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The Value of Quotes, Even Without Mention of the Company Name

Let’s take a look at a not-uncommon scenario: you are connected with a reporter as an expert source for commentary and quoted in the resulting story. Great, right? Nope. While your name is mentioned, the company’s is conspicuously absent, creating a great deal of angst. This is when I, your trusted media liaison, am rudely awakened from the glow of landing a high-profile placement.

You: The quote is great, but where is the company name? Can you have them add it in to the piece?

Me: This particular publication does not list company names.

You: (Uncomfortable silence and internal stewing) I see. Well, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Let’s pause and reflect on the dynamics at play here.

Question 1: Why do some publications list companies and some don’t?

This is a highly publication-specific issue, and it’s governed mainly by each outlet’s internal style guide. Occasionally, a publication goes either way, with the reporter having final say. (This is rare.) As to the underlying reason, one can only assume that space concerns, dating back to the print-first era, are a partial answer. Other outlets and empowered reporters may feel, although never publicly announce, that listing company names is free advertising and dilutes the purity of the editorial content.

Question 2: Can a company name be added to the online version, assuming the print is already on newsstands?

Sometimes, but not often. Media reps can ask, but once this is denied by a reporter/publication, the question should never be posed again. A good communications professional will track which publications do/do not and offer this information up-front. But…

Question 3: If a publication isn’t going to mention my company, do I really want to be quoted in it?

This is a divisive question among PR pros. My answer is an emphatic, “Yes!” Why? Credentialing plus promotion equals positive brand building.

Being quoted in a third-party publication reaching a target audience is one level of promotion. Your name, even if not your associated company, is passing by the eyeballs of clients, potential clients and referral sources.

The next level of promotion is through company platforms – websites (main site and associated blogs) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). Even if the publication did not draw a direct connection between you and your company, these posts will.

The final level is personal promotion. In addition to emailing key contacts (when appropriate and not gauche), you should be posting to LinkedIn (You have one, right?), tweeting/retweeting and even sharing to family and friends on Facebook. Oh, and let’s not forget adding the piece to your company bio.

Consider this ice-cream rooted analogy:

Quote – The ice cream in the sundae.

Company’s name mentioned – The whipped cream.

Title (e.g. “Managing Partner,” “Chair of XYZ Group”) mentioned – The cherry on top.

Put simply: Ice cream > no ice cream. And, sometimes you just have to make your own sundae.

While it can be frustrating to have your company’s name omitted when quoted, through effective promotion and the wonders of the internet, any media mention can be leveraged for maximum impact. Now, why am I craving an ice cream sundae all of the sudden?

Michael Bond

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November 16, 2017 at 8:27 pm Leave a comment

Twitter’s Change Is Too Much, For Me

Twitter is setting us all free! We can finally tweet a full 280 characters! Life is great! Yeah, not so much.

Twitter’s move to expand its character limit is a change that may make the service worse. (This is not to mention rendering one of my soft “skills” – crafting 140-character posts – utterly useless.) One of the great things about the social network site is that it tamped down the urge to be overly loquacious. For professional services firms (and hey, even presidents), this meant brevity ruled. From a marketing and communications standpoint, it forced companies to boil their messages down to just the essence.

Despite the site lagging behind the popularity and active user base of Facebook, Twitter has become a key conduit for and window into the media. It’s transformed live events, particularly conferences, sports and breaking news. The shorter character limit meant posts actually read more like headlines, making a pitch for viewers to click-through or follow the user for similar, future content. This has always stood in contrast to Facebook, where lengthy posts are the norm, with lots of extra verbiage that may or may not offer additional value. My philosophy when writing social media posts has always been to start with a tweet and then write for other sites where you can add that extra word or two for emphasis or clarity. Twitter was one of the only spaces on the internet where editing was necessary.

You may be thinking, “C’mon, 280 isn’t such a change!” In absolute character terms, it’s a 100 percent(!) increase. But, yes, most of us fire off more than 280 characters in nearly every exchange. The bigger issue is that Twitter is changing its formula. It may not be its “New Coke” moment, but it is definitely a big shift – and one that ushers in the potential for extra-puffy posts.

It should be noted that I’m terrible with change. Almost every rebranding I see I think is a mistake. (Almost. Some companies and brands really benefit.) Maybe I can grow to love the new spacious Twitter. Perhaps. But, my counsel to professional services companies leveraging Twitter remains the same: keep it short. Everyone’s attention is going in a million different directions and delivering a targeted, concentrated message is the best strategy for reaching a target audience.

Michael Bond

November 10, 2017 at 2:55 pm Leave a comment

Disruption is Coming to Law Firms: Are You Ready?

