Posts filed under ‘Business Development’

Be Like Warren – The Effectiveness of Simple, Straightforward Writing

If you have ever leafed through a publicly traded company’s annual report you likely did not make it very far before your eyes starting getting heavy and soon you were soundly asleep. These documents have some of the most vital information you can find about a concern, but it is often presented in a manner that is simply too complex or too dry for the average investor.

The ability to concisely and clearly write means the difference between something being read or deleted summarily upon receipt. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and its CEO Warren Buffett consistently illustrate the former with the company’s annual report. Buffett’s yearly letter to investors is so legendary and well-known that its yearly iteration has been compiled into a compendium available for sale on Amazon.com. Buffett’s money-making prowess is awe-inspiring to most. However, even though the company employs complex financial vehicles and Buffett himself is almost universally the smartest person in the room, his letter to investor’s is rooted in simplicity, which makes it far more accessible and, ultimately, valuable than those produced by 99 percent of his industry peers.

Here are a few passages from this past year’s letter:

  • One thing of which you can be certain: Whatever Berkshire’s results, my partner Charlie Munger, the company’s Vice Chairman, and I will not change yardsticks. It’s our job to increase intrinsic business value – for which we use book value as a significantly understated proxy – at a faster rate than the market gains of the S&P. If we do so, Berkshire’s share price, though unpredictable from year to year, will itself outpace the S&P over time. If we fail, however, our management will bring no value to our investors, who themselves can earn S&P returns by buying a low-cost index fund. (p. 3)
  • Our insurance operations shot the lights out last year. While giving Berkshire $73 billion of free money to invest, they also delivered a $1.6 billion underwriting gain, the tenth consecutive year of profitable underwriting. This is truly having your cake and eating it too. (p. 4)
  • Above all, dividend policy should always be clear, consistent and rational. A capricious policy will confuse owners and drive away would-be investors. Phil Fisher put it wonderfully 54 years ago in Chapter 7 of his Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, a book that ranks behind only The Intelligent Investor and the 1940 edition of Security Analysis in the all-time-best list for the serious investor. Phil explained that you can successfully run a restaurant that serves hamburgers or, alternatively, one that features Chinese food. But you can’t switch capriciously between the two and retain the fans of either. (p. 21)

For professional services companies, Buffett is providing a valuable tip – really consider how you deliver your content. His annual letter stands out from others because it takes a unique and refreshing approach. It is the right move to want to inform clients of major changes court decisions and legislative actions. However, when a prospective client receives multiple missives that are nearly identical, how are they to quickly deduce the right one to spend time reading?

Make no mistake; Buffett is not talking down to his readers in his writing, but rather speaking plainly while addressing the various – at times complex – engines that drive Berkshire Hathaway. If he can address acquisitions, derivatives, insurance, than surely issues such as estate tax changes, intellectual property and antitrust can be explained by professional services concerns in a straight-forward, clear, concise and accessible manner.

Strategic communications designed with the end-consumer in mind are vehicles to greater customer engagement and low-cost, high-impact marketing tools. By taking the time to really consider the content, packaging and delivery of corporate communications, professional services companies can be more like Buffett – standing out from the crowd and increasing the organic circulation of thought-leadership material.

Michael Bond

(The author is an Extreme Minority Shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway.)

July 16, 2013 at 4:39 pm Leave a comment

Lessons from Netflix’s Business Model for Professional Services Companies

I may have been a bit bleary-eyed last week as Netflix fulfilled a dream of mine by resurrecting Arrested Development and gave me 15 episodes to gorge on at once. (Thankfully, they released them over the Memorial Day holiday so I had some extra time to enjoy and recover.) I’ve been a huge fan of Netflix since it was discs only. Beyond having content I really enjoy, the entertainment service is a forward-thinking, paradigm shifting company (see Blockbuster and, increasingly, cable). Professional services companies can learn from its anywhere-anytime approach. Here are a few lessons:

1. Accessibility – Netflix is device agnostic, meaning they will customize their streaming service to just about any computer, phone, tablet and maybe even watch (if we get there). The goal is strategic, they want to you value the portability and flexibility of the service – whether sitting in a park with Wi-Fi watching on a phone or cooking in the kitchen with an iPad propped up. Professional services firms need to consider how their communications are formatted. Websites need to convert well to mobile devices. At times dedicated apps make sense. When it comes to strategic communicating, the goal should be to have a tailored presence on every major channel, and this means Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn company pages and Google Plus pages too.

2. Content is King – Netflix spends billions of dollars to acquire the rights to re-runs of high quality programming and, now, to create its own original titles. While a law or accounting firm will not be looking to pay millions to stream Law and Order, they should be bearing this concept in mind when debating the merit of devoting a portion of billable time to marketing efforts, such as byline article writing.

