By Ian Turvill and Keith Ecker
As any legal marketer who has filled out a nomination form for a law firm ranking or award knows, the process can feel akin to sticking a letter in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. Will you get a response? What exactly are the judges looking for? And who exactly is the competition? These are all pieces of the mystery that shroud the awards process.
That’s why it was an incredibly helpful experience to have the judges of this year’s LMA Midwest Your Honor Awards gather for a panel discussion on March 18 to debrief a room of legal marketers on the ins and outs of the judging process, provide submission best practices, and comment on not only the future of the LMA Midwest Your Honor Awards but the future of legal marketing itself.
Panelists included this year’s judges Joy Long, director of marketing at Ostrow Reisin Berk & Abrams; Andrea Gordon, director of marketing and client service at Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd; and Marcie Johnson, a founding member of LMA National and former manager of mischief at Schiff Hardin. The judges were joined by past judge Jocelyn Brumbaugh, vice president of internal communications at Citadel, and moderator Terry M. Isner, managing director of creative, marketing and business development at Jaffe PR.
The panel started the conversation by acknowledging the hard work and creativity that went into all of this year’s submissions, while also providing insight into what the judges look for when crowning category winners.
“As judges, we really appreciated the caliber of entries,” Ms. Long said. “Everyone who submitted is truly a winner. We are judging the elite of the elite, your firm’s best against your competitors’ best. We are trying to look at entries from the perspective of the most creative and innovative ideas that are going to elevate our profession and move us all forward.”
One point that generated a dialogue between the panel and the audience was with regard to the LMA Midwest submission form, which mirrors the form used by LMA National. The form, which is divided into sections such as “Strategic Objective,” “Marketing Objective” and “Results,” among others, places a 700-word cap on all submitters.
“Less is more,” Ms. Gordon said. “We get a lot of submissions and are looking at a lot of criteria, so we can get a little exhausted. If something is shorter and more concise, you will get our attention.”
Ms. Gordon did stress that even though brevity is appreciated, submitters still need to convey the impact their efforts had on the firm.
“The key thing is you have to demonstrate the results in those 700 words or less. You have to hit your mark,” she said.
On the topic of results, the panelists discussed the importance metrics play in judging entries, though they acknowledged that some initiatives are more difficult to measure than others.
“Sometimes it is very difficult when you are doing something and launching it in the last quarter because you don’t really have the metrics,” Ms. Long said. “But you should still have your story of how the effort supports the firm.”
While the demands of condensing a marketing initiative into 700 words or fewer is not necessarily an easy feat, the judges stressed the importance of placing some controls on the submission process.
“The form is important because we want to have a comparison of apples to apples, so it is important that you follow the format the you have been given,” said Ms. Johnson. “Don’t just give us a narrative and tell us how wonderful your end product is so that we can’t compare the submissions in a particular category.”
Given the amount of time often required to complete the submission process, the audience questioned the panel whether there were any drawbacks to allowing an outside service provider complete the form on the firm’s behalf.
“Anybody can submit on your behalf, such as an outside agency, as long as you have sign off from the law firm,” Ms. Long said.
“There is no stigma for using an outside agency,” Ms. Brumbaugh added.
The panel also identified overarching trends in legal marketing that they gleaned from their vantage points as judges. One such trend was the volume of entries regarding new websites and law firm rebranding.
“The first time someone hears about the law firm, everyone hops online, whether on their phones or at their desks, so a lot of people are putting a lot more money in these materials than in print ads these days,” Ms. Gordon said.
Ms. Johnson also noticed the trend for firms to move away from print and embrace digital. She speculated that it might be tied to the influence that law firm clients have over legal marketing.
“It certainly is a much more digital world,” she said. “I’m wondering, as legal marketers create these digital materials, do you look at what your clients are doing? What are the ways that your clients market themselves, and is it a duplicate of what law firms do now or is it not?”
The panelists also commented on whether judges tend to weigh innovation over excellence when it comes to selecting the winning entries.
“You expect excellence in the submission,” Ms. Johnson said. “As you move forward, innovation tips the scale.”
At the end of the discussion, panelists encouraged attendees to provide feedback to enhance the LMA Midwest Your Honor Award submission process and to brainstorm ways in which all nominating firms could see one another’s work. Ideas included the possibility of designing a dedicated website where entries could be showcased.
“The challenge for us is budget,” Ms. Long said. “Years ago, we could display entries on poster board, but now many of our entries include digital content. Relying on monitors to display the submissions might be impractical, so we are open to new ideas from the community.”
Ian Turvill is the chief marketing officer at Freeborn & Peters LLP. Keith Ecker is a content strategist at Jaffe PR. For suggestions or feedback on the Your Honor Awards, please contact chapter president Sydney Iglitzen at firstname.lastname@example.org.