Law firms are increasingly embracing an industry-focused model. At its core, this means presenting to the world as knowledgeable, cross-disciplinary problem-solvers for companies engaged in similar or related businesses. And, internally, it means breaking down artificial barriers between practice groups in the name of achieving the holy grail that is effective cross-marketing. This shift can be a gamechanger, and it has real implications for a firm’s marketing communications plan.
The industry-focused model is somewhat like going from a constellation of unrelated and unconnected health care providers to an HMO that offers an integrated model under one roof. If we allow that a company is a person (just ask the Supreme Court!), then its overall health and wellbeing is the firm’s objective. In the traditional model, one practice group cultivated a relationship, built it out and, oftentimes, worked in isolation from colleagues in other disciplines. Pivoting to an industry focus, the topline goal is to connect and leverage as many of the firm’s problem-solvers as possible to optimize the client’s business. It’s about increased internal dialogue and deepening industry expertise, and it can lead to broader, more lucrative and longer-lasting client relationships. I may have initially gone to my general practitioner for a checkup, but I left after seeing an ENT.
For communicators and marketers, the industry shift is also an important inflection point. The sale glidepath of GC to firm to different GC to firm, etc., while still present, is now just one path to business development.
Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, much law firm content, especially in terms of byline articles, produced in-house was narrow in scope. There is a new law, a new case development or a new regulatory change. It’s important, and here is why. Oftentimes it was published in daily legal newspapers (yes, paper) or printed client alerts (yes, printed) and read, or not, by corporate counsel, who then might recap the news to the c-suite.
This historical example is not offered as a time capsule, but rather as perspective on the lurching, incremental progress that has been achieved. Often, the insights are still reaching the same discrete and limited audiences – now via online legal sources and firm websites. The industry-focus changes this dynamic.
Part of the impetus for this shift in how practices are presented and clients are serviced is that the decision-making process at companies is now far more decentralized and no longer limited to lawyers speaking to lawyers. The full c-suite, top managers and other key employees are now at the virtual table – and firm thought leadership (and service) is being forced to adapt accordingly. Marketers and media relations professionals need to heed an old maxim, “Evolve or die.”
“Success” is different in an industry-focused environment and centers around engaging multiple discrete, but interrelated, audiences that contain decision-influencers, rather than absolute decision-makers. For outside, third-party media engagement, firm thought-leaders should aim to adapt insights to play to multiple industry trade publications. Each placement multiplies audience exposure, contributing to business development. The linear idea-to-placement pipeline is gone, replaced by a hub-and-spoke system where the central insight or development is adapted to multiple audiences.
Internally, this shift means that a single client alert might become three or four, necessitating cross-practice collaboration. The end products are like going from a baseball hat with adjustable sizing to one that is “fitted” nearly perfectly for one’s head. The onus to determine how content is relevant and related to a given client is on the firm/author rather than the client/reader.
Sometimes change is a little uncomfortable, and from a marketing and media relations standpoint, the industry-focus shift is no exception. The need is readily apparent, particularly given how much the legal profession has shifted, especially the rate leverage that clients now enjoy, post Great Recession. It may be possible to “coast” on legacy media plans for some time, but the future lies in multi-dimensional campaigns that are industry focused, while also including pure legal content.
The industry-focus shift presents a tremendous opportunity for marketing departments to increase their clout with firm decision-makers and budget keepers. A greater diversity of targeted media deliverables, coupled with detailed metrics (now easier to determine than ever before), gives marketers and communicators more credibility and – ultimately – job security. It moves marketers closer to claiming revenue and business generation, the best argument for our existence and expansion.
By Michael Bond, Senior Media Director at Blattel Communications