Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"We're A (Expletive Deleted) Law Firm That Sells Stuff"

Lawyers - Should They Keep You Or Get You Out Of Trouble?

By David Miranda

I was speaking with a frustrated senior marketing executive friend of mine whose employer will go unnamed for this article. Asked the source of his frustration, he vented "we are a (expletive deleted) law firm that sells stuff."

After working long and arduous hours on coming up with his brand's new marketing campaign, he was required to have legal sign off on it. He said he submitted the campaign to the legal department and it was returned, weeks later, with red lines, comments in margins, scratch outs, line throughs, Post-It tabs, etc. Notes included "we can't say that", "we can't do this", "we think it would be better if this were added" etc.

Hence, the love/hate relationship between the legal and marketing departments that goes on day in and day out in the corporate world and the key question - Should a lawyer's role in marketing be to keep you out of trouble or get you out of trouble? There is no black or white answer, but there is common ground to be sought.

Lawyers should be imbedded and involved in the marketing process from the beginning. Does this require marketing-savvy lawyers or legal-savvy marketers? The answer is both.

But let's be clear. Marketers should not try to write "legal" copy and lawyers should not attempt to be marketing copywriters. Collaboration is the key to success. In marketing, there is a direct correlation between the amount of hyperbole in the campaign and the amount of "mouse print" disclaimer required by risk-averse legal counsel. For the consumer, the more mouse print disclaimer, the greater the need to take pause, as in, caveat emptor or "read the fine print".

The key objective for marketers should be to create a simple and compelling offer that is clearly stated and understood by the intended audience, i.e. does "free" mean "free" or have we gotten to the unfortnate position to a Clintonian parsing of "it depends what "is" is."

Don't be a "law firm that sells stuff". Be a great brand that says what it means and means what it says in layman's terms - not legalese.