Online Reputation Management (ORM) has become one of the latest marketing and brand buzz-concepts. This is one every leader and manager of law firms as well as all legal professionals should be concerned about and should understand.

Much has already been written about ORM, as any search on the internet will show. I have found

Each year I carefully review Interbrand’s excellent report on the top 100 global brands. No professional service firm brands feature there so you may well ask, what relevance do these largely commercial or corporate brands have for law firms? The reason I do is that Interbrand provides useful summary reports as to why these brands

In the April edition of Edge International Communiqué three of my partners address important issues and provide insights and outline opportunities for the legal profession:

Jordan Furlong, in Law Firms and Women Partners: You’re Doing it Wrong emphasises that if firms are following typical practices in how they promote women into equity

The Gouldian Finch, research conducted at Macquarie University in late 2012 has shown, uses just one eye and one side of its brain to choose its partner for life. In the study published in Biology Letters the researchers found that ‘Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visual mate choice lateralization‘. Black-headed males choose black-headed females, and used only their right eyes and left side of their brains to do this.

Here’s looking at you kid, that is, if you are on my right-hand side and are the right colour – the Gouldian Finch chooses its mate by using only  its left brain and right eye. While clients may not do precisely this, we need to recognise they are all individuals, are different and use different criteria to choose our firm or our partners for that next assignment. It is also these individuals who determine the power or otherwise of our brands – Sean Larkan (Image: (c) www.birdsville.net.au)

This provides a timely reminder – we somehow seem to assume that all clients fall into one amorphous group – ‘clients’  – and that all our marketing and approaches to them can be similar and should produce the same results. Of course, this is wrong. Each client is very different. Each individual at every client is different. And it is these individuals who choose our firms or the partners at our firms for their next assignment. It is also what they think, these individuals, that constitutes our firm brands, and the individual personal brands of each of our partners. Some of these individuals are notoriously one-eyed. Others adopt what one may call a balanced approach, taking all factors into account. In each case we need to understand and respect this.

What can we learn from or do as a result of this?

  1. firstly, simply understand and respect their individual differences. Some clients are definitely left-brainers, detail people,  even pernickety (excessively precise and attentive to detail; fussy), want every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed, while others rely on trust and relationships and that you will do the right thing by them and ‘sort out the detail‘ – the ‘just tell me where to sign‘ type. Others are a wonderful balance between these extremes;
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The story goes that you never quite get the veld dust off your shoes when you have grown up in Africa – good stories about Africa always get my heart pumping! And so it happened when I read an inspiring article by lawyer Greg Nott on some wonderful achievements, on and off the field, by

You can be the brightest spark in the office but if people can never get hold of you, or after they do you take ages to respond or are simply unreliable, no-one is ever sure you will do the job, professionally you are going to do yourself in.

Nothing beats being accessible, responsive and reliable. You can be the sharpest tool in the workshop, but if you can't be found, don't respond well when used or don't do the job you are called on to do, people will eventually tire of using you. The same applies to professionals. (Sean Larkan image - Old Dairy Gerringong - ©2012)
Nothing beats being accessible, responsive and reliable. You can be the sharpest tool in the shed, but if you can't be found, don't respond well when used or don't do the job you are called on to do, people will eventually tire of using you. The same applies to professionals. (Sean Larkan image – Old Dairy Gerringong – ©2012)

I know of one professional who is highly sought after due to his niche practice and ability. As a consequence he is very busy and time-poor. So busy in fact that he has an automated message responding to his emails, always, saying ‘sorry tied up doing x, y or z. Your enquiry is important, I will revert etc’ – unfortunately, you usually don’t get a response from him, not even later. You soon get the message, his work is more important than your enquiry or message. He has made himself inaccessible, is unresponsive and in your mind will probably not be reliable to deal with. In fact he also appears to be discourteous.

On the other hand we all know professionals who are busier than most, but who still manage to be remarkably accessible, courteous, responsive and reliable – some come to mind for me – Michael Katz, chairman of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, Rob Otty, Managing Director of Norton Rose RSA, Jordan Furlong my partner in Edge International, Giam Swiegers, National CEO of Deloitte, Australia, John Poulsen managing partner of Squire Sanders (formerly Minter Ellison, Perth), Roger Collins Chairman of Grant Thornton Australia and Derek Colenbrander CEO of CareFlight Australia.

One of the most enjoyable responsibilities I had as a former managing partner of large firms was to do a short introductory talk to new recently-joined lawyers. The discussion, which we tried to make interactive, commenced by asking what they felt they would need to do or be to succeed in a large firm environment. As one would expect coming from the brightest law school graduates, the responses were varied and fascinating. However, not many picked up on these seemingly obvious attributes: accessibility, responsiveness and reliability. It was possible to emphasise these, providing examples, without names, of lawyers who did not have the best university pass or who were not regarded as the best technical lawyers in their practice area, but who rose to greatness and built substantial practices, at least in part due to these characteristics. I also emphasised that a big part of their early success would depend on their courtesy to staff, mainly support staff.

