On Epsiode 62, we have Karin Conroy, founder and creative director of Conroy Creative Counsel. She champions an approach called whole-brained marketing. Her business focuses on web design and digital marketing for law firms. But she found that many lawyers needed to modernize their marketing, and with whole-brained marketing she gives them an approach that balances the rational and creative. She even shares what it’s like to negotiate with an attorney. It’s a challenge, but Karin has navigated it well. We had a fascinating discussion that I’ve divided into two parts. Here’s part one.
Mark: Karin Conroy, welcome to Confessions of a Marketer.
Karin: Thank you, thanks for having me.
Mark: It'll be an interesting chat I think. You've got a really interesting concept, whole brained marketing. What's it all about, and how do you put it into action?
Karin: Well, it's basically about trying to use both sides of your brain. So trying to make sure that the right brain, that's all the creativity, and the kind of artistic, and that side of the unique side, combined with the more technical side, the analytical left brain side, and using both sides to make sure that you are getting to better solutions that consider all of those options, and are more successful.
Mark: And the creative side of the brain, and the rational side, or the analytical side of the brain, the right brain and the left brain are often at odds.
Mark: But they're important to the success of projects, and often one side kind of wins out over the other. How do you balance both, and succeed?
Karin: Well it's tricky, so the kind of work I do is typically online websites, and those are the typical projects, the most common projects I'm working on, and I work with lawyers. So typically I'll get a client who is coming in with an approach that's one side or the other. So they're either coming into me, often on the too creative side, where they just don't know why they're not connecting with their audience, and they see other websites out there, or other marketing campaigns, and they can't quite understand. They have the technical things that all of these other sites have, but they don't understand why it's not working. Or on the too technical side, I get a lot of people coming in, initially talking to me about how one of their competitors, or one of their neighbors, or someone who's talked to them about this kind of end all golden ticket solution of oftentimes it's SEO.
Karin: And so because it's confusing, and it sounds very technical, they think oh well maybe this is the answer, and this is what's going to make me millions of dollars, and this is my lottery ticket. And so all they want to talk about is SEO, and their rankings, and all of those details which are not unimportant, but it's just one piece of the bigger picture. And so in either case, I usually kind of reiterate where they're coming from, so that they know that I at least understand where they're coming to me. But then talk about taking a step backwards, and look at the bigger picture, and talk about their whole marketing approach, and all of their campaigns, and all of their marketing angles, and the work that they're doing to have a more comprehensive approach.
Karin: Oftentimes there isn't a lot more that's involved, and so there's a lot of work that needs to be done. Then at least they have some sense of everything that they're missing, or some sense of it.
Mark: Yeah, and boy the legal profession has kind of been transformed in the last 20, 30 years with advertising. And there's kind of a few categories of attorneys, at least as far as I can tell from things that I've seen, that there's the stayed big firms, there's the small put up your shingle kind of firm. And then there's the wacky ones who try to get attention by doing crazy commercials and things like that. How do you kind of characterize the business these days?
Karin: Well that's a good question, I mean to begin with, most attorneys coming out of law school don't consider themselves a business. They almost consider it this very ... They call themselves advocates, and they find it to be this very kind of artistic, very kind of artistic focused profession where they're going to save the world, or at least a certain group of people. And I have found a similar sort of experience just in designers, and in my background of design. Where they are too heavily focused on that side of the brain that is the creative side, and they don't kind of see it as a business. And they don't go to the efforts to create a business, and do all those analytical things to make a plan, and have goals, and logic behind your decisions and all of those things.
Karin: So I mean to begin with, I think that's the first step, and it's such a baby step it seems like from a business perspective. But for law firms to consider themselves a business, and to sit down and make a plan with the idea that they need to actively pursue their potential client. And then before they do that, they need to define who their ideal clients are, and then they have to make a plan to go find them, and then bring them in and make goals, and make them measurable, and do all that stuff. And for a lot of the people I'm talking to, these are light bulb moments. I mean they haven't even considered that.