3. Content Diversity Casts a Wide Net – Netflix has everything from Cheers to Sesame Street to Frontline available on demand. It is acutely aware of its position as an aggregator of niche audiences. Professional service firms, through vehicles such as blogs, videos, podcasts and email alerts, can engage their disparate client bases. One size simply does not fit all, and an approach or voice for one practice might not work for another.

4. Use Your Data – The first three points all depend on actively employing what Netflix does best – understanding the river of data that its customers create every day. Netflix knows what you are watching and tailors programming for larger audiences (House of Cards) and individual suggestions for users. Professional service firms frequently fail to delve into how effective their communications actually are in terms of objective benchmarks. Knowing that a client e-alert was sent to X number of individuals is as effective as saying that a newspaper reached a circulation of Y. It says nothing about who actually read, opened and took an action based on the information. By marrying tools like Google Analytics (free) and Google AdWords (low cost), you can set up a funnel to show how many people opened an email announcing an event and actually signed up.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a season finale to watch!

- Michael Bond

June 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

7 Resolutions For Legal Industry Marketing In 2013

The New Year is still in its infancy, and there is no better time to craft a list of professional resolutions. Hopefully, you’ve finally digested that fruitcake and are now knee-deep in thoughts on how to have a more dynamic and successful year. To ease into the process, the following are easy steps for super-charging your marketing and communications efforts in 2013.

1) Spend 15 Minutes Updating Your Bio

Shut the door, close Outlook and really consider whether or not your firm bio says what you want it to say about you and your practice. Study it to ensure it contains all your salient achievements (significant matters, articles written, speaking engagements). If you are stuck, and as your door is already closed, go through the exercise of introducing yourself to a potential client out loud. If your bio isn’t conveying that message, then change it so it does.

2) Spend More Than 15 Minutes on Your Self-Evaluation

Riding the bus home the other day, I noticed a man awkwardly contorted over a laptop and scanning through a Word document. I peeked a little closer and realized he was a lawyer working on a self-evaluation. Having read dozens of these, I’ve seen that the effort put in is, at times, minimal. Your self-evaluation can serve as a central source from which you operate, provided you put real effort into it. Like the bio, this is an exercise that requires your attention and some serious self-reflection — not exactly in abundance in today’s harried workplace. Consider purposely coming in a half-hour to an hour before you normally do, closing the door and focusing.

3) Spend 15 Minutes a Day Reading the News

My line of work goes part-and-parcel with the news, so I read multiple newspapers every day. By doing so, it is possible to identify issues to pair with attorney clients who may be in a position to serve as an expert source — or at least to add their educated perspective on the emerging issue at a cocktail party. This practice affords great fluency in the issues of the day (both banal and weighty). By taking just a few minutes to go through the news, online or in print, you will find more to talk about with others, as well as trends and issues that connect naturally to your business. Your commute is a great time to do this — Angry Birds can wait.

4) Take Your Marketing and Communications Team Members to Lunch

Sure, I love a good meal, but I also really appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the lawyers with whom I work. A meal is an opportunity to mutually learn about each other professionally and to connect on a personal level. The more knowledge the marcom team has about who you are and your practice, the more these individuals can help you achieve the goals you have laid out in your self-evaluation — whether through securing byline article opportunities, scouting for speaking engagements or finding the right words to encapsulate your expertise when writing proposals.

5) Attend One Industry Group Event

Beyond CLE requirements, identify and go to a presentation by either a local bar association group or an industry trade group. Take your business card with you and try and make at least three connections. (One trick, for those who tend to be a little shy, is to take five business cards and allow yourself to leave only after they’ve been given out.) Industry group events are great from both an educational standpoint and for networking.

6) Write a Byline Article

There are publications for every industry and robust legal trade publications locally and nationally. Find a niche topic in your area of law that you would like to address from an educational perspective, contact your marcom team and have them find an opportunity and then write — it’s typically only 1,200 words we’re talking about here.

Publishing a byline article will bolster your bio, provide a quality collateral item to send to clients and may ignite the writer within. You may also find yourself getting calls from reporters as you have demonstrated expertise and can serve as a valuable source when they are drafting articles or from peers looking to round out a speaking panel or, better yet, from potential clients. (Psst! It also is a nice accomplishment to highlight come review time.)

7) Engage Beyond Work with Clients

It is often said, but rarely really considered, that relationships are crucial in building and maintaining business. Even a silly sitcom like The Office provides examples of this principle in action. In season two, when paper company executive Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) gets the business of Lackawanna County (home county of Scott’s fictional Dunder Mifflin), the sale wasn’t closed based purely on price. Scott, much to the chagrin of his boss, spent a long evening at Chili’s building rapport with the county executive while making convincing points about why Dunder Mifflin, although more expensive than big box retailers, was a better choice. The scene is hyperbole, but the core message is true — people like doing business with people they personally understand and enjoy.

