One of the great things about the new year is that it offers a fresh slate. Most of us make a bunch of “New Year’s resolutions” and charge into the chill of January with renewed optimism. Six months later, we wake up and accept the reality that we didn’t learn how to sail, drop 40 pounds and read six books and that these goals are probably not going to happen by year’s end. Marketing and communications plans often end up unfolding similarly. With this dynamic in mind, let’s consider how to create a plan that is achievable.
Keep it Simple, [Silly]!
Don’t let your ambitions outstrip your time. Attorneys, and the marketers who support them, are wise to stick to three-to-five goals. Limiting what one hopes to accomplish lessens the tendency to start a raft of projects and never bring any single one to completion. This self-imposed limit also provides focus on the true priorities.
A short list of goals needs to be practical. For instance, “Being regularly quoted in The Wall Street Journal” or “Appearing on 60 Minutes” are low-probability media goals. When presented with minor or major delusions of grandeur, marketers need to shift expectations. “I know your goal is to be quoted regularly in The Wall Street Journal. That may be hard to achieve. Let’s work on a media strategy that creates wider exposure for you and raises your profile such that the Journal is more likely to come calling,” is the kind of advice and counsel that steers an ambitious attorney back onto the tracks of feasibility.
Have a Purpose with Social Media
A goal marketers may hear is that an attorney wants to “get active” on social media and create lots of “buzz.” If the tools the attorney has lined up to do this are a threadbare Twitter account and a LinkedIn profile with a photo from 1996, this promises to be a tough road.
Oftentimes, well-meaning voices outside the professional services realm have their advice – which is more aimed at the business-to-consumer market – picked up by attorneys eager to leverage “new” tools, such as social media. No attorney – with rare, high-profile exceptions – is going to create the kind of buzz that rivals the Kardashians. And, if “buzz” is defined by raw follower numbers – especially on Twitter – the end goal remains fuzzy. Chasing followers without purpose is not a good use of time. Not every attorney can or should look to generate a mass of Twitter followers. There simply isn’t the direct-to-business pipeline other industries enjoy; and, the time it takes to achieve scale has a very real cost.
For 75 percent of all attorneys, “getting active” on social media means dusting-off and cleaning-up LinkedIn profiles. Every account should be stocked with current information and regularly updated with bio changes, new article postings and civic/charitable engagements. And, attorneys need to be in the habit of turning business cards from networking events into LinkedIn connections. This is one goal that should be in pen on any marketing plan.
Be Specific with Writing Goals
Countless plans are minted every year with the goal, “Write more byline articles.” Assuming the attorney in question wrote one last year, we have to start with how many do they want to write this new year? Drilling down, the question then becomes what publications should be targeted and why? Then, what are the desired topics, and what is a reasonable timeline?
The first draft of a personal marketing plan may express the stated goal as follows: “Write more byline articles.”
The final draft should be: “I want to write five articles, about one per every two months, targeting the following publications…”
If the writing goal is to increase the number of posts to a firm or practice area blog, start by setting a rate that is reasonable. A good target is at least two new posts a month. However, ideally, a practice or industry blog will feature numerous voices. One way to space out content and ease the load for an attorney is to get others involved by creating an editorial calendar and working in advance. There is real value in moving the goalpost for an attorney from “more posts” to “more posts with underlying guiding strategy” and shifting them from sole/principal writer to contributor and editor.
Let’s Talk About Speaking Engagements
Speaking engagements tend to require the most build of any marketing initiative, a fact of which attorneys may not be aware and the reason expectations often have to shift considerably in marketing plans.
Plans tend to target big national or statewide conferences and are tied to not-fully-baked concepts. As with other components, speaking engagement goals need to be broken down into steps and aligned with a range of targets – from the readily-achievable to the entirely aspirational.
A good short term goal is to craft two-to-three paragraphs breaking down the proposed program’s contents and how it would address and benefit a target audience. But, beyond the content of the program itself, it is crucial that speaking engagement goals include taking the time to make key connections in targeted organizations. Encourage attorneys to attend educational and networking events and go with specific people to meet in mind. Marketing and communications teams can assist by tracking events and creating “facebooks” of leadership contacts – complete with photos, interests (mined from LinkedIn and the actual Facebook) and potential alumni network connections.
It is OK, during a planning session, to end up with a shared goal of simply making progress towards securing an engagement. These can be multi-year builds; but, once achieved, repeat sessions are more likely and the business development payout can be great.
A marketing plan, at its core, needs to be an extension of the person writing it. This means there is little point to “planning” to write byline articles if doing so is a constant struggle or tripling attendance at networking events if the lawyer is painfully shy and a perpetual wallflower.
Today, there are so many avenues for attorneys to explore for business development and marketing. Social media, blogging, byline articles, networking, speaking and expert commentary – and any combination thereof – are just a start. Marketers need to do more than just pass around a standard, static survey: they need to connect one-on-one with attorneys and help them find the tools and outcomes that work best for that individual.
Create Benchmarks and Points of No Return/Pivot
One of the hardest things to do as a planner, or one charged with overseeing a plan, is pulling the plug on an initiative. There is a tendency to equate doing so with failure. This just isn’t true. Rather, marketers and attorneys need to see this as often a very courageous and practical move.
Plans are meant to be fluid. When an initiative is clearly not working out – judged by results/progress over a set period of time – it’s time to get out the eraser and write a new goal. Both attorneys and marketers suffer when progress isn’t measured and goals languish. Marketers also position themselves as strategic partners rather than facilitators by crafting shared goals and tracking outcomes.
Just Do It!
Creating marketing plans is a great way to understand what attorneys and firm leaders want to accomplish, especially when starting a new year. The process often uncovers goals unvoiced before and leads to a realigning of priorities that can better organize a marketing department’s priorities. The new year is a great time to make a plan.
Michael Bond is Senior Media Director for Blattel Communications.