Mark: Do you do a lot of persona research? Do you help a law firm kind of isolate its market?
Karin: No, typically they have a good sense of that coming in. That is the one thing that they can define, and they don't call it personas, they don't know what that is, right? They call it their clients, their kind of typical potential client, or kind of defining the problem itself. Once in a while I'll work with firms that are more general, and do a lot of different kinds of legal work. But oftentimes they at least have narrowed it down to some type of practice area. So they have maybe one to three different typical clientele, and they can kind of define that person, even though they don't realize that what they're doing is kind of that persona research.
Karin: But they're a criminal defense attorney, and they work in a certain region, and they do a certain type of defense work, there's a certain clientele that aligns with that. And they already kind of know that stuff just from their experience. But they don't even realize in putting those things together, what that means for their marketing, until we kind of lay it out and explain it.
Mark: How did you end up working with lawyers?
Karin: It was not a logical left brain choice.
Mark: Nothing is, and in my career I've found that.
Karin: No, I mean it is in kind of retrospect all of the pieces do fit together, but in avenues that I went down that didn't fit into this path, kind of quickly fell away. But as it's happening it never feels that way, but I originally started out working in this little internet café down in a beach town here in Orange County. And I was just working there, and helping a lot of small businesses kind of do their initial websites. And this is way back in HTML in the very beginning of the internet, like Netscape, and ancient times for websites. And then I eventually became the director of marketing at Century 21.
Karin: So then there I was also working with, in my description, they're also small businesses, because all of those real estate agents are independent contractors. And their marketing budget comes out of their own pocket, and we do have a marketing department, but we're billing them directly. And so we're creating all of these little businesses under the Century 21 umbrella. So I was at the largest Century 21, we had about 2,200 agents. I had a team, and all of that, and then that was heading into the great recession, which the writing on that wall I think you can kind of see coming.
Mark: I remember it well.
Karin: Yeah, I think we all do in kind of the dark days. And at the same time, I still had some people that I was working with on the side that knew I did websites, and I knew how to do that. One of which was this attorney who contacted me, and so I did a quick website for him, and a lot of his colleagues saw his site. And just kind of word spread, and so I started doing sites on the side, and then as the recession hit, and I was laid off, and I was starting my MBA. That just kind of took off on its own, and coincidentally, a lot of attorneys at the time were not getting these big firm positions that they expected to. And so there was a lot of attorneys that were suddenly needing to set up their websites, and their law firm. They had no expectation that they would be doing that. They thought they would be graduating from law school, and stepping into this cushy job, and the recession made them a different reality.
Mark: Yeah, not so much, yeah.
Karin: Yeah, exactly.
Mark: And what's it like negotiating with an attorney for a contract to do a project?
Karin: Yeah, that has been a fun journey, over years and years. My contract is very detailed, it has been revised I couldn't even count how many times where in many positive times I've had clients who I worked with and it went very well. And they towards the end of the project said, "By the way, I need to help you a little bit with your contract, because there's a few things that I noticed that need to be fixed." And so yeah, to begin with it always starts with the contract, which is probably not what typically happens with a lot of other firms. But they look very detailed, and I've come to realize when the signals of when it's either going to be a good client, or a complete waste of time because they are splitting hairs on this one clause that doesn't ever mean anything, and it never comes to.
Karin: And so just the contract itself, and how they kind of deal with that is a good indicator of what kind of client they're going to be. But it's been really interesting, because like all human beings, these attorneys are across the board. I have some who are very, very detailed, and some who don't even read the contract, and halfway through the project I'll make some mention of, okay, well this is not in agreement with what we've talked about. And they'll say, "Oh, is that in your contract? I didn't even read it." And I'm like, "You're an attorney, how do you?"
Mark: Yeah, that's funny.
Karin: Yeah, so it's like everything else, some of them are very detailed about that, some of them are not.
Cover image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.