Look everywhere for opportunities to connect with your clients and build relationships. For instance, every year I like to see what schools are in the NCAA basketball tournaments and then I’ll reach out to lawyers with whom I work when their alma mater has a great game. It’s enjoyable to connect with my clients beyond the issues, and it provides an opening to deepen both our professional and personal relationships. Use all of the data you get — schools attended, birthdays (something perhaps to add to a client intake sheet), publicly available social media and tidbits dropped in conversations — to really engage and connect.

By taking the time and being disciplined, you can craft and implement an effective marketing and communications plan for 2013. The goal of all of these exercises is simple — maintain and develop more business in the New Year. That is a resolution I think we can all agree on.

Michael Bond

This article originally appeared on Law360 on Feb. 13, 2013. 

February 13, 2013 at 9:40 pm Leave a comment

Avoid the Politics Minefield

What is the best message when it comes to politics? Well, professional services companies would be well-advised to avoid taking a public stance in favor of one candidate or another. Today, it was reported that Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks, endorsed President Obama. Although it is inexorably intertwined with Schultz in many minds, Starbucks as a company posted this extremely on-point message to its Facebook feed that walked-back his action somewhat:

Perfect.

A major election is a time to avoid appearing partisan and potentially losing market share for a non-product or service reason. However, if you have a passionate member of the c-suite who is quite visible, consider aping the message that Starbucks put out. Voting appeals to both sides.

If you need more – humorous or serious – tips for navigating politics in the workplace, give this article in Bloomberg Businessweek a read.

November 3, 2012 at 12:49 am Leave a comment

Keep Your Messaging In Sync

If you have ever been in a kayak with another person, you can easily understand the importance of staying in sync. By paddling in different directions you will literally go nowhere. Keeping this in mind, why do professional services concerns adopt different messages across their collateral?

Press releases are often created in a vacuum without consideration of the firm’s stated objectives on their website. Even more maddening are ads that fail to pair in any meaningful way with both written and graphic collateral materials.

Not only are firms creating more work for their creative team, they are also failing to advance a unified message. These firms are sitting in the middle of the lake going nowhere as well-intentioned creative professionals continually try and move the company in a definitive direction.

Who are you?

It’s a bit of an over-played notion, but if an organization fails to know itself, it really cannot succeed. One of my favorite pages on a website is the “About Us” section. While individual bios may be quite impressive, what concerns me as a potential client (and a communications professional) is the shared vision. What are the common threads that run throughout? Professional services concerns often struggle with this question. However, it is critical as it is the hub from which all marketing and business development spokes are connected to.

Here is what a law firm might say:

XYZ law firm is a problem solver.

We work with clients to identify and alleviate issues that keep them up at night.

We practice preventative medicine with our clients by taking an active interest in their day-to-day operations and by truly partnering with them at all stages – from start-up to lease negotiation to succession planning. When necessary, we also scrub in as surgeons, working to uncover the root of issues and litigating with precision.

Simply said, our success is tied to our clients.

Key Messaging Points:

1. We solve problems.
2. We know your business is your business and we are here to ensure that focus is not taken away from it.
3. We are interested in listening to both your day-to-day and your urgent issues.
4. We litigate efficiently and with focus.
5. We only succeed when you succeed.

(As XYZ exists only in my mind, firms of course would add more substantive meat onto this marketing skeleton.)

Rowing Together

Working with the sample “About Us” message at the core, here is how XYZ can move in sync:

Press Release – The part of a press release where one can get creative is the quote. Consider the message points utilized in the following quote.

XYZ Adds Two Attorneys

Quote – “John and Maria, in addition to being accomplished litigators, are also problem solvers. We are excited to add them to our team and are confident that they will succeed in our firm culture where truly listening to and partnering with clients is central to how we operate.”

Ad – Any ad the firm runs, from a community sponsorship to a major trade or business journal, should be carefully considered and echo established messaging. For example:

XYZ’s Focus Is On You

XYZ has been a strategic partner of Oakwood Cupcakes from virtually day one.

We worked with the company’s founders to secure financing.

We helped negotiate their first lease.

(And we tested some of their first products.)

The cooks at Oakwood consistently earn high praise from their customers and our aim is to do everything we can to keep them in the kitchen and doing what they love.

At XYZ, our focus is on you.

Here both the firm’s venture capital/angel investing and commercial real estate practices have been promoted in a manner far more effective than simply stating these services are offered. A story is told, while also hitting on numerous messaging points. A line is even worked that humanizes the firm. The ad itself is a testament to the firm’s strategy as a client is being promoted while marketing the firm.

Bank of America has done a series of ads in this manner that highlighting local investments.

