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 consistently outperform other brands and grow in value and we can learn from them.

Message from the top global brands – simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it – Sean Larkan, Edge International

First though, a few quick pointers in regard to brand (which are expanded upon in my book (no plug intended!)):

  • our brands are what other individuals think, not what we think (based on principles developed by Marty Neumeier in the Brand Gap);
  • we need to ensure that what we say we offer, we actually deliver (brand fusion™);
  • there are at least three types of brand we should be aware of – organisational brand, individual brands and our employment brands – each have their peculiarities and potentially, great value;
  • building a high value brand takes a whole bunch of highly talented people working together as a team i.e. your whole firm, legal and support.

Here are the points from the Interbrand report which I thought would be of interest to law firms:

  1. through the influence of social media brands are increasingly shaped by clients and others, and less by organisations themselves;
  2. design is no longer low priority – it is now the key to a brand’s appeal;
  3. corporate citizenship is no longer a nice to have or ‘add on’ but a palpable ethic that must weave right through an organisation and radiate outward – some law firms are doing a great job of this;
  4. a message we have heard before, but a reminder that the marketing rules have changed – the consumer’s voice now carries much more weight;
  5. simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it;
  6. something else we have heard often enough before but don’t really seem to heed – the new world involves engaging actively with our clients;
  7. as Apple (presently the top global brand – a cool $100b) has taught us,
    • brands can change lives, not just with products, but through an organisation’s ethos; 
    • brands can enable us to do more, more easily, and for us to truly experience and believe this;
    • customers value a company with a reputation for revolutionising how we work and communicate;
    • it as an organisation thinks differently, which we like, and seems to deeply consider the customer experience (us);
    • . . . . . thereby building trust and charisma, resulting in a leading brand for which users feel there is no substitute (i.e. charismatic);
  8. As a result brand is more than ever, a top leadership issue, not something to simply be delegated to marketing;

In an upcoming article on ‘NewLaw’ my colleague Jordan Furlong and I will highlight a number of law firms (mainly small and mid-tier) in Australasia who are doing something different and often special in the way they deliver service, and clients seem to be responding. I believe a number of them are well down the road to following some or all of the principles set out above.

I would value your thoughts and comments!

Sean Larkan, Principal, Edge International

 

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 positions they are missing a strategic opportunity and effectively sabotaging their own market viability by:

Too many firms are making a dumb mistake when it comes to hiring and promoting women partners (Sean Larkan, Edge International)
  • wasting vast talent opportunities;
  • overlooking or ignoring what women (half the population) could bring to firms in various ways;
  • a continued reliance only on hours to measure productivity and contribution which short-changes women.

As a result firms are less capable and less competitive. He leaves us with the tantalising idea of the benefits that will be enjoyed by the firm which ‘gets this right’!

LLB view on this issue?

One thing law firm leaders can do much better is to actively communicate with and keep in touch with prospective women equity partners in their firms. Too often one hears of a female partner who, rather than make a fuss, quietly leaves and joins a corporate or maybe takes a break from law, too often lost forever. Also, a multi-pronged disaster for a firm. Maintaining this type of active contact and keeping the communication lines open can avert this type of issue cropping up. It requires a genuine effort from leaders which builds trust, as well as a good dose of flexibility.

In ‘Five Keys to a Successful Lateral Hiring Strategy‘, Ed Wesemann argues that law firm lateral hire strategies often don’t work , due mainly to poor execution, not the strategy itself. He sets out a workable strategy for firms to follow when lateral hiring:

  1. set the bar high enough to ensure you hire winners not losers;
  2. use internal networks to identify good candidates;
  3. do some research around your short-listed candidates;
  4. be in direct touch with candidates – they appreciate this and you will learn a lot more; and
  5. find out what the candidate is truly trying to achieve by making the move to your firm.

LLB view on this issue?
Lateral hiring should be undertaken as the implementation of an agreed strategy. Too often it arises as a partner in another firm or a search executive has approached a partner in one’s own firm. While this can sometimes still result in a happy ending, it can also waste time and divert a firm’s leadership away from the key issues and even the areas where truly strategic hires should be made.

A focused strategy using Facebook’s very own rich data on users can prove to be a boon for carefully targeted business building strategies by law firms (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Jeff Morris offers a very interesting take on using Facebook strategically to target and engage with very specific potential client groupings in “Strategic Social Media. This is made possible as Facebook has very rich searchable data about their users. This provides a very unique opportunity to target your audience very carefully and strategically, not by talking about or trying to ‘sell’ your firm but by sharing, and doing so with content that users want to read. Jeff throws up some fascinating insights and great ideas.

