The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Where is everybody?

Maybe a better title to this post would be, What Happened to August Vacation?

Full disclosure: this is a lament, not a rant.  Not nearly enough of those sometimes in the world of the social and the media.  But as I type this, I’m at a beach house on the Atlantic.  The weather is beautiful:  the sun is shining, it’s warm but with a cooling breeze, and the ocean is a cerulean that no artist has ever really been able to duplicate on canvas.

Then there’s this:  My wife just finished her fifth call of the day, so far.  Reading one of the dozens of emails she’s already gotten, she just muttered, “Why do people do stupid things?”  (Never a good sign.)  I have had a call already this morning, read and sent a batch of emails and will have another call in about a minute.  Worse, my teenage children have been working on summer assignments, from designing a set for a play, reading for AP English and cutting cards for the new policy debate year.  Tomorrow, two of them have to call in for a four-hour-long meeting they are missing in person, related to that aforementioned play.  I have at least another call tomorrow and probably should do that writing assignment I’ve been putting off for a couple of days.  My son’s debate team even this morning tweeted a picture showing at least a dozen kids working in a classroom already.  (Of course I favorited it.)  And did I mention that we are going to be here for another two days?  Now the phone’s ringing for my call…

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I am the type of person whose mind operates at a couple of different levels:  knee-jerk and long-haul.  Maybe that’s how everybody’s mind works, but you wouldn’t know it after spending just a couple of minutes plunging into any social medium.  It’s all knee-jerk, all the time.  Name the issue or event, it seems we are all instant experts, tenured critics or wise pundits when we turn to our Twitter stream, Facebook newsfeed or even LinkedIn updates.  The online sea of mourning and group therapy surrounding the death of Robin Williams a couple of days ago is only the latest example of this phenomenon.

Not surprisingly, it’s something others have noticed, and this particular quote from a New York Times article a few weeks ago has stuck with me since I read it:  “It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything.”  Take a few minutes to read the article; it’s worth your time (except do it only after you’re done reading this post, please).  Want proof?  Watch just one of Jimmy Kimmel’s “Lie Witness News” videos he shows.  Jaw-droppingly astounding and sometimes absolutely hilarious.

My wife has often accused me of too much bluster and BS when I’m making some kind of assertion, whether on weather, politics or something else.  “You are full of it!” is a variant of similar accusations she makes.  They’re not entirely untrue.  I blame the combination of law school and journalism school.  Those of you who work a lot with lawyers recognize the type (or, more accurately, the stereotype).  My wife is usually the type of person who won’t make it seem like she is sure about something unless, as she puts it, “100 percent sure.”  We could both could benefit from adopting some of the other’s style, probably.

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Checking the Time

Lately, I am amazed how much of our lives are spent tracking and celebrating — and dreading and regretting — the mere passage of time.  It controls our lives in a way that nothing else does.

In my work life, lawyers and consultants mostly peg their value to the measure of time:  “My rate is $500 per hour” or “My day rate is $5,000.”  Certainly, in the legal profession in the past few years, there has been a significant push to drag lawyers kicking and screaming away from the billable hour and move toward some other “alternative fee” model, whether it’s value-based billing, task billing or something similar.

The irony is that no matter how “alternatively” the legal services are billed, no matter how much emphasis is placed on the quality and value of the service provided — and NOT the time it takes to do it — the lawyers are almost always still keeping track of their tasks by the amount of time they’re spending on doing things.  And you can bet that they’re being evaluated and held accountable, in large part, for the length of time they took to do something or other.  Probably that’s one of the reasons that rumors of the billable hour’s demise have been widely exaggerated.

In my home life, the devotion to tracking time is even more pronounced, and pernicious.  Of course, we note the obvious:  holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  We celebrate time passing as if it’s a judgment on our relative worth instead of a simple measurement.  Birthdays can make us feel old.  Anniversaries of any type, whether a first date, a wedding day, a last drink, a relative’s passing or whatever, can bring feelings of great joy or deep sadness, often tied to how much time has come and gone.

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Catch Those Typos!

Nobody’s perfect, right?

Tell that to the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University.  This past weekend, the hallowed home to some of the world’s best media minds — and my alma mater — handed out some diplomas with a typo in the school’s name! It was a big boo-boo. A huge oopsie. A face-palm-combined-with-a-sad-sigh-and-slumped-shoulders kinda mistake.  If you haven’t seen the wall-to-wall coverage yet, complete with picture, start here.  It’s downright embarrassing.