Think about this for a minute: venture capitalists are looking to “disrupt” the sock industry. As chronicled on Marketplace, $110M has been invested in a sock company(!). This kind of investment in a static, eminently mature market is even more proof that disruption is coming and will continue for the legal sector, a $100-$400 billion-dollar piece of the U.S. economy. Plainly stated, there is simply too much money at stake for law firms and the standard legal services model not to be scrutinized and pushed towards change.

The bulwark surrounding the legal services industry is starting to show signs of strain. Consultancy firm PwC recently announced it is opening a law firm within its business; and, a Silicon Valley startup named Atrium is actively harvesting the insights and tracking the routines of attorneys to build an automated, A.I.-driven, low-cost law firm.

If disruption is to be expected, how can marketing and communications help in adapting to the changing marketplace? For this aspect, let’s consider the humble men’s razor. (No, really.)

The men’s razor industry traditionally was a bit of a two-horse race – Gillette was far-and-away the leader and Schick was in second place. In 2010, Gillette held 70 percent of the market. Then, the disrupters came in. By 2016, Gillette had lost 16 percent of its market share to the combined Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club. What are some of the key lessons that translate for law firms?

Geographic Fiefdoms are Over – Law firms can no longer rely solely on being, or having an office in, a particular location as a guarantor of business. Gillette owned all of the key distribution channels and still does for the most part. However, the internet has made physicality far less relevant. It’s important that marketing be done in a bimodal way – regional when materially important, but primarily national. “We’re a San Francisco firm” and a website containing only images of cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge is limiting when looking to work with national clients.

Generational Habits are Changing – The next generation of decision-makers is fundamentally wired differently than its peers. Millenials survived the Great Recession and emerged with levels of cost-sensitivity not seen in Gen Xers. In addition, the latter portion of the  Millenial demographic group has no concept of pre-internet times and sees online marketing on even footing with traditional ads, despite the massive investment difference between Facebook and print ads. For Gillette, this meant that cheeky, cheap YouTube ads from Dollar Shave Club (NSFW) ate market share even when countered by big budget sponsorships, such as the NFL.

Brand Building is Exponentially Easier – Gillette literally invented the safety razor. It then pushed the limits of design, adding all the way up to five blades (plus a sideburn trimming one). Generations of fathers taught their sons to shave with Gillette razors. Harry’s, in less than 10 years, swooped in, contracted out manufacturing and scored market share. Harry’s ads are ubiquitous on podcasts, a low cost way to target Millenials. It scored a halo effect with mentions on popular programs and offers of promo codes. Harry’s brand grew in strength to the point that Target now features it in stores and on its website. All of this says to law firms, your reputation and carefully curated brand are important, but they only go so far. If a firm isn’t exploring new marketing and content distribution channels (especially social media), it risks being usurped by the new kid(s) in town.

Cost (and Transparency) Matter – As the name implies, Dollar Shave Club has pitched itself as a way to get a quality shave at a much lower price point than Gillette or Shick offers. Gillette for years added blades and increased cost. With a 70 percent market share, it had the leverage to do so, reaping huge profits with each successive product enhancement. An argument can be made that this dynamic led to complacency, which allowed disrupters to enter a market deemed inefficient. Recently, Gillette announced that it was dropping prices and now spends major TV money to convey this point. For law firms, having and promoting alternative fee arrangements is critical. The “taxi meter”/surprise bill for “services rendered” may boost short term profits, but in the long-term it hampers client relationships and impacts future engagements.

Quality Counts, To a Point – If lined up side-by-side, the fanciest Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s razor may very well underperform compared to the top Gillette model. But, as stories like this one illustrate, Millennial consumers are not swayed by marginal performance advantages. All things equal, a good shave at a good price point often beats a slightly better shave at a worse price point. For law firms, championing (and then demonstrating) cost-sensitivity and rejecting needless perfectionism or bill padding is essential. Just like the battery-powered “Fusion Power,” Millennials see through hype.

From a personal perspective, and as a regular shaver, I think Gillette razors are much better. But, from a marketing perspective, it would be foolish to assume that all are like me. This is a trap into which law firms can fall. It’s critical to understand and consistently deliver an entire suite of professional services – from prospective marketing and communications, to client service, to billing, to post-engagement outreach – that continually adapts to fend off disrupters. You can either change or be changed. Choice is yours.

Michael Bond

October 17, 2017 at 4:54 pm Leave a comment

Why Going ‘Off the Record’ is Perilous, Just ask The Mooch

In his short but impactful tenure as White House Communications Director, Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci taught anyone new at interacting with the press a valuable lesson – understand and be wary of going “Off the Record” (OTR) with the media.

OTR is the highest level of confidentiality an interviewee can request from a member of the media. It basically translates to: don’t quote, reference or allude to anything said under this cover. In practical terms, it is a very challenging method to employ. OTR implicitly requires a high level of trust with a reporter and works best when you have value, as a source for future stories, to bring to the table. The Mooch certainly had the latter, and had he requested to go OTR with New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, his profane rant on White House happenings might have remained private. Media critic Margaret Sullivan at The Washington Post explored this issue in a recent column.

