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INSIGHT: Covid-19 Pivot Point—Top Law Firm CMOs Give Communication Tips

May 5, 2020, 8:01 AM

During this pandemic, inboxes are flooded with emails featuring news, updates, modified procedures, and added benefits. To call legal communications in times of Covid-19 challenging would be an understatement.

I spoke with chief marketing officers at some of the largest firms to curate guidance on what strategies and tactics legal marketers are finding most effective in this uncertain climate.

This collective insight comes from CMOs who are experiencing some of the highest open and participation rates ever recorded for emails, reports, webinars, and other virtual offerings. I share this advice so that we are all better positioned for growth when the health threat subsides.

Insight 1: Think and Act Comprehensively

Bring representatives from across all departments and disciplines together to shape better ideas and decision making. Legal marketing departments, that generally have a broad view of firms’ businesses, are helping bring collective perspectives to the table. Thinking comprehensively also includes the voice of the client. Gather client input and feedback to inform strategy and tactics; develop external and internal communications vehicles; and create talking points for clients, attorneys, and staff.

Barbara Malin, chief business development and marketing officer of Jackson Walker, shared with me that because the firm’s clients are facing a new reality that has shifted all of their priorities, legal marketers are serving as client advocates within their firm. They are facilitating collaboration, as well as helping focus lawyer attention on urgent business needs, such as dealing with emergent issues and assistance with new legal issues that didn’t exist a month ago.

Insight 2: Stay Abreast of Client Industry News

Clients need access to resources on their most pressing concerns, and it is important that lawyers be the eyes and ears that source market concerns. Legal marketing teams help lawyers who are logging long hours stay up to speed with what clients are facing and what the expected impact in various industries will be.

Jill Weber, chief business development officer of Quarles & Brady, relayed to me how their primary focus is on direct outreach with clients to answer questions and provide insights on emerging Covid-19 legal issues. Her team is advising attorneys on how to navigate their clients’ questions on legal topics that may be outside their areas of expertise.

Insight 3: Deliver Content Efficiently With Sensitivity and Solutions

Clients want to receive information that is useful and genuine. It also must be delivered with care. First, determine what the priority messages should be for each audience—clients, associates and partners, professionals within the firm, and the media. By virtue of legal marketers’ experience as professional communicators, their focus is on a valuable exchange of information.

When creating alerts in this very crowded Covid-19 environment, consider who your intended audience is, what their primary issues are, what legal services will solve their problems, and what are the calls to action.

Tricia Lilley, chief marketing and business development officer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, emphasized to me that the crux of all client relationships are strong, clear, authentic communications.

Insight 4: Don’t Push, but Don’t Ignore Business Development

While now isn’t the right time to aggressively pursue new business, it is a time consider what your clients’ needs will be post-Coronavirus. Day-to-day demands for legal needs are keeping us all busier than ever, and efforts may be focused on keeping up with the immediate demand.

Yet, marketers also are coaching lawyers on how to conduct business development virtually. The same tools being shared with clients, such as tip sheets and webinars, are being used to assist with client outreach either directly or in conjunction with partners.

Deborah Ruffins, chief marketing officer at Perkins Coie LLP, told me that on the leadership front, her focus is to maintain client service, sustain business development, focus on the economy, and pivot resources where they are needed.

Insight 5: Stay in Touch Personally

There is no substitute for staying in touch with your clients. Call them. Offer to help, listen, be supportive. Let them know you are there if they need you – personally or professionally.

Clients are facing a greater need for legal counsel than at almost any time in the recent past, given this unprecedented disruption of business. Let them know you understand the impacts of the specter of economic instability, the daily legislative and regulatory developments, the adjustments that employers have been required to make in the ways that they engage with their workforce, and the long-term changes that are sure to arise from this crisis.

Adam Severson, chief marketing and business development officer at Baker Donelson, shared that because their clients’ inboxes are overflowing with Covid-19 communications, making a phone call helps them stand out.

For many clients and law firms, Covid-19 will be a pivot point for operations, employee relations, risk management, and so much more. Lawyers and law firms who also pivot to taking full advantage of the expertise of their marketers whose background encompasses many other skills—sales, analytics, and research, to name a few—will be in the best position to make the most of the economic boom that will eventually follow.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Danielle Holland is executive director of the Legal Marketing Association where she oversees the strategic initiatives of the association, and leads the teams executing them.

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