Feeling that spellenfreude yet?  I’m sure plenty of folks are secretly, and not so secretly, chortling over their laptops at how the best journalism school in the country can’t seem to hire a decent copy editor for its diplomas.   Well, don’t get too smug.  I’m pretty sure that Thomas Jefferson was thinking about proofreading when he said that eternal vigilance was price of liberty.  Or something like that.  Anyhoo…

How do you avoid looking careless (at best) or idiotic (at worst) when you’re pumping out all that content in your daily life?  Doesn’t matter if it’s a witty rejoinder in a Facebook comment or a heartfelt post on your blog or the my-job-depends-on-this report to the CEO.  Typos hurt.  Sometimes they really hurt.  Here are five tips to search and destroy the dreaded typo:

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Suggestion Box

Dear Wasserstein & Co.:

In the wake of the news that you’ve bought back American Lawyer Media (after selling it off seven years ago) for a $200-million-plus discount, the reaction seems to be… a big yawn. No comments on the New York Times story as of this morning, a day after the story ran; not a lot of buzz even among legal marketers. Kind of a “hmpf” half-interested nod that you give on your way to checking your horoscope or the lottery numbers, it seems.

What’s up with that? As an amateur media buff who can’t get the ink out of his veins, I think this should be huge news, at least for those of us who care about the legal profession. I would posit that no other company has done more to change the face of large law firms in the past couple of decades than ALM, with its annual rankings of income and profits. They were doing metrics for lawyers long before lawyers even knew what metrics were.

So, this has to be an unbelievable opportunity to reinvigorate what has been to all eyes, a struggling media empire in the American legal profession, right? But aside from the standard gushing press release, everyone seems to be keeping quiet. Is it because they think this is a half-hearted attempt to finally put ALM into receivership? Perhaps just formalize the prescription for palliative care, while the good assets are quietly shopped around?

I don’t pretend to be an insider at ALM or know all that much about legal publishing in general. I’m just a member of the peanut gallery, a lowly legal marketer. However, I am ahuge fan of many of the folks at ALM, and of many of the company’s publications and products. That said, it seems like this is ALM’s last chance. Screw this up, and we will be playing the “remember when” game in a few short years. So, I thought I would — in the best tradition of our know-it-all legal profession — offer some unsolicited advice to the folks who’ve re-bought and will be re-running ALM:

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Work life balance choices

Trend alert: Work/Life Balance is Dead. Or maybe it’s going to be dead. Or maybe there’s no such thing. So, for all of you who were trying to achieve it, feel free to give up. See, wasn’t that easy? Apparently work is now so completely integrated into life, that life is now work.

Except that’s complete baloney. Work is work, and life is life. And don’t let some consultant or latter-day metaphysic tell you otherwise. Work is the yin to life’s yang. The cream in the coffee. The jelly in the doughnut. (Can you tell I wrote this before breakfast?)

The basic premise behind the obituary for work/life balance is that the new, basic ubiquity of work, thanks largely to our smartphones, constant wi-fi and other aspects of the digital revolution, now requires us to make choices or negotiate exchanges with work to actually have time to live. Well, duh. Many of us already thought that’s what the pursuit of work/life balance required.

Additionally, the very concept of work/life balance has been questioned and targeted as something akin to a passing fancy. Some have pointed out that humans only relatively recently even thought about having a work/life balance, with the rise of shift work in the 19th Century. Before then, it was early to bed, early to rise, work, work, work. Who had the time to think about what else they could be doing except working, right?

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Business man looking at modern icons and symbols

If you’ve been around a lot of lawyers for long enough, you know they can be pretty tough on themselves. Same goes for those folks who market lawyers and law firms. As legal marketers, I have found that we often are comparing ourselves and our marketing efforts with those of other professional service firms and big businesses, and coming up short.

As legal marketers, we struggle with how to get lawyers to connect better with their current clients to get more business, as well as how to help lawyers get new clients. As I’ve talked to marketers outside the legal profession over the years, I often get a whiff (and usually more) of condescension and sometiems even pity, aside from the usual confusion of “How in the world do you market lawyers?” The fact that other businesses, like consulting and accounting firms or technology companies, are so far ahead of law firms, so much more sophisticated when it comes to marketing and business development, is accepted as gospel truth.

It can be hard for legal marketers not to internalize this perceived second-class status and feel that we have a loooong way to go to catch up with our non-legal peers (not to mention that secret, nagging fear that we might never get there). This feeling is often confirmed when big firms hire Chief Marketing Officers and other executives who have never previously worked at a law firm. The message, intended or not, is that the “answer” to how to market lawyers better is somehow to be found outside of legal marketing.

Well, perhaps us legal marketers just need to get out more. It would seem that we’re not as far behind other industries or companies as we think.

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Not What You Want People to See on Your LinkedIn Profile Photo

LinkedIn just invited me to its publishing platform, so I thought I would do it the return favor of writing something related to LinkedIn. You can decide if LinkedIn’s judgment was sound in opening the publishing door to me…

As I was roaming around LinkedIn a couple of weeks ago, trolling looking for people to connect with, I noticed how absolutely terrible some people’s profile photos are. In a world where you never get a second chance to make a first impression, I was truly shocked at the quality (or, really, the lack thereof) of many professionals’ pictures. I started making some notes, and now here they are, distilled to a listicle because, hey, maybe some people will actually take the bait read this and take heed.

