Can a database tell your firm’s story better than you?

The following post is a reprint of a guest post I wrote for the Moire Marketing Blog on January 24, 2011.

By Debra Baker

My first job in legal marketing was as a “writer” for Heller Ehrman. They wanted someone with a law degree who could work with the attorneys to strengthen their messaging. At the time I was a senior writer for the ABA Journal and was doing pro bono work on the side. The fit seemed perfect.

As a reporter I was always looking for stories, so that is the approach I took when working with the practice group leaders to develop copy. I asked the basic questions to better understand what they did and  what made them different. For example:

  • So how many M&As have you done in the last five years?
  • What size deals do you handle?
  • Do you represent the buyer or the seller?
  • In what industries are you strongest?

What I quickly learned was, like many firms, Heller didn’t have a writing problem – they simply lacked enough data to tell a good story. The firm had gone through so much growth that they no longer knew all the great work that they were doing as a firm.

That’s where database marketing comes in.

At Heller, I worked with several partners to create a database to manage and track key matters. This not only allowed us to create compelling marketing copy, it became the foundation of building out the business development arm of the firm.

Without an experience database that allows you to quickly access representative experience or compile important metrics like trial experience or deal flow, you lose the opportunity to effectively validate your marketing message and firm value proposition. What’s more, you end up in a legal marketing Ground Hog Day, where it’s “first time every time” with each new pitch or initiative that comes along.

Experience databases are a critical component of the legal marketing and business development mix, but far too often law firms avoid such projects because they feel like they will be too resource intensive and costly. The biggest challenge is turning the need into execution. Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Define your goal. Determine up front what you are trying to accomplish and what data you need to be successful. Before you start building something, you need to understand what you want to do with it.
  2. Keep it simple. For large firms in particular, it can be challenging to come up with a set of parameters that will be all things to all practice groups. One of the biggest risks of a database project is spending too much time trying to create the perfect database and, as a result, nothing gets done. Start with version 1.0 that gets you 80% of the way there and then improve upon it.
  3. Find your champions. Marketing cannot do this on its own. You need a directive from your management committee and attorney champions who are going to sell the initiative to the partnership. If the firm as a whole is not committed to the project, it won’t work.
  4. Don’t wait to start collecting current data. When a database gets built you need two things: Historic data that you can use today to tell your story and future collection so your story remains relevant and current. Don’t wait to collect all the historic data before you focus on your ongoing collection. Do it at the same time. It may take six months to collect five years’ worth of data. If you aren’t collecting the current information, you will end up with an outdated database before your start.
  5. Identify a marketing owner. Marketing can’t do it alone, but marketing does need to own both the system and the process. Without a marketing champion, your database will quickly lose steam.

Database marketing is as simple as it is complex. Typically where the rubber meets the road is with the people and the process. You need an organization that is committed to the project. You need a process to maintain the system that is simple and can be executed in a consistent and ongoing way. With an effective experience database you will not only tell a better story about your firm, you will be more efficient and effective in doing it.

Posted on January 24, 2011 in Knowledge Management, Legal Technology, Marketing

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