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You know those criminally-addictive chewy Chips Ahoy! cookies in the bright red package? You try to pass them by on your way to the organic, all-natural, fat-free, preservative-free whole wheat crackers that you know you should buy. But the shiny red package calls to you, and after about one second of debate, you cave and throw the chocolate-chip wonders into your cart. I’m sure in that instant you were thinking, man I’ve gotta get me some of these cookies because Kraft Foods is such an amazing company, and I can’t get enough of its products.
Or not. You were probably thinking how those soft goodies would be even more amazing after you popped them into the microwave for a few seconds. Because you care about the cookies not the company that sells them. If those cookies ditched Kraft for Other Food Company, you’d move with them, wouldn’t you (unless Kraft snagged an even better competitor cookie with magical chocolate chip powers)?
A recent article by John Hellerman of Hellerman Baretz Communications LLC—a PR company that consults law firms (among other entities)—essentially compares law firms to Kraft and superstar partners to those chewy cookies (you know law firm partners are mushy deep down). Some clients just can’t resist mega partners’ shiny red packaging and legal prowess. And if those partners move to another firm, clients are likely to follow. According to Hellerman,
The names Skadden, Cravath, and Covington all mean something in the marketplace for legal services.
Those firms, however, did not get their reputations through fancy branding campaigns. They developed their “brands” over time through the collective reputations of their individual partners. Because the service of those partners is what clients are interested in, even the finest law firm reputations, built up over decades, remain entirely dependent on the firm’s individual partners.
Hellerman explains that marketing is about the product, and when it comes to law firms, partners are the product. True, a product can build a company’s name and reputation, but in the end it’s that product that draws people. Hellerman cites to the now-dissolved Howrey—a firm for which Hellerman provided PR management from 1996-2001—as an example of name-specific branding: “As Howrey demonstrates, clients don’t hire law firms. And if lawyers are what clients are buying, then they should also be what law firms are selling (i.e., branding, marketing, promoting, advertising, etc.).”
But that doesn’t mean that firms should completely ditch their branding efforts. Yes, they should market their partners’ expertise to clients and potential clients. But the firms are only as good as their attorneys and attorneys that they can attract. According to Hellerman, “[c]ommunicating effectively about the firm to [partners] and its potential members, then, should be viewed as an essential management activity.”
Hellerman’s reasoning makes sense, and I see the various types of firm marketing as a circle. Firms should market themselves to the profession to get the best cookies. They should then implement strategies to keep the cookies. Housing the best cookies will help build the firm name and attract other amazing cookies. These amazing cookies will draw top buyers and, in turn, build a stellar reputation for the firm. So law firms should try to keep their cookies happy because if everyone wants your sweet talent, they won’t care what kind of biscuits the other guy is selling.
Law 360 Article by John Hellerman
ABA Journal Source
BigLaw Firm Howrey LLP to dissolve
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