So, without further throat-clearing, here are the top 10 things NOT to do in your LinkedIn profile photo (in ascending order of importance as a nod to Mr. Letterman):

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During the years I toiled at newspapers, I remember the constant need for “art” to help break up the gray pages of type.  For journalists, “art” usually meant photos, not Picassos, but sometimes we could use a map or graph or chart instead.  Something that conveyed information in a different way than mere words was special, even a treat (especially if it was in color!).  But, frankly, it was a huge hassle to create these “graphics” in the days before sophisticated GUI and even desktop publishing.  And back in the stone ages of the 1980s and 1990s, newspapers didn’t have a ton of resources to produce good content when it came to these graphics, a situation that has gone from bad to worse in the intervening years.  At the time, USA Today was one of the only newspapers to publish them regularly (which didn’t mean they were always of high quality).

Fast forward 20 years and we have entered the age of the “infographic.”  And it has leaped off the news pages and onto our screens — with a vengeance.  The smart folks at the online version of the OED define an infographic thusly:  “A visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data.”  Used in a sentence, they can’t help but further illustrate its power:  “A good infographic is worth a thousand words.

Of course, as a writer, such a sweeping supposition might, by definition (pun intended), seem offensive.  My words should always be good enough, standing alone, to paint the perfect picture in a reader’s mind.  We writers don’t need no stinkin’ “art” or infographics if we do our jobs well.

Except, maybe we do.

Check out this absolutely terrific infographic on why infographics resonate with people.  One of the most interesting tidbits was that 80 percent of people recall something that they “see and do” as opposed to only 20 percent recalling something they’ve read and a mere 10 percent recalling what they’ve heard.  Is it any wonder why the social media networks have made huge leaps in reconfiguring their designs (even on mobile) to include more pictures and graphic images?

In my chosen marketplace, lawyers tend to react the same way writers do when presented with the idea of using an infographic to help market themselves or their firm:  with doubt, disbelief and/or dismissal.  That’s a shame.  In the right circumstances and with the right context, using an infographic on a website page with a description of a service offered or to illustrate a particular aspect of a case study could not only be distinctive but also memorable.  And that’s one of the brass rings of professional services marketing:  to be memorable or “top of mind.”  Why wouldn’t lawyers want to use such a tool to achieve such a result?

I’ve heard of some law firms experimenting with infographics.  If you have an example to share, please post in the comments or email me.  I will do another post shortly with some of the best out there so far.

Transitions in jobs — as in writing specifically and as in life generally — can be of several varieties.  Some are abrupt.  Others are meticulously planned.  Some are welcome, even a relief.  Others not.  But all bring about some level of disruption and change.

Millions of words have been spilled discussing change.  And, who knew, change management is a valuable business offering by top consultants.  But I don’t really want to add much more to the pile, to mix metaphors.  Suffice to say that change has been on my mind a lot these past couple of months, as I move from being a longtime, in-house CMO to launching my own business.   It’s not my first foray into the world of small business and consultancy, and my plan is for it not to be a temporary bridge between in-house jobs (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I’m in this for the long haul.

Change is opportunity and loss, inexorably tied.  Launching my new business (Glencoe Media Group Inc. — website coming soon) serves up an enticing and apprehensive amount of freedom and opportunity to pursue engagements and clients in the same way that I have coached a multitude of professionals over the years.  I’m putting my money where my mouth is, as they say.  At the same time, I have abandoned the in-house safety net, such as it is for law firm CMOs, that delivered a daily stream of steady work and a bi-monthly source of reliable income.  No small loss, there.

Change is exciting and scary, mostly contemporaneously.  Even before any “official” announcement of my new venture, the response from family, friends, colleagues and professional acquaintances upon hearing my plans has been overwhelmingly positive, even effusively so.  This speaks volumes to the value of meticulously nurturing and tending to relationships over the years, not to mention the personal “brand” that we all have in our chosen marketplace.  But, in the end, a successful business comes down to closing deals and delivering the goods.

Change is here, now, and down the road, later.  While I continue to offer the best of my experience in journalism and writing, marketing and communications, and law and business, my audience has broadened, and possibly sharpened.  Clients will be more diverse and deliverables more tangible.  Hands-on has a whole new meaning when you run your own business.  Balancing quality, time, efficiency and cost isn’t a new concept for me — finally something that hasn’t changed!  But no business is the same as it was when it started, and that’s something I’m happily anticipating.  Expanding and refining are definitely in the plan.  As is improving and innovating.

So, while Billy Joel preached, “Don’t go changing,” I’ve become more a fan of David Bowie’s thoughts on the matter.

Here I go.  Ready… And not.



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