social networking. They can reach and engage with their intended audiences without blogging.

Right on cue, defensive blog floggers like Kevin O’Keefe parried that thrust by belittling and dismissing the predictive value of the demographic that literally built social networking  (“So kids and young people don’t have the attention span and motivation to publish”). However, apparently the article’s most insidious offense is that it might plant the false notion in lawyers’ heads that they can create an effective social media marketing strategy without paying his firm to design and host a blog for them.

“When I first saw the New York Times story yesterday that blogs are waning as the young drift to other social media, I thought here we go again.

Everyone’s going to start talking about blogs being passe now that you can Tweet in 5 seconds and share a quip on Facebook in 20. It’s a story that’s been told multiple times before and one that never proves to have legs.

Nonetheless, lawyers will start buying it and think they can skip over blogging as a means of publishing to enhance their reputations and build relationships and go straight to Twitter and other short form social media.”

And I say “Bravo!” Good for them! In fact, lawyers absolutely can — and in many cases should — skip over blogging if:

  1. They are not resourced to do it well or
  2. There are other platforms with which they’re more comfortable, or where they are more likely to find and engage with current and prospective clients and influencers.

Over on Bazaarblog, writer Tara DeMarco took a similar knee jerk diss approach in her misreading of the Times article, but at least finished with a sound conclusion:

“Blogging may not be the right investment of time and resource for all businesses. And yes, many company blogs fail. But they are absolutely the right medium for the right messages, and businesses will keep on blogging….”

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/18/11

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It was only a matter of time.

A new social media marketing survey making headlines indicates that the non-stop onslaught of messages from companies and professional firms large and small is causing the general public to “break up” with them — unsubscribe, unfriend, unfollow.

Citing unsettling findings in the new “Social Break-Up” research from ExactTarget and CoTweet, Jay Baer observed that “Regardless of platform, receiving too many messages from too many marketers is a very likely cause of subsequent break-ups, throwing dead weight over the side of the social and email ship until it floats again.”

A Social Media Today post split the blame between extensive messaging and little relevancy as the major reasons why consumers leave Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, or unsubscribe to email lists.

The survey authors asked 1,561 U.S. online users ages 15 and older why they’ve stopped engaging with companies through e-mail and social media:

Email
– 54% messages sent too frequently
– 49% content repetitive and boring
– 47% too many emails sent by brand
– 25% messages were irrelevant from start
– 22% subscribed for a one-time offer

Facebook
– 44% company authored too many posts
– 43% wall became glutted with marketing
– 38% messages repetitive and boring
– 24% posts were overly promotional
– 19% content was irrelevant from start

Twitter
– 52% messages repetitive and boring
– 41% stream became inundated with marketing
– 39% company tweeted too frequently
– 21% tweets were overly promotional
– 15% content was irrelevant from start

This survey reminded me of a recent post of Adrian Dayton’s that addressed the same phenomenon in an overused and therefore frequently ignored form of social messaging specific to legal marketing: the client alert.

So the phenomenon is real, big and pervasive. Yet there’s not much we can do about it. All direct response marketing is a matter of optimizing the probability that an item will be 1) opened/read and 2) acted upon.

The effectiveness of content marketing campaigns is a function of interactions among many factors, including:

* Frequency of distribution
* Form factor (i.e. design, formatting, length)
* Content quality & relevance
* Competing messages
* List quality

Until bigger and better minds than mine come up with a brilliant cap-and-trade solution, our best remedy is to focus on 1) useful content that grabs attention and 2) campaign design, planning and rigor.

The error is not in “spraying and praying” — because you don’t know what works until you try — but rather in not tracking, measuring and refining your content marketing strategy and tactics.

My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/11/11

The billable hour isn’t going anywhere any time soon, but that’s not deterring innovative law firms from tilting at that windmill.

Today I’m featuring some Don Quixotes of alternative fee arrangements I encountered this week:

  • radiant.law [sic], a UK virtual law firm specializing in technology, outsourcing and commercial transactions, takes square aim at the ROI sensibilities of potential clients by placing fixed fee pricing at the center of its brand in a unique way. While their value proposition dutifully invokes tropes like experience and value, the real differentiator is price certainty. Finance people on the client side LOVE that kind of stuff — predictable expenses and no surprises.