If asked, as a rule, we advise clients to avoid going OTR. Instead, every comment should be carefully considered and understood to have the potential to appear in coverage. Here are just a few considerations with OTR:

1.    It Isn’t Illegal to Break OTR Confidence – There is no law that says what is said under an OTR understanding will remain private. The dynamic is based on journalistic ethics, and as stated earlier, the need to value a source in the long run as opposed to chasing clicks in the short term.

2.    OTR Cannot be Assumed and Can be Denied – If OTR is desired, it must be verbally verified – upfront. “This is off the record, correct?” A reporter can also say no. One cannot ask for OTR retroactively. You may be denied.

The Mooch gave his explanation to the OTR gaffe:

Most of what I said was humorous and joking. Legally, it may have been on-the-record, but the spirit of it was off.

Lizza noted:

It was on-the-record and extremely newsworthy. And my job is to put that in the public domain.

3.    You Can Still Negatively Influence Future Coverage – If, for instance, you unload about dysfunction at a company involved in a transaction, you can be sure that an interested reporter will independently keep an eye on this issue. As The Mooch taught us, reporters are not therapists.

4.    OTR Should Only be Used for Strategic Purposes – Journalists and sources often develop friendly rapports. Traditionally, this has led to candid private conversations between say politicians and reporters. A senator might go OTR to say, “This bill is DOA.” The value in this remark is in fostering the personal relationship, which may help inform future coverage. Many interactions with the media, however, are one-offs, meaning that going OTR isn’t a good move. Value or candor is being provided, but it’s a one-way street.

5.    OTR Lies Can Have Major Repercussions – Being deceitful under the veil of OTR is never a good long-term move. Let’s say there is a real crisis at your firm. Partners are leaving in droves. You know that there is talk that the firm may need to reorganize. Asked by a reporter about the future of the firm you reply, “We’re actually about to announce a slate of new hirings and possibly acquire a firm. We’re growing, really.” You may help put off some negative coverage in the short term, but you are inviting a pillorying when the firm does indeed reorganize.

Be strategic, be judicious and be honest with the media. They have an important job to do, and you need to ensure that they are provided with pertinent facts, insightful and respectful commentary and nothing more. Save your salty language and your palace intrigue. Don’t be like The Mooch.

Michael Bond

August 9, 2017 at 8:23 pm Leave a comment

Beware Groupthink

In recent days, both Pepsi and Nivea have suffered public embarrassments caused by tone-deaf ad campaigns. In times like this, it is not uncommon to ponder the question, “What were they thinking?” The answer may very well hinge on the word “they” and the concept of “groupthink.”

Groupthink is when a group of individuals on a project become overly insular and fail to rely on outside thinking or fresh perspective. In professional services, branding campaigns and website redesigns oftentimes suffer from this affliction.

Large company marketing projects, and even communications channel launches (blogs and newsletters), are complex and potential hotbeds for groupthink. Here are some if the common issues that arise:

Too Much Democracy – Asking every partner, or even every member, of a company to weigh in on a design proposal is a recipe for delay and, often, derailment. The combinations are endless, and many professionals simply would rather (and probably should) focus their energies elsewhere.

Too Little Input – When considering a theme for a blog or features for a website, feedback on what content or capabilities and navigational tools will help clients is often not fully considered. Tap clients and family members to give candid, layperson feedback. Say, “While I have you on the line, what are your thoughts on this slogan?” Or, “What parts of our website do you find you use the most?”

“The Emperors” – In each organization, leadership is – ideally – viewed with both respect and a healthy amount of deference. A company’s “rainmakers” are often the meal tickets for many employees. But, respect and deference should not hinder constructive feedback and the airing of alternative ideas. Having open-minded leaders who stress free dialogue leads to better outcomes. Having an entirely sycophant workforce often creates serious blind spots and can lead to outcomes later questioned with, “How did we end up with this?”

Not Enough Perspective – Outside marketing and communications consultants are trained to examine every aspect of content and design, with an eye for catching potential issues and liabilities. Not to mention, these folks have probably seen a mistake before or are aware of the six other similar efforts in the pipeline. Close scrutiny of concepts can help avoid issues such as poor webpage navigability (e.g., no mobile presence), branding issues (e.g., domains and social media accounts being unavailable/leading to undesirable content) and tagline issues (e.g., use by a competitor, overly common or too opaque).

A word we always come back to is “process.” Creating properties and crafting content that increases engagement and leads to business development is a constant process. Awareness of issues such as groupthink is critical to ensuring projects meet performance, timetable and budgetary goals.