Your personal brand:
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In a recently published article in the Australasian Law Management Journal (ALMJ) on thought leadership as a most valuable marketing ally, I emphasized the importance of:

[caption id=”attachment_1076″ align=”aligncenter” width=”600″ caption=”One of the main reasons thought leadership is so powerful is that it acts as a form of invisible and credible third party 'referrer' which

This is the final in a three-part series on Thought Leadership (click to see Part One or Two) based around an interview with Think Write Grow author Grant Butler. Himself a thought leader in his field he has provided some invaluable insights – these can be borne in mind as you ponder how to incorporate thought leadership in your next firm or marketing strategy review, or accommodate it in your partner performance management system or key performance indicators.

In this final post:

  • Grant talks about the importance of focusing on thought leadership quality, not quantity – this requires careful management (and some diplomacy!) but the aim must always be to provide material that gets clients and others thinking (and talking).
  • He also touches on the important topic of the resistance some professionals still feel to releasing their thought leadership material to the wider world. His view is unequivocal: be prepared to share more than you traditionally would – it will come back to benefit you.
The message is clear when working up thought leadership material – produce quality not quantity – try to make readers sit up and take note. Also be prepared to share material beyond your traditional comfort zones – it will help you build relationships of trust which will benefit you in a number of roundabout ways.

SL: TWG confirms thought leadership marketing should be a priority for many organisations. In the past thought leadership probably developed in a dynamic, less structured way – people became thought leaders “while they were doing their job” well. Now that thought leadership is becoming part of mainstream marketing and strategy-speak is there a danger it will lose its dynamic character? Will it become buried in marketing/management/consulting clichés, jargon, systems and processes?

GB: The internet has certainly made it both easier and more important to create thought leadership material and yes, there’s a danger of it being lost in the volume. The main defence is to focus on developing high-quality material. I would suggest consider the following points:

  • I’d encourage firms to focus on quality rather than quantity.
  • It’s better to come out less frequently with really succinct and insightful material that makes clients sit up and take notice.
  • This requires strong internal controls to ensure that substandard material is held back.
  • That in turn means making judgments and can be a political problem (try telling a partner their article is not good enough to release…), but it’s vital to remember that every time a firm publishes weak material, the less likely a client is to open their next email or attend their next seminar.
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Last week in Part One of this series Think Write Grow author Grant Butler defined thought leadership, talked about making thought leadership happen in practice and confirmed that just about anyone can become a thought leader. In this Part Two interview we cover thought leadership and personal brand, building trust as a benefit of thought leadership, and finally, how to unearth your goldmine of thought leadership assets.

Thought Leadership can be an important component of personal brand, principally because it builds trust among those who determine the strength of your personal brand. However thought leadership assets often lie hidden in a firm – they need to be unearthed to realize their enormous benefit.

SL: What are the similarities and/or differences between thought leadership and building a personal brand?

GB: Developing, publishing and promoting thought leadership can be a really important part of building a personal brand:

  • The key thing for professionals to consider is whether they want to be seen as someone who has innovative and market-leading ideas, and in turn whether that is going to be a key element of their personal brand profile.
  • If they do want to be known as a thought leader then they should actively share their ideas and also consider the terminology they use to describe themselves in the descriptions they use on websites, in conference flyers and elsewhere. Would they describe themselves as an ‘expert’, a ‘leading expert’, a ‘thought leader’, a ‘leading thinker’ on their topic and so on? Once their positioning is clear, they should reinforce it through their actions and their words.

SL:  In the case of building a personal brand Marty Neumeier, author of “The Brand Gap” would probably say that your personal brand is what others think, not what you think it is. Is the same true of someone being regarded as a true thought leader?
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Thought Leadership is an important part of developing one’s personal brand, of contributing to the marketing and business development activities and successes of a firm, and to contributing to building the capital fabric of a firm. As professionals, it is ideally something all of us would aspire to do and be, a thought leader in our chosen area of practice or industry sector. Few of us achieve this.

Grant Butler has recently published his book Think Write Grow (Wiley 2012) which provides an excellent overview and many practical tips on developing and marketing written thought leadership material.  He principally focuses on written material, but the principles outlined apply equally to other ways of developing and supporting thought leadership. This short book will not only prove helpful to produce thought leadership material but is full of ideas and tips about writing any material or piece.

The author agreed to answer some questions which I hope will be helpful to you as law firm leaders and managers when contemplating how to develop your own firm’s thought leadership assets.  As it is quite a long piece and I would like you to get the benefit of all his responses, I will spread it over three posts – Part One, Two & Three. This is the first.

There are some very valuable explanations, ideas and practical steps set out in this readable work on thought leadership. It should be in every professional service firm library and be read by all those wanting to grow their firm's thought leadership assets.

SL: Congratulations on the publication of Think Write Grow (TWG) – I know it is in your book but for the benefit of my readers how would you define thought leadership and what does it comprise?

GB: Thought leadership is certainly described in lots of different ways. In the book, I try to keep it simple by saying that it’s about how experts share their knowledge and come up with new ideas to help people solve problems or uncover opportunities. It’s also important to pull the two words apart  – ‘thought’ and ‘leader’. The first part involves quality thinking, research and innovation about a topic. The second part involves actively sharing that knowledge with others through things like newsletter articles, blogs, books and speeches. That’s the point at which an expert moves from knowing their stuff to being a thought leader.
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