“For each project we will give you a fixed price. You will not have to worry about hidden assumptions or cost over-runs. Our pricing is not based on time estimates or trying to retro-fit the billable hour into a fixed price. Instead we will agree a price with you for a clearly defined scope of work. If you then decide to change the scope of work, we will agree a revised price based on any changes you require in advance. Fixed prices give you more control and oversight of your project at every stage.”

“Essentially, the firm has gone back to the drawing board in terms of the pricing options it offers to its clients. Some of the firm’s ideas are pretty left-field, such as offering to charge for its services by reference to the price of commodities. But other ideas it make a great deal of sense – such as breaking down legal tasks into their component parts, to allow the firm to produce viable fixed price quotes.”

  • That Jay Shepherd of The Client Revolution blog fame has an ax to grind with billable hours is not news. But his post this week asserting that there are only two types of law firm fees — time-based pricing and solution-based pricing — is notable for the discussion thread it inspired. Commenters pointed out that client financial management models and contract law are more nettlesome impediments to widespread adoption of solution-based pricing than inertia and lack of innovation by law firms.

 Nick White said…

“I’m a great supporter of [solution-based pricing]. The main problem I see is getting clients to catch up. I offer a number of alternatives to time based billing but clients are so conditioned to the traditional approach that they find it almost impossible to get to grips with alternatives, when the focus is just the pricing.”

But life is never simple.

As much as I admire Tom Bowden the inherent issue I take with his analysis is the premise of a firm “requiring” a minimum fixed number of hours from time keepers. That requirement sets the stage for inefficiencies and too often puffing by timekeepers who are incentivized to do so merely to hold on to their jobs. The basic premise of value billing, AFA’s or solution based billing is to promote and reward efficiently delivered quality work. Minimum annual billing requirements has the exact opposite effect.

And to make our lives even more complicated, recently, a New York real estate developer was shopping around for a law firm to handle two lawsuits. One firm agreed to take on both cases for $300,000 as a fixed fee, payable in three installments. The client presumably thought this was the best deal around since the law firm would take all of the risk if the fees exceeded the $300,000. That, in Jay’s terms, was what the client thought the solution was worth. Well, the firm, Meyer Suozzi, apparently did a bang up job and its hourly charges were substantially less than the $300K. the law firm sued under the agreement and the trial court held “The Retainer Agreement that Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, P.C. seeks to recover on is a non-refundable retainer agreement and as such, is unenforceable [under New York Law].” See http://www.nylj.com/nylawyer/adgifs/decisions/020211lally.pdf and http://www.law.com/jsp/nylj/PubArticleNY.jsp?id=1202479960587 .

Bad law? I certainly think so. And probably reversible on appeal. The trial court did hold that Meyer Suozzi could sue under quantum meruit and hornbook law holds that the best evidence of quantum meruit is a price set forth in an agreement, even if the agreement might be unenforceable for other reasons.

Nonetheless, until and unless overturned, this case may well long be an 800 pound gorilla sitting in every fee negotiation involving a fixed fee arrangement.

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Know When to Fold ‘Em: The Pitch Process Tells You a Lot about Prospective Clients

When you’re a small or solo professional services firm, it seems next to impossible to walk away from a new business opportunity. But one of the worst marketing decisions you can make is to see clear warning signs during the pitching process, then continuing to pursue the opportunity anyway.

I recently came across a cautionary post by Drew Kerr relating his experience with and reflections on walking into — and quickly away from — clear red flags. He’d been invited to give a new business presentation by the executive assistant to a prospective client’s COO, only to discover when he arrived at the meeting that the assistant — not the COO — was running the search.  Correctly, in my opinion, he immediately wrote off that opportunity because it telegraphed the low priority and low regard executive management had for public relations.

Little did I know that a few days later I’d be having a similar experience. I was contacted by the representative of a law firm seeking business development support, only to find out he was a third-party consultant who had no experience with — or even a working knowledge of — how legal services are marketed and contracted.

Striving mightily to remain responsive and courteous, I couldn’t get off the phone fast enough.

