Project Managing Your Law Firm Rebrand

May 23, 2022
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Here are 10 key lessons I've learned from project managing law firm rebrands over the years.

(This post isn't about the positioning, messaging, or design strategy elements of a rebrand. This is about how to project manage your law firm rebrand. How to keep the multitude of sub-projects moving in parallel so that you can launch that beautiful new (or refreshed) brand without losing your mind.)

1. Have a crystal clear WHY that all stakeholders agree with. Share it widely.

Your WHY is your north star, the touchstone against which you measure every decision along the way. If you've hired a branding agency (Right Hat, Ruckus, and Living Group come to mind) they will help you get to your why. Some firms do their rebranding work in-house, so I'll share some posts I've enjoyed reading on this topic:

Brand the Change: Ogilvy Rebranding: A transformation from Sell to Solve

Forbes: Defining Your Brand's Purpose

HubSpot: How to Develop a Unique (& Memorable) Brand in 2022

Quote from Nathan Darling on Branding Essentials

2.  Identify your rebrand committee. And include those who NEED to be there, even if they don't want to be.

You will need a clearly defined rebrand committee made up of key stakeholders. Waiting on approvals before moving to the next stage can really hold up your timeline, so I also suggest having a discussion with your approvers upfront about how the committee should handle these kinds of delays. Maybe everyone will agree that if you get four out of five approvals, you can move ahead. I recommend recording sign-off stage presentations (using Zoom, etc.) if you don't get a full roster to attend your milestone meetings, or you can always use a recording tool like Camtasia to send no-shows the information they missed.

Beware the Chairperson or Executive Director who says their opinion doesn't matter and not to include them in approvals. INCLUDE THEM even if you have to send them materials by carrier pigeon to a golf course on a remote island. I once led a rebrand in which the chairman refused to participate. He said he would "...just screw everything up." So I took him at his word. At each stage, my rebrand committee approved every item down to the weight of the letterhead and the stitched-in logo on the polo shirts. The chairman came into the rebrand war room the week before launch and blew a gasket because he hated the logo. He didn't care that his managing partners had all approved it. And of course, as a named partner he had the final say. I am still twitching as I type this story. Let me just say that anyone who has the power to derail your project must be involved.

3. Assign ownership.

While your branding agency and other vendors/partners will likely assign you a project manager, you still need an overarching in-house project manager who works with these partners on a daily basis and keeps track of all of your streams to report on status and help when things go sideways or drop behind schedule. Someone who understands enough about all marketing functions to be able to jump in and help when needed, and who knows when to escalate.

You also need to have an owner assigned to each sub-stream -- photography, collateral, social media, website, etc. Sometimes the overall rebrand PM is also the owner of several sub-streams, but often it makes more sense to have others assigned.

Here is a simple snapshot of all of the streams involved during one client's recent brand refresh:

 

The activity streams involved in a typical law firm rebrand.

4. Don't underestimate the project management lift on sub-streams.

Sure, we all understand that the website redesign needs strong project management to result in a timely, successful, within-budget site. But the scheduling of all-new headshots requires strong project management (I will always love Gittings for their strength in this area, saving everyone stress and time and headaches). And business cards take a surprising amount of back and forth, so I suggest getting your operations folks involved here. And content such as bios and practice descriptions also have their own significant project management needs to handle the many rounds of approvals and proofing necessary.

5. Connect with your IT counterparts early on in the project.

Not only can IT be your best friend in the rebrand, but an IT team that doesn't feel invested in your success (and who feels like their time wasn't respected) can make certain processes more difficult than they need to be.

Make sure they know what role they play, and when they can expect to be pulled in. Ask them what they will need from you to be successful. A great example is email signatures. If you plan to implement signature-creation software to control what someone can and can't add to their email valediction, you will probably need a software app like Exclaimer. This requires enterprise-wide deployment and will likely be more complicated than you think (the politics alone...oy).

IT will also need to be brought in for replacing MS Office templates, and you'll need to decide if you want the new PowerPoint template loaded by default upon opening the app. Speaking of PowerPoint -- the default these days is 16:9 format, but you will likely have some attorneys who insist on using 4:3 format. If you don't provide it, they will continue using your old template. So think through how you will handle that. It may not just be stubbornness on their part - perhaps they still present to clients who use 4:3 projectors? Understand the needs of your users.

6. Maintain a decisions document.

There are thousands of decisions made during a rebrand, many of them subjective in nature. I recommend maintaining a decisions document so you can identify who was involved in key decisions and when/why they were made. I have clients who tell me that they still refer to this document a few times a month, even years after their rebrand was launched. Especially if you have turnover in your department, this kind of document can be a sanity saver.

A few decision topics that come immediately to mind:

  • Why did we decide to make the IP practice a sub-practice under the Regulatory Group?
  • How did we determine the order of attorneys that appear on the landing page of our website's attorney directory?
  • What is the governance around who gets business cards?

Jen Dolan on the importance of maintaining a decisions document.

7. Establish a "phase two" parking lot.

We all start out with big dreams about what we will accomplish with our rebrand, and likely we will get to most of it. But trust me when I tell you there will always be items that won't make the cut as you stare down that launch deadline. You don't want these requirements to get lost in the crazy, so establish a board where you maintain the list of items that will get taken care of after you launch. I like Basecamp as a shared cloud-based PM tool, but there are several good PM tools that will include a place to store this information.

8. Have a plan for collecting/removing old branded items.

It's not so hard to get rid of the stock of letterhead in your storage closets, but it IS hard to get every member of your firm to go through their drawers and cabinets to clean out old branded items. Consider gamifying it. At one firm, we set up "Dump Rooms" for people to bring all their items for recycling or trash. We documented who brought what, and gave out prizes (new logoed polo shirts and computer bags plus a Starbucks gift card) at the end of "Dump Week" to those who turned in the most items.

9. Website redesign projects may result in rebrands.

I've been part of several website redesigns that hit a holding pattern after the initial discovery phase because the research made it painfully clear the fact that who we are, how we are perceived in the marketplace, what our differentiators and strengths are...none of these findings were reflected in the existing branding. So the firm decided they wanted to do the work to get clear on branding before picking back up on the website. Which is exactly what SHOULD happen. You shouldn't move ahead with a website redesign unless you know who you are.

10. Prepare your internal and external communications.

Start banging the rebrand drum early, internally. This both builds awareness and also gets people excited about what's coming. I recommend creating a "Living the Brand" trifold that can be dropped on everyone's desk/emailed, with talking points around why the firm rebranded, and what this means for the firm and for the client. Include elevator pitches describing the firm, the culture, and each practice area. Send out a regular employee email showing what's new and letting people know how to locate new templates, materials, etc.

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Finally...make a plan, but prepare for raining frogs.

I have a client who said this to me at a particularly challenging moment during her rebrand, and I loved it. You will encounter many bumps in the road, and yes maybe even raining frogs. But you will get there. Just start with a solid plan and great people.

Good luck, and let me know if I can help!

Raining frogs

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