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Marketing: Legally good for you

Every Issue

Cite as: (2007) 81(12) LIJ, p. 97


Firms need to be smart about how they promote their “good works”.

Many firms offer a variety of services that fall into the “good works” category.

However, there are some “good works” that are appropriate to include in your marketing strategy and your profile plans in particular while there are others that should remain behind the scenes.

The aim of promoting any of these activities – either communicating directly to clients or more generally – is to let people know that your firm doesn’t just provide legal services and charge for them.

In this season of giving, it’s timely to think about what your firm gives back to the community – what it can do better and what it can do more of. [See also “Meeting the Christmas wishlist”, page 34 of this month’s LIJ.]

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is not interchangeable with pro bono, donations or charitable works, although it is often lumped together with them as part of the firm’s “social responsibilities”.

CSR is more about how firms handle themselves internally rather than externally. For example, how an individual firm treats its staff and conducts its business so as to not have a negative effect on the community or the world around it.

Most definitions of CSR say it is about businesses behaving ethically, contributing to local economic development and the social wellbeing of the communities around them.

Most immediately, this can be about how businesses treat their employees to meet this idea.

This is usually where most people overlap the definition with what firms do in terms of pro bono and other contributions to community wellbeing – usually with a great deal of staff involvement.

For some firms, this can be about environmental policies and practices (saving energy, paper use, etc.).

It can also be about supporting other local (or Australian) businesses through the purchase of goods and services – preferring to put any firm expenditure into the local economy wherever possible.

Except in limited ways, being a good corporate citizen should be something that is not done for marketing purposes or as part of a marketing plan.

Since marketing strategies must rest on the foundations of what is “authentic” about a firm, it will not work to introduce CSR strategies in the firm if the objective is just to look like “good guys”.

Firms that live their CSR values find that it permeates everything they do. The marketing value is in the internal promotion to employees who then “live the brand” externally.

Gifts and donations

Gifts and donations should mainly be quiet affairs.

However, they can be used tastefully in marketing your firm at specific times. A common practice now in many corporates and law firms is to replace paper Christmas or seasonal greetings cards with an e-card and donate the money they would have spent to a charity – noting this on the e-card so that those who hate them understand the intent.

On the issue of those cards – at the very least, firms can use the opportunity of that expenditure to purchase cards from a charity so that at least they get a cut of the money. Not great for the forests, but a little better than nothing.

Sometimes a donation or a gift can help a not-for-profit or charity highlight an issue.

So with their permission, both the charity and the firm benefit from any publicity. A good example of this would be the donation of old computers to charitable organisations which recondition and then distribute them to families without; or firms whose staff collect blankets or clothes for donation.

Publicity of the handover can mean the firm benefits from its act of goodwill and charities generally recognise the double benefit – the actual gift or donation, and the ability to promote the fact they need more assistance from the community.

And don’t underestimate your pulling power with your clients. It may be that the way you help out is to ask your clients to join you in helping a local organisation or charity.

This can mean a lot to the charity involved, and your clients.

Your firm doesn’t need to be a gatekeeper or collector – it can simply ask clients to consider taking an action and supporting the cause directly.

Just make sure you get the okay from the charity first lest your good intentions are ill-timed.

Pro bono

Lawyers understand pro bono and some firms regard it as the beginning and end of their community contribution as a practice.

This is arguable, but equally, all firms should have a portion of their practice that provides pro bono.

It is interesting to note that in the legal profession, younger lawyers seem keen on being involved in pro bono.

A firm’s commitment to pro bono can also be incorporated into a marketing plan – either in overall terms in an edition of a client newsletter once a year, or by promoting, from time to time, the firm’s involvement with a specific organisation.

For example, a firm that provides lawyers for a set time each week to a community legal service, or takes on clients that are referred from a local agency, such as a refuge or health service, can appropriately promote this connection.

to do this month

  • Do you know what your firm does on the fronts raised in this column? If not, find out.
  • What activities and actions have worked for the firm? For the staff involved?
  • Are any of those activities appropriate to publicise and, if so, when and via what means?

ALICIA PATTERSON is the Director of House Communications. She was previously the LIV Head of Marketing and can be contacted on ph 8611 8188 or http://www.house-communications.com.

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