I’m not a sports fan but have loved baseball since I was a pre-schooler. So I watch the World Series every year regardless of which clubs are playing. This year’s championship got me thinking about some lessons the legal marketing industry can take from the games.
When the plucky Kansas City Royals, with its tiny payroll and no big-name stars, took on the well-heeled San Francisco Giants (whose roster is stocked with marquee players), it struck me there are five things law-firm marketing and business development can learn from the Royals’ terrific – and unexpected – performance.
1. It is not how much you spend but how you spend it
With one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, the Royals spent money wisely. It didn’t blow cash on pricey free agents but rather on its farm system to develop talent in-house, a much-less expensive option. A free agent might cost $10-to-$20-million a year with a three- or four-year contractual commitment while a rookie call-up from Kansas City’s minor league system got paid “only” $500,000.
A law firm doesn’t need to outspend competitors to have impact. Rather, allocate money to a smart social media strategy for developing and implementing a strong Twitter presence. Create an interesting blog, post new items weekly, and then promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn. Avoid sponsorships that don’t offer leveraging opportunities. Refrain from buying ads or listings in the myriad of directories that no one uses.
2. Don’t be afraid of being different from everyone else
No one confuses the Royals with the Yankees, and it doesn’t try to be the Bronx Bombers. The difference was one of their post-season strengths. The Royals play on the biggest field in baseball where speed, not home run power, is a key advantage. Its 112,000-square-f00t outfield equals 52 median-sized single family homes so it needs fast fielders, not lumbering power hitters. Having speedy runners also meant the team was adept at stealing bases and running out infield singles so it could manufacture runs rather than rely on home runs to score.
Too much law marketing is copycat. With every firm claiming to be “experienced,” “client focused” and “value-driven,” no one is saying anything different. Indeed, to most clients these qualities are just the price of admission. Figure out what makes your firm unique, and promote that endlessly. For example, the Letourneau law firm in Alberta does only flat fee billing so its website announces “The End Of Time” on its home page. Something sets you apart from competitors; use that to market the firm so you’re not just “experienced” like everybody else.
3. Use your personality as a marketing tool.
Royals players are mostly young with off-beat personalities. In promoting ticket sales, the team used that youth to break through the clutter of entertainment options open to people in the area.
Vancouver’s Miller Teterle challenges competitors by declaring on its homepage, “The traditional way of practicing law is broken. What are we doing about it?” The site then explains why the firm truly is different from others practicing in the same areas. Its lawyer bio pages show personality, too, noting that one was a two-time Olympic speed skater, another posed for what became a comic book superhero character and a third worked as a pastry chef. The firm uses the intriguing personalities of its individual lawyers as a competitive advantage.
4. Connect with fans – clients – in a real and meaningful way.
Many major leaguers are notoriously stand-offish. The Royals made sure their players signed autographs and posed for selfies, not just before a game but also when someone recognized them on the street. It also replies to Twitter messages; I live in Toronto but they responded to a “good luck” tweet I sent before Game 1 of the Series.
Too many lawyers come across as being as unapproachable as celebrity athletes, thinking their job is only to produce documents, close a deal or argue a case, and send an invoice. This attitude is reflected on LinkedIn where many lawyer profiles simply list the firms where they’ve practiced; many don’t even bother to list the kind of work they do for clients such as corporate or tax, and they skip the summary section entirely. Likewise, Twitter is used as billboard to shout “Me!” at the world. None of this does anything to build a genuine relationship with anyone. To connect in a meaningful way, one law firm invites clients to lunch with key lawyers on the company’s file, telling them the meter is turned off because the firm simply wants to learn about the plans executives have made for the next 12-to-24 months. That’s a genuine connection.
5. Find creative and unexpected solutions to conventional marketing issues.
The Royals defied much of baseball’s current “conventional wisdom” which says that to win titles a team needs to mix a lot of pricey free-agent pitchers with a line-up stacked with contenders for the batting title. But the Royals had none of those – it hit fewer home runs than any other team in baseball and, other than for a mid-season trade, its pitching staff was off everyone’s radar. Instead, its small payroll budget meant it had to go with players who could pepper the outfield with singles and doubles, guys who ran so fast they resembled the Road Runner. The team knew how to manufacture runs by taking advantage of other team’s mistakes and weaknesses. It was a creative solution to solve the traditional baseball problem of how to win.
For lawyers, finding unexpected solutions to conventional business development issues means overcoming their natural inclination to be risk-averse. For example, most law firm websites are thick with text giving long explanations about their depth in, say, mergers or finance despite a growing body of research showing that people prefer watching information rather than reading it regardless of age, education, income level and professional group. So, Los Angeles’ Allen Matkins uses very little text on its website, substituting well-produced, three-to-five minute videos for dense copy explaining its services.
Following these five ideas won’t guarantee success, any more than the Royals could guarantee during spring training in March that they would be in the World Series come October. But they will give any firm, regardless of size, a launching point in out-maneuvering and out-playing competitors who spend more, seemingly do more, and yet end up being confused in the minds of clients and prospects.
Fielding a winning major league baseball team may seem light years away from marketing a law practice or firm. Yet the same underlying principles hold true for both, and it doesn’t matter if you are trying to win a new client or a World Championship.
Flickr photo via Keith Allison
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