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As the competition for new clients intensifies, creative business development is becoming the name of the game. Small firms that are building their marketing efforts need to be sure that they aren’t doing themselves a disservice by not taking advantage of some of the more basic tools, such as a firm newsletter. A newsletter can be a very effective way to raise your firm’s profile. It helps maintain client relationships and informs readers of legislative changes — about which they will, ideally, seek your counsel. THE BASICS Of course, content will vary depending on the practice and the intended audience. However, there are some general guidelines: Coverage: If you’re uncertain about readers’ expectations, conduct a survey. Keep it simple, and focus on preferences regarding content, length and distribution method. Audience: Develop a mailing list from an in-house list of established and potential clients. Create a sign-up form on your Web site and assure anyone who registers that you will protect the privacy of their information. Finally, be sure to include instructions on how to unsubscribe in each newsletter. Note: Don’t succumb to the temptation to send unsolicited e-mail using purchased lists. Format: As a rule of thumb, keep articles short (250-450 words). Break the text by using graphics, bullets and numbering, and simplify any legalese. Tone: Be cautious not to oversell the firm. Prospective clients will make judgments based solely on your newsletter. A key objective is to remind readers of your services, as well as to educate, inform and promote. But promotion does not mean a hard sell, which can actually discourage inquiries. Aim for 80 percent content and 20 percent soft sell. An example of a soft sell might be incentives or discounts given to clients who refer new business. INFORMATION TO INCLUDE Include firm announcements, profiles of attorneys and news briefs on breaking legislation or events. In 2004, Charleston, S.C., torts firm Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman began issuing Disclosure, a quarterly newsletter that is designed and assembled by ad agency Rawle Murdy & Associates. Disclosure readers are most often lawyers that the firm works with or has worked with in the past. Some 95 percent of its mass tort cases are referred by other lawyers. Disclosure‘s content provides news, statistics and information on the latest causes of action. For example, the Spring 2004 issue opened with a story on Zyprexa, the top-selling schizophrenia drug, which was recently linked to diabetes. That article generated a number of calls and led to partnerships with co-counsel on cases involving the drug. Family Matters, a newsletter from the nine-lawyer Phillips, Lerner & Lauzon in Los Angeles includes articles written by various professionals. For example, a recent issue included an accountant’s guidance on the tax treatment of stock options that must be divvied up in a divorce. VARIED AUDIENCES Organization, structure and tone will be driven by the content and target audience. Three years ago Pamela Ringquist was hired as marketing director for Sarasota, Fla.-based Williams Parker Harrison Dietz and Getzen. One of her first tasks was to create a newsletter for the 46-attorney firm. She developed The Legal Update, which has a section for each division of the firm: real estate, business, estate trusts and litigation. Sometimes a single newsletter may not be enough. Michaud, Buschmann, Mittelmark, Millian, Blitz, Warren & Coel in Boca Raton has two divisions: One represents doctors against malpractice claims, where insurers have an interest, while the other represents doctors in contractual and regulatory matters. The 15-attorney firm publishes two quarterly newsletters. The Medical Malpractice Monitor, which includes articles on malpractice issues, is sent to about 1,000 doctors and some 200 insurance claims adjusters. Health Law Trends, which offers articles on changing laws governing medical practices, is sent only to the doctors. E-MAIL OR HARD COPY There’s no consensus about whether a newsletter should be distributed as a hard copy, via e-mail or both; marketing experts say that it depends on the working styles of the recipients. Many firms use an e-newsletter format that includes regular distribution plus quick-hit bulletins that alert readers to breaking news. Don’t send attachments or special formatting, such as RTF or HTML files, unless your readers want the information in this format. If in doubt, offer your readers two versions. Michaud Buschmann discovered that although it was cheaper to e-mail newsletters, many of the doctors preferred a hard copy. In addition, e-mail limits the ability to convey the firm’s image through sophisticated packaging, e.g., heavy paper stock in a gatefold. RATE OF RETURN How effective are newsletters? It’s almost impossible to measure says Malcolm Crossland, a member of The Steinberg Law Firm, a worker’s compensation outfit based in Charleston, S.C. “I simply have a gut feeling that it’s working,” he says of his firm’s newsletter, In Brief, which has been distributed for nearly five years. In the end, for a newsletter to be most effective, you’ll need to establish a publication schedule and stick to it. A newsletter can only become a useful resource if readers can rely on consistent delivery. Paramjit Mahli is managing director of New York, N.Y.-based Sun Communications Contact him at [email protected]

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