I recently attended a networking event at which two of the participants were given the opportunity to make short presentations about what they do and what kind of business they’re seeking. I felt that both struck out because they didn’t have a clear message or, in marketing speak, a clear brand.
The first speaker is a partner in a small investment firm. He explained that he had previously been an analyst at an institutional investment company and he had left with the aim of bringing to smaller investors the kind of company research that’s available to large investors. He regaled us of stories of companies his clients had invested in that had shot up in value in just a few months. (Of course, I wondered about the investments he didn’t mention that hadn’t performed so well.)
That was all by way of background. This gentleman’s real topic was a plan he has to pool investments from smaller investors to create a kind of angel fund to invest in start ups. The problem was that this part of the presentation was not well developed and got subordinated to the longer discussion of the great benefits he was already bringing his existing clients. We couldn’t be sure if he was looking for more regular investment clients, and if so, who they should be, or if had gotten bored with this part of the business and just wanted to focus on his angel investing concept. And with respect to that concept, it seemed like he was a bit premature going public since we left with no idea about how we could participate or whether we would want to do so. Actually, since participating would mean risking our money, I guess we did know the answer to the last question.
The second speaker was a corporate attorney in a medium-sized law firm. She told us about the range of work she does, including acting as general counsel for businesses too small to have their own in-house counsel, setting up companies, working on licensing agreements for intellectual property, and working with companies going public (though her experience in this realm had occurred more often when she had previously worked as an associate at a larger firm). When asked what she really liked dong best and what type of work she was seeking, she went through this list again.
In this case, I had the feeling that she had competence in a broad array of corporate law fields, but no special expertise in any of them. She would not come to mind before any other corporate attorney. This would not have been the case if she had said, for instance, that her consuming passion was intellectual property and developing agreements between holders of patents and corporations that protected everyone’s interest. While I might be less likely to run into these cases, I would remember her as the person to whom I would refer those that I did run across.
I can appreciate the corporate attorney’s dilemma. She’s happy to get and perform any corporate work, so she wants to spread her net wide. But in doing so, she dilutes her message, making it less likely that her audience will remember what cases to refer to her.
Take my practice as an example. We do the following kinds of work: general estate planning, estate tax planning, elder law, special needs planning, estate administration, guardianship and conservatorship, and personal injury settlement planning. We are delighted to get work in any of these areas. However, while I feel we do a great job for our clients in all of these fields, in many of them a lot of other fine attorneys and law firms in our community also do exemplary work. In contrast, where we already have a strong reputation in our community and more experience than almost all other firms are in the areas of elder law and special needs planning. That’s our brand and that’s what we present whenever we have the opportunity, whether in our marketing materials, our website, or in “elevator” speeches to people we meet.