April 10, 2017 at 4:06 pm Leave a comment

Consider the Content, But Don’t Forget the Packaging

In marketing and content promotion, any professional will tell you – almost reflexively – that packaging matters. This is true on two fronts: 1) protection and presentation of the product within; and 2) accessibility to the purchasing consumer. Although you may be picturing a physical box with a product, this also applies to professional services websites and content vehicles, such as blogs and newsletters. Let’s break down the box and see what it can teach us:

Function is Important – At the most basic level, a box needs to transport its contents to its ultimate destination. A professional services content channel is no different. Websites need to offer convenient access (optimized SEO) and unobtrusive viewing experiences. Blogs should be created – not as a page or tab within a website – but as a standalone site with a well-thought out custom URL.

Keep it Simple, But Inviting – It’s worth pairing great content with a great platform. Clean lines are important and navigability should be optimized. The best websites, blogs and newsletters are designed with posts and pages that flow into each other, with related content discretely placed in the viewer’s line of sight.

Identify the Author/Sender – Corporate branding elements – colors, images, fonts and even layouts – should match across web properties. In addition, logos should be prominent. Blogs that lack these features (think “personal” offerings that have slowly evolved into corporate channels); websites that fail to be consistent (think PDFs with one font and webpages with another); or newsletters that are unpleasant to the consumer and can – consciously or subconsciously – impact your brand position.

Sometimes, You Need a New (or Bigger) Box – As companies expand, so too do their offerings. If you are using the same website platform as you did five years ago, you likely need to update. Navigation, functionality (like integration of social media) and layout have all evolved. And, if you don’t have mobile-optimized websites and blogs, a large swath of traffic may be passing you by.

Repackaging is a Fruitful Process – Building and transitioning to a new website is a long process, and it involves quite a bit of planning. But in moving to a new platform, companies often identify and correct common branding, grammatical and positioning mistakes. For instance, consistent references to a company are put in place (e.g., every time “ABC Firm,” not “ABC” on second mention, or always using “LLP” after the full corporate name,) and “content fiefdoms” (e.g., new practice description written as a project by a principal), where tense and layout differ from main pages, are reworked to mesh with the whole. Companies also often find “deadwood,” words and pages that have little utility and can be removed in the name of streamlining the viewer’s experience.

Professional service companies should think about both content and packaging, as the two go hand-in-hand. Think of the “little blue box” associated with Tiffany’s. It is instantly recognizable and adds real value to the jeweler’s brand. Well-designed, thoughtful websites, newsletters and blogs do the same thing. Packaging matters.

Michael Bond

April 4, 2017 at 7:15 pm Leave a comment

Five Tips for Making the Most of #LMA17

Headed to the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference 2017 in Las Vegas starting next Monday? Us too! Look for Blattel Communications Founder and CEO Ellen Blattel and President Traci Stuart.

With the conference nearly here, we wanted to share five quick tips for having a productive conference:

1. Bring LOTS of Business Cards – It happens to people at every conference – running out of business cards. So, double-check your packing list to ensure that it includes cards. And, when you think you have a sufficient amount, add some more. It is always better to return with extras than run out.

 2. Take Notes and Consider Putting Your Laptop Away – Keeping up on email and moving time-sensitive items forward is a great use of laptops and phones. After those items are checked off, the temptation for the mind to wander away from presentations is great. Consider closing the lid, putting the phone in your pocket and opening your physical notebook. There is a line of research suggesting that handwriting notes leads to better retention of content. It also helps keep you engaged in a presentation. Of course, if you’re actively tweeting a session, go ahead and keep the electronics active.

3. Plan for Networking – Networking is not always easy. You are essentially introducing yourself, oftentimes, to virtual strangers. If you are a little shy, resist the urge to disengage. A tried-and-true strategy is to walk in to a networking session with a set goal. For instance, pledge to meet enough new contacts to hand out the business cards in your pocket. Or, plan to meet a handful – just five – new contacts before the event concludes. (And, remember to follow up and connect on LinkedIn.)

4. Learn About Something New – There is generally a temptation to skip sessions that are outside of one’s area of expertise. This creates two problems:

1) You select programs on topics with which you’re already familiar, potentially limiting the usefulness of content.

2) You leave the conference feeling that the educational content really didn’t grow your skillset.

Given this dynamic, take the plunge and try something new or intriguing to you. It will also afford the opportunity to learn more about your colleagues in the industry and how other firms and marketers think and operate.

5. Don’t be Afraid to Change Sessions – If you go to a presentation and the content is too simplistic or truly not of interest, don’t rule out sneaking out of the room and trying something different. Presenters have tough skins and would rather you get the most out of the conference. Going back to tip two, if you lose interest and end up scrolling aimlessly through email, you won’t be taking advantage of all the conference has to offer.

BONUS – The house always wins, always. (This is Vegas, after all.)

See you next week!

March 24, 2017 at 7:33 pm Leave a comment

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