Thanksgiving and the art of strategic communication

Thanksgiving is only a few short weeks away here in Canada. Unlike our American friends, who mark the occasion on the fourth Thursday of November, we celebrate our earlier harvest on the second Monday in October. Either way, that leaves plenty of advance time to remind you of one of Matt Homann’s best marketing insights: send your clients Thanksgiving cards rather than Christmas or holiday cards.

Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to offer your clients a genuine “Thank you for being our client” greeting from the entire firm. The holiday itself reinforces the message to your clients. A win-win. … How many Thanksgiving cards did you get last year? That’s what I thought. Your clients don’t get them either. That’s why yours will stand out. It is also why yours will be talked about.

If you’ve struggled with the right kind of December holiday card to send — or worse, received an inappropriately-themed card from a service provider yourself — you can appreciate why this is such a clever and insightful suggestion. I’ll be doing it this year and I’d recommend you do the same.

But my focus here at Stem Legal is on communications, and I’d like to build on Matt’s idea to talk about the importance of a communications strategy. Sending Thanksgiving cards to clients is the mark of a firm that has thought through how it interacts with clients and why — a firm that is determined to use communication as a market differentiator and a client development tool.

Very few law firms think this way. For the great majority of firms, communication is an autonomic side effect of doing business, kind of like expelling carbon dioxide when you breathe. These firms communicate when they need to, and what they communicate seldom varies from the industry standard. Setting aside “non-lawyer” things like ordering supplies or paying the gas bill, as well as personal interactions like boardroom meetings, CLE presentations or on-campus interviews, they include:

  • client work product
  • letters, phone calls and emails regarding work product
  • client bills
  • newsletters and blogs
  • a website
  • social media updates
  • press releases
  • recruitment brochures

These categories encapsulate maybe 90% of a law firm’s organizational interactions with its clients and the legal marketplace generally. What’s interesting is that the unique or distinguishing features of these interactions — those elements that mark these communications as unmistakably coming from XYZ firm — are virtually zero. Remove the letterhead from a legal opinion, hide the logos on a website, black out the firm name from a news release, and most clients (and many lawyers) would struggle to identify its origins.

Law firm communications are generic, and if I may go further, they’re also usually bland, stiff, bloodless and unengaging. And when I see a field where most participants are going through the motions, I see the chance to own that field.

Many law firms have a strategic plan. Many also craft a strategy to address business development, and some have strategies for recruitment, lawyer development, and even social media. But the one thing that every single law firm does every day, often without any direction or even conscious thought, is communicate, and rarely is any strategy attached to it.

A law firm communications strategy, therefore, is an opportunity — a chance to differentiate the firm not just by what it communicates to its clients and competitors, but how it communicates and why. Taking communication off autopilot and placing it in the hands of an active strategy is a potentially tremendous weapon in a firm’s competitive arsenal.

My last several posts here at the Law Firm Web Strategy blog have focused on law firm communications, specifically on the kind of habitual, rote, we’ve-always-done-it-this-way communications that characterize many law firms’ output. Going forward, I’ll be identifying ways in which you can use your communications to stand out in your marketplace, as part of a new and specialized Strategic Communications offering. Stem is an online strategy company, and in the Net-powered marketplace, the line between what we do online and offline has blurred. All your communications, no matter what they are, must be strategic now.

If you’d like to talk more about this area or find out more about what we can do for your firm, please drop me a line. Until then, you still have time to go pick up those Thanksgiving cards.

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