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Self-Promotion Without the Sleaze

In a recent Slaw marketing column, Is “Humble” in Your Marketing Repertoire? , Steve Matthews noted that although lawyers are often encouraged to focus their marketing on their expertise, it’s counterproductive to actually proclaim yourself as an expert in your marketing materials. As Steve says, “expert status should almost always be bestowed by others, not claimed by you.” He advises that you “let your clients decide that you’re an expert based upon your performance.”

So how do you showcase your performance in your marketing materials without sounding like a blowhard? Instead of talking about your performance, demonstrate it. And always keep your clients in mind when you do so – demonstrate your knowledge and skill in ways that will resonate with your audience.

Some ways to demonstrate your expertise include:

  • Articles , blog posts and books: These demonstrate your expertise in a concrete way by explaining legal concepts or legal news in a way that your audience can understand and relate to. Rather than saying that you know all about 1031 exchanges or that you are an expert in employment law, your articles exhibit that expertise. When written for your target audience (your clients, potential clients and referral sources) in a language they understand, your articles and blog posts reveal your knowledge and grasp of the subject matter – and your ability to communicate it to your clients. And what could be better than to be known as the attorney who ‘wrote the book’ on your area of practice? Even a well done self-published book can go a long way toward establishing your expert status, while acting as a valuable resource for clients.
  • Speaking engagements: Like articles, but one notch better in some ways because the audience gets to see and hear you, rather than just reading what you have to say. Speaking engagements not only showcase your subject matter expertise, but increase the ‘know, like and trust’ factor because clients can see you and see how you communicate verbally (a big part of most lawyers’ practices)
  • Testimonials: Even better than press mentions, testimonials come from ‘the horse’s mouth’ as it were. Testimonials tell the story of a client’s experience with your firm (see my previous marketing column, What Makes a Good Testimonial for a Law Firm Website?) – and they allow your clients to proclaim your expertise for you.
  • Press: Radio, TV or podcast interviews and being quoted in the press, like testimonials, are third party endorsements of, if not your work itself, then at least your expertise. 
  • Case studies/stories about the work you do (or have done) for clients: Sometimes testimonials are inappropriate (or they may be prohibited by your jurisdiction’s ethical rules). In that instance, you may be able to use case studies to tell stories about what you do or have done for clients that will paint a better picture and make your expertise evident. Stories and case studies can bring your practice areas to life.

Most of these ideas are simple enough to do if you are persistent and can deliver quality information that shows how you genuinely help your clients. And that information does not have to be original information – after all, the law is based on precedent – so feel free to do research, borrow information from others, etc. 

All of the above demonstrate your expertise without you having to come out and call yourself an ‘expert.’ But remember: it doesn’t necessarily matter if your audience actually reads the articles, attends the presentations or reads the stories you are mentioned in the press – they see them and you become instantly more credible and authoritative.

For example, although it may seem difficult to get noticed by the press, the fact is that reporters are seeking good sources for stories all of the time. If you want the ‘inside line’ into reporters specifically seeking lawyers to quote for stories, check out the SCG Legal PR Network, which just converted to a free service. Journalists post specific requests for lawyers who can comment on stories or areas of the law. It’s a great way to get noticed and to develop relationships with the press.

One of the books I recommend most often to clients or lawyers who attend my presentations, workshops and seminars is Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus. Klaus’ book includes a handy list of 12 questions to ask yourself to help you build what she calls ‘brag bites’ and ‘bragologues’ (we’ll get to those in a moment) that you can incorporate into your marketing. You can find the complete list at www.bragbetter.com, but two of my favorites are #6 “What career successes are you most proud of having accomplished (from current position and past jobs)?” and #12, “How are you making a difference in people’s lives?”

As Klaus says, the idea is to answer the questions in a way that “creates a vision of you” in the other person’s head. Klaus recommends that every professional create an arsenal of ‘brag bites’ and ‘bragologues’ that they can use in all kinds of different situations. Your brag bites might be more along the lines of a tagline or short sentence or two about what you do that conveys something memorable, while a ‘bragologue’ is more of a story comprised of several sentences or a couple of paragraphs that illustrates something about you or what you do. These ‘sound bytes’ are also great for your written and online marketing materials – smaller “bites” for profiles and bios (like your Twitter bio, for example) and longer ‘bragologues’ that can be used elsewhere (perhaps on your website).

Self-promotion is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be obnoxious or arrogant. Approached as a way to showcase skills, provide value and help clients rather than an in your face marketing pitch it can be not only effective, but enjoyable, too.

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