Top 10 Rules to Marketing a Law Firm Merger or an Existing “Branch” office (Part II).

by Ross Fishman
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Last week we detailed five marketing and reputation challenges faced by smaller or newer “satellite” offices of prominent law firms. (BTW, accounting and all other professional-services firms confront these same issues.)

We discussed the very real struggles newly merged firms face in rebranding an historic local firm under the new big-firm name. Even major national firms often have extremely limited local awareness or name recognition in new markets. The net effect of this is reduced client-development success, weak lateral hiring, and stagnant growth.

We continue with points 6-10 below:

6.  Demand more from your marketing.

Start with a chip on your shoulder and you’re more likely to succeed.  That “We’re pleased to announce that [firm] opened a [city] office” wedding announcement-styled card you mailed to the entire local bar got tossed out without registering on a single busy lawyer’s brain. A bland, one-off mailing never convinced anyone of anything. Law firms do interesting, important work. Ensure that your marketing conveys that, and in such a visually powerful way that viewers can’t help but notice and remember it.

Your marketing must grab your viewers by the lapels and shake them.  It must jump off the page and tell a compelling story. While sorting through the day’s mail, we first separate “junk” from “must read.” Every single mailer will be perceived as junk mail unless the recipient finds it so unique, powerful, or fascinating that they can’t help but read it. Compare some of the 100 examples at  fishmanmarketing.com/results to your existing marketing. Is yours equally eye catching? If not, then re-read point #2 above from last week’s post.

7. Imagine marketing is a leaky bathtub.

Name recognition is accomplished once enough activities have been undertaken to overflow the tub. Most firms trickle the water in slowly year after year, hoping a little bit at a time will gradually fill it. Time fades memories, so this strategy generates little actual gains. Spending the same total marketing dollars more effectively, with a bold strategy and effective execution could have filled it with a fire hose―and helped accomplish their recruiting goals quickly.

8.  So why don’t most firms pursue an effective strategy?

There are many reasons. Skepticism regarding marketing, lack of leadership, weak commitment, internal me-first politics, tight budgets, or an indifferent wait-and-see attitude. Most often it’s caused by the mistaken belief that “the market knows us.” It can be difficult for the leaders of large firms to imagine the suffocating professional anonymity experienced by new or small offices.

Firms come to town with a grandiose goal of swiftly building a dynamic office in a vibrant legal market. They buy a well-known, 25- or 50-year-old Chicago-based firm (whoever’s left, basically), promising cross-selling opportunities with impressive clients, a regional or national platform to sell to their existing clients, and significant marketing support.

The typical rebranding plan looks like this:

(1) host a 2.5-hour after-work launch party for clients and contacts,
(2) run the firm’s standard print ads for three months, and
(3) create a temporary Chicago-only logo laid out as “BIG FIRM Small Firm,” after which “Small Firm” disappears forever.

BIG FIRM Small Firm Merger sample logo

This plan is destined to fail. It’s structurally inadequate.

This means that the smaller Chicago firm trades the name recognition they’d earned over decades for a big-firm brand that’s largely meaningless in Chicago. The investment in building brand awareness in the new market is almost always insufficient. Consider that after changing the local firm’s name you need to build an entirely new brand in an entirely new market from scratch. And that’s a big challenge. Not insurmountable, but bigger than you might have thought.

9.  Weak rebranding = Weak lateral hiring.CF Carlton Ad Atlanta BEACH Ball Peach boy ad

This slap-dash rebranding plan results in poor lateral recruiting because few top lawyers want to interview with, or move to, a firm they’ve never heard of. Money and synergy are important, but so is ego—laterals want their friends to say “Wow!” not “Who?” when opening their move announcement.

As a marketing and branding consultant, I’ve seen that pattern repeated in dozens of cities nationwide. Five years later the frustrated, struggling lawyers call me directly, bypassing The Home Office, begging for help rebuilding the name recognition that they’d had five years earlier, before the exciting merger. Or they simply lateral over to a better-known firm.

10.  An ineffectual launch squanders your best opportunity.

A merger is so costly—why let the merged firm flounder?  Why not spend a few more bucks up front and front-load its success under the new monicker? Wouldn’t it be better to cause the new local market to exclaim “Hey! What’s going on over there at [Smith & Jones] firm? I want to learn more about them!”CF Carlton Ad Atlanta Suntan sunglass woman quarter

Some years ago, we worked with Carlton Fields, a well-marketed full-service firm, when they opened an office in Atlanta, their first office outside of Florida. They had aggressive growth goals and knew that their success or failure would be directly correlated with their local reputation and the interest they could generate.

With a hard-hitting shock-and-awe marketing strategy, we targeted the vibrant Atlanta legal community, educating them about Carlton Fields’ new move into town, and sharing the story of the firm’s quality skills and award-winning culture.

The net result? More headhunter calls got returned.

Better resumes arrived over the transom. Marketing-oriented lawyers called directly. The acceptance rate increased. The net result? They quickly met their recruiting goals and filled their office space.

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Written by:

Ross Fishman
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