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Remember when George Jetson used to get on his watch/communicator and chat with Jane, his wife, while at the same time checking the stock market to see the closing price of Spacely Sprockets? Welcome to the 21st century and the world of personal digital assistants. While not quite as small as a wristwatch — yet — PDAs are the wave of the future, especially since Handspring Visor is scheduled to deliver a PDA/cell phone all-in-one unit by the end of the year. And while all the hype may not convince you to buy one of these little beauties yourself, you and your firm need to quickly figure out how to offer your Web site information (content in Web-speak) on these hand-held dynamos before your competition does. First, a PDA is simply a small, handheld computer. At the moment, it doesn’t have the power of a laptop, but it makes up for that by being smaller, easier to carry, and faster. Anyone who has ever tried to start (or restart) a laptop while the client was watching will appreciate the split-second timing of ramping up a PDA. The new devices are also cheaper than laptops, which sell for around $2,000. PDAs start at around $150 at the low end, and can easily top $500 at the high end, but at that price you’re also getting wireless capability. That’s right, like the new-age cell phone, PDAs can tap the Internet. “Imagine that you’re sitting in a client meeting, and it’s about time for you to leave to catch a flight,” explains Gill Wagner, president of Honest Selling, a sales and marketing consulting firm. “Want to know if your flight is on time? Fire up your Palm Pilot and check the departure time. Want to know if traffic is jammed between you and the airport, or if there’s a major storm bearing down on you? Check local traffic or weather for that information as well.” And as if the technical capabilities of the device itself weren’t enough, PDA aficionados are a following so loyal that they resemble low-key but dedicated religious evangelists. “I’ve been using computers and modems since the third grade,” notes David Loundy, an Internet attorney at D’Ancona & Pflaum in Chicago. “My Visor is a natural extension of that. I use it for my calendar and e-mail and contacts, and I even store copies of the Trademark and Copyright Acts on it so I can quote directly from the statutes if I need to and quickly get an answer for a client.” Internet lawyers would seem to be obvious proponents of new technology, but attorneys (and other business professionals) from all over are finding the PDA to be a wonderful time-saver. “As I learned how to use my Visor, I realized that I wanted to have my legal content wherever I was without having to lug around a laptop all the time,” says Michael Baker, a founding partner and litigator with Chicago’s Perry & Baker. “This way, I always have the current visa bulletin with me, no matter where I go. I can show it to other immigration attorneys or to clients because it’s always with me.” Baker also has one of the first PDA-savvy Web sites in the legal field ( www.callyourlawyers.com). Internet attorneys and litigators are one thing, you may say, but marketing folks are another. The news is that business people from every industry and from both ends of the food chain are jumping on the bandwagon. “My Handspring Visor is invaluable,” says Mark Pruner, president of Web Counsel, an interactive marketing agency for the legal community. “Besides my schedule, contacts and to-do’s, it captures the expenses that I kept missing. And it even has a few games. But what I’m really lusting after is the soon-to-debut Visor-and-telephone combination. Then I’ll only have one device to carry.” WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOUR SITE While PDAs are the gadget darling of the minute, you may wonder what all the hype has to do with law firm marketing. The answer is: plenty. If large numbers of people are buying these PDAs (and the stock prices of the two front-runners, Palm and Handspring, show they are), then you have an opportunity to communicate with these potential clients and get your message across to them in their favored format — via PDA. And you can look plenty tech-savvy doing it. “Think of it this way. If your clients and their clients are beaming business cards back and forth and scheduling appointments via these small wireless devices, you look pretty 20th century handing these guys a paper business card and opening your date book to schedule an appointment. And if you’re trying to get their Internet business, forget it. You have to walk the talk. If you say you’re high-tech, you have to have the high-tech stuff,” explains Web guru Larry Bodine. Bodine, a former attorney and legal marketer who now runs his own consulting firm, turned his Web page, The LawMarketing Portal ( www.lawmarketing.com) into a PDA-downloadable channel — and you can, too. After all, you’ve already got the content right there on your Web page. Don’t you? CONTENT RULES Before you flip to your Web page to see what might be used, you need to be aware of a few rules about what content works and what doesn’t in the PDA format. UP-TO-THE-MINUTE NEWS Something someone wrote a couple of years ago isn’t good enough. “You must consider that critical information needed right now is