Last year a mid-sized law firm contacted me to give a capabilities presentation. Shortly after I began my pitch it became clear that instead of discussing how my firm was uniquely capable of making them more successful, I was being used by the junior partner who requested the meeting to persuade the managing partner that the firm actually needed external marketing support. In other words, there wasn’t even business to be had.

Granted, one’s tolerance for BS is directly proportional with the size of the opportunity (i.e. you put up with more nonsense from a prospective “whale” than from a minnow with delusions of whale-ness), but generally speaking it’s both reasonable and prudent to expect prospective clients to make a good first impression, too.

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My Picks for Notable Posts of the Week 2/4/11

Sometimes the best ideas in legal marketing are hiding in plain sight.

I think that’s the case with MCLE training. Practicing lawyers have to complete it to stay licensed, and judging by their bios, it seems like all of them have given a session at one time or another. So where are the firms that have made speakers bureau services and CLE training a distinguishing characteristic of their brand?

If you’ve already created a CLE presentation, why aren’t you tweaking and publicizing it for use with business and civic audiences? And if you have an inventory of general speakers bureau presentations, why aren’t you tuning them up into accredited CLE content?

CLE maven Tim Baran is one of the most visible and persuasive evangelists for leveraging CLE’s nexus with marketing, and in a Lawyerist post this week he reinforced how developing and presenting CLE content directly benefits the presenter, not just the audience. I was particularly pleased to see that he called out in-house training as an underutilized CLE opportunity, and he helpfully included a link to  Law Writing‘s excellent state by state guide to rules for in-house courses.

Here’s an idea starter: MCLE-palooza.

Nothing concentrates the mind on MCLE like the looming fulfillment deadline. And as with filing taxes, every year there is a sizable cohort of procrastinators scrambling to finish — or even start — their MCLE. Seems like some enterprising firm, local bar association or LMA chapter could turn that confluence of supply and demand into a great publicity event.

Imagine a Saturday of back-to-back MCLE sessions. Donate the space, have vendors underwrite the lunch, tie it in with a local charity, get a local TV station to cover it and — Voila! — marketing gold.

One successful example is the Austin Bar Association’s People’s Law School, which offers free informal courses taught by lawyers to the general public on topics like family law, wills and estate planning, criminal law, credit repair and the legal process. Why not an MCLE version for the lawyers themselves?

I’ve been flogging this idea for years now, but so far no takers. I hope this time someone grabs it and runs with it — and gives me credit, of course.

Do Or Do Not. There Is No Try.

During a bout of insomnia earlier this week I decided to get caught up on my Twitter hygiene and prune inactive friends/followers from my legal marketing accounts. This includes using Twitoria to unfollow individuals who have not tweeted in more than a month. To my surprise and dismay, one of these inactives turned out to be one of the subjects of a blog post I had planned for this week.

What started off as a post on successful niche law practices is now a cautionary tale about the downside of abandoning or neglecting social media marketing once you’ve started.

I learned of Alison Rowe’s equine law practice last year during a Cordell Parvin webinar, and started following her on Twitter and subscribed to her blog. In an interview last July she discussed her integrated social media marketing strategy and activities in detail. Based on those strong first impressions, I added her to my editorial calendar for a future blog post.

After I discovered that Rowe’s last tweet was Sept. 3, I checked out her other online real estate and saw that she hadn’t posted on her blog since June 30. Her last activity on her Facebook page was a Jan. 10 response to a question that had been posted Dec. 15.

This story still turned out to be a case study, just not the one I intended.

Once you start publicizing your social media credentials, you risk serious damage to your personal brand if you don’t maintain a credible level of activity.  It’s not a problem to take a break from — or even eliminate — active engagement in certain platforms, or social media altogether. Just alert your followers to what’s going on.

If you know you’re going to be away from Twitter or your blog for a while, post a placeholder status, like “I’ll be on hiatus from [Twitter, blogging, Facebook] for a few months, but let’s stay connected on [Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn my blog, etc.]. ” If a platform isn’t working out for you and you don’t intend to resume activity, retire your account. Don’t just let it sit idle. It looks unprofessional. And you’ll disappoint Yoda.

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