Market to Market: A Commentary

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Market to Market: A Commentary

By Linda Will

With all the buzz about marketing ourselves and our departments, I cannot help but wonder: What is marketing, and is it different from selling?
According to Silvia Coulter, a principal
with LawVision Group, “Marketing is one to many—articles, speeches, sponsorships—and does not offer the same ability to connect with and build individual relationships. It offers the opportunity to meet potential buyers with whom you may follow up. Selling is one to one—individual meetings and relationship-building activities. Selling is the process which directly may lead to new business where marketing is less direct.”

I believe that both are necessary to establish our image and our brand to the firm. So that brings us to how we are perceived in the firm … what is our image, our brand?

In her book 10 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd, Connie Podesta, a nationally known speaker regarding communication, states, “The concept of selling always begins with the ability to communicate in a confident and knowledgeable way.”

So then to establish a brand, you must be succinct about your message. In short, you must own it! The message you are trying to convey must be clear—communication with attitude.

Podesta states:  “It is also very important that you learn how to communicate with the younger generation using their techniques. If not you will find yourself unable to communicate with coworkers, customers, friends and family.”

So how does the “Google generation,” or tomorrow’s library clients, perceive librarians? Are you selling yourself to this group? Do you text with one hand while waiting at the elevator, the other hand clutching a cup of Starbucks? We must communicate with those of the next generation in their style for they have made it very clear they will not adopt ours. They can’t, as their wheels of change accelerate much faster than ours.

We live in a branded world, and those brands own their products and messages. Corporations study their competitors and how they package themselves, and perhaps it would do us well to follow their lead. Corporate America is all about innovative distribution of its products. Apple produces a new innovation every five years. Its brand evolves.

Are librarians seen as innovators? Innovation takes a great deal of energy as it is a game change, a change in the positive for the firm. But it requires escaping the firm’s gravity, and not all administrative departments are up for this endeavor. To be a professional, you must continue to reinvent yourself, to embrace change and vision. What is our vision as a profession?
If attorneys provide legal advice, what do librarians provide to a firm? The value of a lawyer is not just producing legal documents but knowing and explaining them. Is intelligence our brand? Knowledge of the marketplace? Do we exude academia? If so, do we walk the walk and talk the talk? Do we have a brand and an attitude?

What is the librarian walk/talk?
As a profession, we are all about law and timeliness; knowledge management and competitive intelligence; news alerts and vision. We are actually very visionary, but are we labeled as such?

2008 was a year of accelerated change for law firms. Suddenly, the power of pricing for services was in the hands of the clients. The effect of the change spearheaded by market demand required attorneys to deliver services at a better cost. It became obvious that lawyers would not be replaced by technology but rather by lawyers with technology. Law firms had to grow entrepreneurship, a talent not offered or taught in law school.

There is an argument that vendors are beginning to forget us, that they are forging their own brand without our counsel. They are already starting to circumnavigate us. After all, many of us have lost the part of contract negotiation, and we definitely do not sign the checks. If you wanted to be a successful vendor, wouldn’t you navigate toward the negotiator and check signer?

Because technology is knowledge-based, we will not be a paperless profession, nor will we be a peopleless profession. Being a thought leader requires that we produce intellectual capital that is turned into intellectual property and can therefore be implemented by others. So who are the thought leaders of legal research—librarians or vendors?

When did you last sit down with your local vendor representative and have a heart-to-heart discussion as client to provider? Not a whine-a-thon but a business discussion that produced a business plan? Our relationships with vendors do not have to be adversarial; together, we are building the legal research profession. It is a group effort. They need our ideas and input just as we need theirs. I, for one, would like warnings and alerts about upcoming product changes or introductions of new platforms, merging products, etc., so that I may alert my firm. Being in the “know” before it becomes a known is part of being a librarian. Alerting our firms to new products, platforms, etc., is part of “our watch.”

So when is a vendor not a vendor?
According to Greg Castanias, Jones Day Library partner, as stated in his July 2011 speech to AALL’s  Private Law Libraries Special Interest Section Summit, a vendor is not a vendor “when we permit him to be a business consultant.”

He continued with the following advice to legal vendors: “In the vendor world, there is going to be consolidation—consolidation and elimination. So far, none of you has figured out how you’re going to be the survivor. But I’m going to give you the road map for being on top of the heap when the dust clears. It’s really simple, and it’s the same recipe I just gave to our librarians for dealing with their internal constituents. It’s about service. Client service. As lawyers, our most successful client representations are those where we truly understand our clients, their pressures, their limitations, and their goals, and we can design a ‘bespoke’ representation that is sensitive and attentive to those needs.”

Client service is a brand that most libraries/librarians own. But is that it? “Where’s the beef?” Most law firm administrative departments provide service on some level. So what differentiates us? What splits us off from the administrative pack?

Addressing law librarians and future growth, Castanias said: “Change as opportunity, change as action … I’ve been urging our librarians and our lawyers to view the libraries no longer as spaces but as services. Lots of the same lessons I’ve offered with regard to dealing with your internal clients—the consumers of library services—apply here, too. What you want to know and understand is this: What makes them tick? What are the pressures they are facing in their job of managing the law firm? Are they perceiving you and the libraries as doing the things that need to be done to run a law firm at the highest level?”

I would answer Greg by stating that librarians connect key resources to key processes, a direct positive for the bottom line.

Castanias also said, “You can earn a heck of a lot of gold stars by going to management and saying things like, ‘We don’t need all of this space; would you like some of it back?’ You can also mark yourself as the sort of person management likes (because you help them sleep better at night) by doing things like teaching lawyers how to use the free legal resources that are out there, like Google Scholar. Don’t assume that everyone—or anyone—knows about these things.”

It is easy to get caught up in our closed world of intelligence. As new products emerge, do we analyze them in terms of how they will affect the bottom line for the firm? And not just the present, but future bottom lines, as well. We need to re-establish our strength and talent in negotiating contracts, not just for the now, but for tomorrow. Multiple-year contracts should be created in our favor. After all, as we all know, publishers do not make money off the first sell; rather, they make it off renewals.

Change is not new. “Change management” was not offered on the Mayflower. Our forefathers embraced the unknown. Why, then, are we so timid to adapt new ways, an act instinctive to mankind?

We are legal research. Partnered with legal vendors, we own this brand. This is our place, and this is us. Branding is a win-win, for ourselves and for our profession. I, for one, know that I was meant “to library.”
Linda Will ( is manager of library resources at Thompson & Knight LLP in Dallas.