Also, consider this spot from American Express. While they are a consumer company, they too are really offering a service:

The ad tells a story and neatly encapsulates who they are and what you can do when you are a member.

Be strategic.

When all of your messaging tools are in sync, you will go places.

October 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

The Importance of Being Able to Find Quality Content

If I was going to get a tattoo that reflects one of my professional beliefs, it could very well be this:

Content is king.

For professional services companies, it is paramount to produce quality content that demonstrates knowledge of a subject and that also adds value to client relationships while making you attractive to prospective clients.

Having the ability to publish materials via the web can be both a blessing and a curse. The Internet exponentially lowers the cost of producing collateral material. No more expensive brochures or days spent in the mail room sending out client alerts. However, a very real temptation exists to favor quantity over quality. This is compounded by the fact that when an important decision occurs or a new regulation comes into effect, a feeding-frenzy occurs and a flood of alerts are cranked out.

Still, time and again, I have heard general counsel say that well-timed, well-written emails, client alerts and third-party produced byline articles go a long way towards maintaining or helping start relationships.

However, your content – be it byline articles, client alerts or third-party media mentions – needs to be leveraged effectively to make an impact.

There is my next tattoo:

Leverage.

Look at these comments from the American Bar Association Section of Litigation Joint Committees’ CLE Seminar “In-House Counsel Panel: The Substantive and Practical Challenges Faced by Today’s In-House Counsel” this past January:

“I sometimes find papers written by law firms, but I start with Google and then end up linking to the law firm site. I never start with the law firm site when looking for information on a legal issue.” – General Counsel

“I use the Internet 100 percent of the time for my research and communication needs. Google and Yahoo are usually my first stops.” – General Counsel

How does content get traction on Google? Several ways:

  1. Keyword-rich landing pages on a company website.
  2. Links and narrative referencing on the pages of the bios of those who authored the content.
  3. Promotion via social media – Tweets via corporate Twitter account and personal LinkedIn status updates.

Another critical credentialing tool that drives search results is tacit third-party endorsement via byline article writing and quotes in trade and general media publications. Of course, reprints of these mentions should be utilized on firm sites.

From the same ABA CLE program, it is also telling what general counsel did not like when evaluating law firm websites:

“Candidly, a bad law firm website would be like showing up to a meeting with me in a crumpled suit.” – Chief Counsel, Intellectual Property

“They all look like they took their marketing materials and handed it to web guys and put it online. I could do a better job writing the content for a law firm website.” – General Counsel

The presentation noted:

Most participants indicated that they would be interested in being able to access more substantive tools and knowledge on law firm sites.

Read differently: General counsel want quality content that is readily accessible!

There is real value in being pro-active and strategic with your communications plan. Executed correctly, it builds the brand and helps generate business for both the professional and the organization.

Now I just need the number for a good tattoo parlor.

Michael Bond

October 19, 2012 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

Appearance Is a Little Thing That Can Make a Big Difference

Every professional services company is looking for differentiators – things, large or small, that will provide an advantage in attracting and retaining business. As seemingly banal and inconsequential as it may seem at first glance, appearance matters. Enter the ever-behooded CEO of Facebook Marc Zuckerberg. Yesterday, a picture of his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev was in wide circulation. As you can see, he bothered to put a suit on. You can also see that he didn’t bother to button his top button for a photo with a world leader.

For this, I am emphatically pressing the dislike button.

Zuckerberg’s carelessness and indifference are part of a spectrum of wardrobe malfunctions I have witnessed. For example, I have seen ruffled trousers, suits that needed to be pressed, stained shirts and – in perhaps the true nadir – a suit accented with a tie composed of smiley faces. Nothing screams, “I am a competent professional!” more than that.

Professional services are not the easiest product to sell. (Yes, as loathsome as that word is, there is still selling going on.) Unlike consumer products, decision makers regarding these services often look at a chart that looks like this:

Company A Company B
Highly Qualified Professionals Highly Qualified Professionals
Strong Reputation in the Business Community Strong Reputation in the Business Community

If we assume that pricing for each firm is nearly identical as well, the decision maker may extend the comparison from these macro traits to micro ones:

Company A Company B
Highly Qualified Professionals Highly Qualified Professionals
Strong Reputation in the Business Community Strong Reputation in the Business Community
Favorable First Impression at Face-to-Face Meeting – Came across as professional (in manners and dress); Projected confidence. So-So First Impression at Face-to-Face Meeting – Understood subject matter, but seemed underdressed; Projected a casualness that does not align with serious nature of this business.

The thoughts expressed in the third row may be either conscious or subconscious, but they do happen, and they truly underscore the need to be in-point and prepared in appearance. There is simply too much at stake.

Button your top button Zuckerberg!

– Michael Bond

October 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

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