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Smart Collaboration – The Winningest Strategy Of All

When I was asked to write this guest blog about the relationship between marketing and the library in law firms, I admit I was exhausted by the idea. Haven't we done this enough?  Don't we already know that marketing and the library should be working together to uncover intelligence, develop client insights and keep the lawyers in our respective firms market aware? But then, late last month (February 2017) LMA hosted a well-attended webinar entitled 'Library and Marketing: Why Can’t We be Friends?' so, maybe it is not yet a concept I should take for granted. Clearly I am an early adopter of this concept, one I have been practicing for at least a dozen years. And so, I write this blog – highlighting why we should not only be friends, but also strategic allies jointly aimed at increasing profitability for our firms and job satisfaction for ourselves.

collaboration teamwork

In my experience, marketing professionals, and law librarians share several characteristics that should attract them to one another. Both are:

  1. tenacious and unrelenting. Marketing professionals want the win, they work overtime to convert or win a client.  Librarians will research high and low, in digital and print collections, scouring the archives to find the answer, and won't give up or leave any stone unturned.  They both know how to work hard and will take and accept challenges head on.
  1. concerned with putting their best foot (or feet) forward in support of client service to the lawyers, they will often put their client needs above their own -  see point #1.
  1. trusted advisors to their lawyer clients. Lawyers learn, as they should, to rely on trusted good resources. This means they depend on their marketing staff and librarians to deliver quality, well thought-out work at all times, and finally,
  1. teachers to the next generation of lawyers. Whether teaching research skills to associates or providing one to one business development coaching, marketing professionals and librarians don't just do their own jobs in firms, they also educate, mentor and teach the next generation of lawyers to be better, smarter, and more engaged in the legal process.

There are also several differences between the disciplines, as I see it too – maybe the stuff of opposites attract but more likely the contributing factors to the chasm that needs to be crossed.  Marketing tends to be outward focused, extrovert-like in its nature, brass maybe even sassy. Librarians and traditional research or information professionals tend to be none of those things.  That's not a bad thing, and it is a generalization both directions, there are obviously exceptions to both rules but their functions and therefore their roles in firms tend to be very different.

Different doesn't mean not equal, but I think for some, this is the the biggest barrier to working together.  Studies have shown that people like to work with people like, and we tend to like the people who are most "like us".  The work of the two departments is not perceived as providing the same value, taking equal time to produce or being equal in other ways.  And perhaps the chasm grows deeper when whether imagined or real the perception is that work prepared jointly between the two departments will not receive equal credit within the firm.  Allocation of credit, justification of budgets, and human capital resourcing all become variables in this credit equation. That is a real and valid concern. Worse though, is what happens when we allow credit and ego to get in the way of collaborative work. Egos of both departments need to be checked at the door, especially for the types of work like competitive intelligence, client insights, market awareness and RFP support that are natural fits for the marketing & library marriage of services.   Egos – used in the broadest sense here, get in the way of good work and allow biases to take over. Instead this work benefits most from a variety of perspective that balance out the biases.

In her recent book "Smart Collaboration"1, Heidi K. Gardner, suggested that the best firms are the ones that break silos and encourage collaboration. "Professional service firms face a serious challenge. Their clients increasingly need them to solve complex problems--everything from regulatory compliance to cybersecurity, the kinds of problems that only teams of multidisciplinary experts can tackle." The book provides data that demonstrates that the more touch points an individual client has with a firm, the more sticky the relationship and the less likely the client will leave. In fact, the relationship will only continue to grow. Now, imagine you are one of those lawyers who is working collaboratively with the other lawyers in your firm for the benefit of your client and also for the success of your firm. Would you not expect the same of your support services? If we treat the lawyers as the client and the allied professionals in the firm as an entire professional services firm of their own, then the same lessons apply. Library and marketing need, no, MUST work together to keep clients happy so the entire client relationship (which ever the discipline) between lawyers and the allied professionals can grow.

So yes, this conversation is exhausting because the skills sets are a great match, the potential projects and products created together would be exemplary in form and function if the two work together.  How much better for example would it be to jointly build out a current awareness and intelligence tracking system, or a series of client dashboards, or even a content marketing campaign based on recent trending topics of import to the firm and its clients. Research backed marketing and data driven targeted selling are the ultimate in information professional and marketing professional synergies.  The only real barrier as I see it, to working together on these types of initiatives is fostering an administrative culture that encourages and rewards the joint efforts and allocates shared credit for all wins. As the first quarter of 2017 crawls to a close, let’s move the credit conversation to a sharing of risk and reward matrix. We'll all be happier and better for it, cause smart collaboration, just makes sense and money.

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1. Heidi K. Gardner (2017) Smart Collaboration, Havard Business Review Press

Topics: Work smarter Library Marketing