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The art of bringing the good news

20 February 17

The Word of Gold: keeping the bull out of bulletins is a trick worth practising

by Stephen Gold

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. George Bernard Shaw

"Let’s keep in touch” sounds easy, but even when we mean it, few promises are so easily broken. In our personal lives, we may get away with sloth, but in business, not reaching out regularly to clients and contacts is always costly. Relationships wither. Opportunities are missed. Competitors pounce.

We know the risks, but often struggle to find ways of keeping in the kind of regular contact clients welcome. Professional firms face particular challenges. To appear “salesy” is death. Marketing communications have to ooze authority, be relevant to every recipient, and entertain as well as inform. The best firms have invested heavily in mastering the art, but in general, lawyers blench when faced with having to create material that hits the spot. So they avoid it, or form rotas, so that no one has to do it very often. Trainees find the responsibility dumped in their quivering laps, as something “good for your development,” with little support or guidance. The result is the growth of a dense, damp forest of “newsletters”, “briefings” and “updates”, containing some of the most buttock-clenching material in the history of recorded prose. It does not have to be like this.

Often, the challenge seems daunting because we misunderstand the task. Nine times out of 10 it is not to produce a tome. There are exceptions (Brexit for example), which have such profound implications for our business and private lives that clients crave detailed analysis. The same goes for significant legislation or especially important judgments. But by definition, these are exceptions to the general rule that our audience is time poor, with a short attention span. They want information from their lawyers in the same form as other aspects of their lives: in bite-size chunks, quickly and easily digested. By a happy coincidence, what they most need is most easily provided.

Personal touches

What works best? In my view, good old-fashioned email is hard to beat. Used adroitly, it is a potent way to build enduring personal relationships.

It has an inherent directness and intimacy. Like all tools, the results depend on how well you use it. Here are a few simple guidelines to keeping clients loyal and interested:

  • Before setting finger to keyboard, segment your database into interest groups. One size does not fit all. If recipients have to wade through oceans of irrelevant sludge to find the odd nugget, they will soon be clicking “Unsubscribe”.
  • Write like a journalist, not a lawyer. Use short words and sentences. Complex language and jargon just make the author look elitist, verbose, or worst of all, not very bright. Tell stories; within the constraints of confidentiality, bring dry facts to life and reinforce the firm’s credentials by talking about your or colleagues’ experiences of interesting deals, transactions or cases.
  • Little and often is best – a punchy 500 words on a stimulating topic, once or twice a month, will build an enthusiastic audience more effectively than a quarterly leviathan.
  • Not everything must be, or indeed should be, about the law. Market trends, economic news, national or international events placed in a local or sectoral context, are all rich sources, and show lawyers as people of the world, not insular technocrats.
  • Adopt an informal tone and send everything from someone who has a close relationship with the recipient, not impersonally from the firm. “Hi... it’s Tarquin/Araminta here,” is infinitely better than “Dear Client, In the latest edition of Pleading Obvious, this firm’s periodic bulletin, we...”
  • Make a dedicated space – phone/laptop/notebook – to jot down ideas as they come to you, and also make a dedicated space to write in the evening or on the weekend. Cramming it into a working day will deliver predictably poor results.
  • Every time, include contact details and a link to your website, LinkedIn and social media pages. Encourage feedback and make it seamless for readers to be in touch with you.
  • For distribution, use a provider such as MailChimp, which allows you to track who has clicked, and which topics generate most interest. Use this intelligence to follow up with clients and make informed choices for future material.

Finally, if in-house production is impossible, good outsource providers are available, but you need to supervise and collaborate closely with them. Everything you send must feel bespoke, closely reflecting the clients’ interests and the personality of the firm.

Producing quality material consistently takes thought, skill and unrelenting commitment. But the rewards in sustained influence with the people who matter most to the business will repay the effort many times over.

Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally.  e: stephen@stephengold.co.uk; t: 07968 484232; w: www.stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @thewordofgold

 

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