Creative Corner – The B-Word

by Andy Edelstein on May 18, 2013

Andy Edelstein

Of all the industry categories I’ve encountered over the last few decades, I’ve never seen anything quite like the ambivalence with which law firms greet the word “brand.”

Reactions to the word range, more or less, from grudging acceptance to outright hostility. One COO of my acquaintance actually bans what he calls “the B-word” at his firm.

What accounts for this?

Well, from a marketing standpoint, law firms are unusual, in that there is a built-in tension between the firm itself and the individual attorneys who work there. When the firm’s fortunes rise or fall with those of a few “stars” in their ranks, it’s hard to make the case for a firm brand. A star might be considered a brand, but how much of that brand accrues to the firm? And how much remains if that star picks up and leaves?

On the other hand, a strong brand can do many good things. It can be a law firm’s protection from the loss of any one attorney or practice group. It can serve as the “tie-breaker” in close pitch situations. It can build a “reservoir of goodwill” in the marketplace — a reservoir from which you can draw in leaner times.

But another reason brands are so important is that your firm surely has one, whether you acknowledge it or not. Your firm’s track record, sweet spots, and shortcomings are already out in the marketplace — and they have been for some time. I would collectively call these things a brand, but it doesn’t really matter what you call them — they need to be tended to.

Here’s the point: If you’re not shaping your brand, the marketplace will shape it for you. And you might not like how it comes out.

A brand needs to be built. It needs to be thought through and communicated to the firm’s logical prospects. It needs to transcend the reputation of any one attorney or practice group. It needs to represent — and be based on — the firm “as it really is,” matching your demonstrable strengths to the needs of your market.

“Brand” is a five-letter word, not four. Your firm needn’t think of it as the B-word.

Andy Edelstein is a copywriter specializing in law firm advertising and marketing communications. Reach him at andrew.edelstein@verizon.net.

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