the only information people want on hand-held wireless devices,” explains Wagner of Honest Selling. Larry Bodine uses the three newest articles on his Web site. “I include a short synopsis so that people can decide what they want to read,” he explains. Since content is the one thing that consistently brings clients to your Web site in the first place, you may want to be sure that your site is robust enough (read: has enough information) to venture into the PDA realm. SHORTER IS BETTER Think short Web writing for an even shorter attention span. “Your PDA content can include everything from published articles to newsletters and even client memos,” notes Bodine, “but you’ve got to keep it short. Five hundred words is a lot when you’re reading it on a small screen.” Short is also better when it comes to megabytes. “If the piece ends up being 10K, they’ll have to tap the button and wait and wait for it to load,” Bodine adds. “End result — no one will read it.” Clearly, editing is a must for PDA-loadable content, so err on the short side. After all, if your audience likes what they read, they can always come back to your Web site to see the full-length text. CHANGE CONTENT OFTEN Changing content weekly is a must. “This kind of format is excellent for weekly e-newsletters and such,” Bodine notes, “but the content has to change at least weekly or people won’t come back.” This is where a great idea can become a nightmare. If you thought tech clients would consider you behind the times if you gave them a paper business card, just wait until you proclaim your incredible tech-knowledge with that PDA site and then send the same content week after week. Remember, consistent follow-through is as much of a virtue in the Web world as it is in the real one. SETTING UP A PDA CHANNEL So you’re ready, willing, and able to create and maintain a PDA channel with cutting-edge information, short articles, and revolving content, but how do you begin? “One of the top PDA content sites on the Web is AvantGo.com,” says Bodine. “That’s where I went when I wanted to offer my content on the Web. It took about six weeks or so, but it was a great move because there are so few other law firms doing it right now.” According to Bodine, he went to the AvantGo site ( www.avantgo.com) and filled out an application form to be a content provider. AvantGo checked out his site and sent him a contract to sign. “I signed the contract,” Bodine says, “and read their online tech manual so that I could set up my PDA site correctly. I set everything up, got my PDA site critiqued, and my site went live. Now anyone who adds my channel to their list of downloaded sites will get the latest LawMarketing articles every time they sync their Palms.” Bodine offered a few tips for setting up a PDA site. STRIP OUT ALL GRAPHICS, LINKS, AND JAVA CODING Because most PDAs are viewable only in black and white, graphics are wasted. They are also time-consuming to download. “You can leave the actual URLs [Web addresses] in the document,” Bodine explains, “but they can’t be live.” In addition, Bodine advises that you don’t include anything on your site that has animation or Java scripting because it doesn’t translate to PDAs. ADD SPECIFIC HTML CODING “I just had to add a few Palm-friendly codes,” Bodine says. “If you can’t do that for yourself or don’t have the personnel at your law firm, whoever is hosting your Web site can probably lend a hand.” The AvantGo site has the specific codes you need to add, but the HTML just makes the PDA download your content faster. CREATE A SPECIFIC DIRECTORY “Creating a separate directory just makes it easier for your content to be downloaded,” Bodine says. It’s also a requirement for AvantGo. The directory doesn’t necessarily need to be huge, but it does have to be separate and set aside for your PDA content. Again, see the AvantGo Web site. AvantGo’s other requirements are that you trim your content way down (see Content Rule #2) and don’t include advertisements — which isn’t an issue for law firm Web sites anyway. While it would be easier to assume that the Palms and Visors and all the other PDAs are tick-tick-ticking their way past the allotted 15 minutes of fame, the truth is that they are just the beginning. “Palms and like devices are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Wagner of Honest Selling. Whatever comes next, you can be sure that it will be smaller, lighter, and faster, with more and more memory to perform more and more functions. And, like the cell phone before it, these new devices will become a necessity of business — including the law business — instead of a cooler-than-thou tech toy. While the PDA may never get quite as small as George Jetson’s watch, it will be just as useful. One of the most surprising facts about the PDA world so far is that so few law firms have figured it out. So if you want to edge out your own version of Cogswell’s Cogs (Spacely’s biggest competitor) in the race for PDA space, you’ve got to market for the future. Otherwise, you’re strictly 20th century. Heather z. Hutchins is a free-lance legal marketing writer. Before starting her own business, she worked as a marketing manager at d’ancona & pflaum in chicago. She can be reached at [email protected].

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