By Shel Holtz and John C. Havens
I recently noticed a new television commercial for Domino’s Pizza, in which the company lays bare the perception that its pizza is bland and then describes new changes to the recipe, closing with an invitation to try the new Domino’s. That’s some transparency. But in today’s world, dominated as it is by social media, no company could credibly pretend to be unaware of discussions about it.
We’ve probably all seen the emails, watched the videos, or heard the audios in which a clueless or uncaring company drives a customer to fury — fury that produces a social media backlash. In the old days, we’d have been limited to telling a few friends (studies show that on average we tell seven others about negative experiences and tell only three others about positive ones), and they’d tell a few friends, and the word would get out…Slowly, and in limited distribution. Today, though, as Tactical Transparency describes, feedback can spread like wildfire, and corporations’ only choice is how to handle that feedback.
Tactical Transparency opens with one story about Sony’s having launched a blog purportedly written by a boy named Charlie who wanted to help his friend Jeremy get a PSP for Christmas. Readers quickly discovered that the blog was the creation of a marketing agency and lambasted it as lame and offensive, though Sony denied the deception until it finally had to own up to it. A second story describes a blogger who wrote a series of posts describing his problems with Dell’s computer service and technical support. His odyssey was followed by hundreds and Dell’s reputation (and stock price) suffered, until Dell saw the light and launched its own blog, Direct2Dell, which talked openly about problems and worked to resolve them. Unlike Sony, Dell’s reputation improved as a result.
The message: people – your customers and clients and those considering doing business with you will talk, and you’d better listen and respond. Though the facts are considerably different, this message is illustrated in the legal community through the many blog sites and posts that tracked layoffs last year and accused firms of conducting “stealth layoffs.” It’s continuing now in discussions about which firms are cutting salaries and how much. There’s been much speculation that some firms will be impacted by reduced loyalty from lawyers who watched colleagues sent packing and from law students who take the lessons of the last two years as an indication that they’d better keep their options open and trust nothing. And it goes both ways, as witnessed by lawyers and summer associates who’ve left their own career-tanking tracks in unflattering emails that can be sent around the world with just a few clicks.
The authors of Tactical Transparency suggest that the new reality of transparency has arisen thanks to the twin trends of declining trust in “business as usual” and the rising public scrutiny of business due to social media. Tactical Transparency goes to the heart of the matter, examining the practical steps a business can take to be “sincerely but prudently” transparent with its stakeholders about its leaders; its employees; its values; its culture; the results of its business practices; and its business strategy. The authors identify four characteristics of transparency, which may be applied in varying degrees to meet varying needs: Objectivity, Purpose, Esteem (for your stakeholders and your customers), and Navigation, which neatly form the acronym OPEN.
Tactical Transparency discusses transparency in a variety of contexts, many of which are aplicable to lawyers, but I’d highlight one as being particularly critical: relationship orientation. In other words, at least in part due to the rise of social media, business must look at the clients or customers in the context of relationships rather than one-off transactions. This is certainly a key concept for lawyers whose clients may have more than one legal need that they (or their firms) might meet. Tactical Transparency recommends seven steps to design relationship-focused marketing:
- Get specific. Make sure your comments connect with this potential client and ensure that you understand his or her specific situation.
- Make small talk big. Lawyers sometimes wonder how much to ask in the context of growing a relationship. Small talk is the starting point.
- Make your pitch interactive. Don’t tell a potential client how you’ll solve the problem. Have a conversation about possible approaches and solicit input.
- Give a call to action. This is marketing language for requesting a next step, and it can be as simple as offering to sit down and discuss how some event or legal development might impact your potential client’s situation and how you might help.
- Write down a connection point. The authors suggest that you demonstrate that you listened and tried to help with something not directly connected to a sale. If that’s not applicable (because sometimes your conversations will be quite sharply focused on the legal needs), simply demonstrate that you listened intently and how you’ve connected your background or approach to the potential client’s needs.
- Practice good timing. There’s an art to finding how to move a conversation forward without pushing it. Learn and apply that art.
- Follow up.
- Partnering versus closing. Think of working together with a client to achieve identified objectives rather than landing a new client. The distinction may be subtle, but the transparency you demonstrate in placing your focus on the service to this specific client will bolster your relationship. Moreover, in my experience, it’s also likely to increase your willingness to engage in rainmaking activities.
Although the key lesson I draw from Tactical Transparency has to do with business development, the book is wide-ranging in its discussion of social media and its applicability to business. If you participate in any kind of social media or if you’re considering stepping into the world of social media, this book will provide plenty of brain candy as you think about building your reputation with new social platforms.