LLB view on this issue:

Many law firm leaders do not view social media as a strategic tool that firms can use in this way or that they should pay much attention to. I disagree, social media interactions provide a very powerful window into the heart and soul of a law firm (and this is how others connect with us emotionally, which is critical as this is how they assess our brands) and a fascinating picture of a firm, and its all up there for everyone to see and experience. In some respects, a ‘brand offer on steroids’. So, very strategic.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

 

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; Continue Reading Are clients one-eyed when they choose your law firm?

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 southern African sports people. This at a time when people in that part of the world are concerned about their future and the leadership to take them there – the story touches not just on sporting achievements but is about their human spirit, their challenges and the leaders they have become.

Greatness comes not just from victory on the sports field but also from over-coming challenges of all kinds in the lead-up, coupled with humility and a wonderful human spirit. In this way sports people set wonderful examples and become inspiring leaders. Similarly, for professionals, a personal brand is not just all about legal technical ability – clients and others like to see and experience the human side of personal brands.

Greg talks of:

  • Caster Semenya the 800m female athletics champion who has been embroiled in debates about whether she is, in fact, a woman, who carried the South African flag at the opening ceremony at the London Olympics;
  • Oscar Pistorious – making history in London as the first amputee to compete at the track in the able-bodied games;
  • Cameron van der Burgh – winning an individual swimming gold medal in the 200m breast-stroke – I think he beat the incredible Michael Phelps to do this;
  • Ernie Els winning his second British Open and dedicating it to his autistic son and Nelson Mandela’s personal call to him when he won his first US Open;
  • Hashim Amla scoring over 300 runs against England at the Oval;

Nott is a director of Werksmans Attorneys in South Africa and very active with the firm’s Africa practice group and LEX AFRICA, Africa’s longest-standing, largest legal network.

I think there is also a lesson in this story about personal branding for professionals. Greg Nott is clearly not your typical hard-hearted win-at-all costs litigation lawyer. He has shown a genuine human side and a willingness to get involved in human interest issues outside the law. This enriches his personal brand. As Marty Neumeier likes to say, brands should live, they should be dynamic, they should touch the emotions; this is what people want and it is after all they who determine the value of a brand. All this applies equally to a professional’s personal brand.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

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: Continue Reading Nothing, but nothing, beats accessibility, courtesy, responsiveness and reliability

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:

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 clients trust. As a result, thought leaders have less difficulty finding new clients, winning tenders and 'closing the deal'. They can also charge at higher rates and get paid for their services.
  • recognising and taking advantage of valuable, untapped stores of thought leadership assets
  • clarifying what we mean by thought leadership
  • understanding its benefit to lawyers and their firms
  • appreciating where some unrealised thought leadership assets may lurk
  • leaders or senior managers understanding steps they can and should consider to realise these assets
In an upcoming post I will share some thoughts on ways to develop thought leadership material and thought leadership status.
To Aussies world-wide, happy Australia Day!

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. Continue Reading Thought Leadership ideas for leaders – Part Three

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? Continue Reading Thought Leadership tips for leaders – interview with Think Write Grow author Grant Butler: Part Two

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. Continue Reading Thought Leadership – Think, Write Grow author Grant Butler provides some insights for law firm leaders: Part One

Definitely worth consideration! A special workshop being run by my colleague Shirley Anne Fortina of Pod Consulting –  BrandYOU It’s Personal to be held at Karstens Conference Centre, 123 Queen Street Melbourne on the 16th September 2011.  Here is the brochure (PDF). The program is:

  • for those individuals who need to take time out of their busy schedule to stop, take a step back and identify where they are at now, where they want to go and how to get there.
  • all about building confidence, effective communication, improving performance!
  • individual participants that are self- employed, leading teams, from government, not for profit, professional services and commercial sectors (both men and women and all ages).
  • to help you stop and invest in yourself as an individual so everyone and everything around you benefits including you.
  • for companies having employees that have purpose, an understanding of what they want, their skill set, strengths, value proposition and who understand the value that they bring not only enhances their confidence, communication and performance but also their engagement.

BrandYOU It’s Personal testimonials can be found here: http://www.podconsultancy.com.au/other/id.php?ID=11