Promoting KM: What’s Your Elevator Pitch?

19 Sep

1-elevatorPost By Ginevra Saylor, National Director of Knowledge Management, Dentons Canada LLP

At law firms, and most likely every other business, you hear Marketing people urging those in the front lines to have their elevator pitch ready to go whenever and wherever they run into potential clients –  at a party, on the golf course, at a conference, or, naturally, in an elevator.  The elevator pitch is meant to be a succinct, pithy, and above all compelling statement of your firm’s value proposition that explains what you do, why the listener needs what you do, and why the listener needs you – and not someone else – to do it.  Most importantly, the pitch must be rehearsed for smooth delivery that, at a minimum, leads to an exchange of business cards within one minute or so, that being the duration of the average elevator ride.  A slew of literature and websites even offer step-by-step instructions for crafting the perfect elevator pitch, with some rating the strength of your draft pitch on factors ranging from word count to how long it would take to utter to amount of jargon and hackneyed phrases used.

So, it strikes me as odd that many KM professionals haven’t developed their own elevator pitch for ready access at chance meetings with their firms’ leadership and members at events, in the lounge, or in the elevator.  I will admit to having found myself at impromptu encounters and, on being asked, “what do you do,” coughing and sputtering before either blurting out that it is hard to explain or launching into a philosophical dissertation on all the permutations and possibilities associated with law firm Knowledge Management.  And, hey, it is not just me – I have seen the same from other seasoned KM professionals.  So, what gives?

In many firms, Knowledge Management grew organically over the years, evolving into whatever best-suited the particular firm’s needs and culture at the time and often filling gaps in areas where attention was needed that fell within no department’s mandate.  Though many firms have since adopted structured KM initiatives or departments with a formal strategy, many of those in KM leadership roles never took the time to develop an elevator pitch that distinctly and powerfully states KM’s value proposition for that firm.  Given how easy it is for firms to forget KM’s intrinsic value as new trends pop up, busy lawyers get pulled in dozens of different directions, initiatives jockey for priority status, and belts get tightened, reinforcing the KM message at every opportunity with a solid elevator pitch could go a long way toward keeping KM top of mind.

Taking this a step further, devoting some time to creating an elevator pitch for each major KM project might be equally wise; particularly for projects requiring heavy change management, imagine the power of being able to turn every ad hoc meeting with colleagues into a venue for sparking interest and planting the seeds for change with a tight, strong statement that gets to the heart of the project and hits home.

Fellow ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Member, 2013 KM Distinguished Peer, and prolific blogger Patrick DiDomenico, Director of Knowledge Management at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, makes a very compelling case for investing time in this exercise in the April 28, 2013, post “Communicating Knowledge Management to Busy Lawyers” on his KMLawyer blog.  Patrick has not only developed some excellent pitches for his own work, but also designed a card that he hands out with a graphic clearly depicting the value he brings to his organization. The card’s graphics cleverly illustrate people being connected with information and other people to keep the organization’s cogs running smoothly. According to his post, Patrick couples this with a pitch that characterizes KM as “connecting people with people, connecting people with knowledge and information, and the processes, procedures, and technologies required to make those connections.”

A few other ILTA KM Peer Group Steering Committee Members also shared their thoughts.  Chris Boyd, Senior Director of Professional Services with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC, uses the following to explain KM to lawyers at his firm: “KM can help you deliver more value to clients by putting the essential expertise and experience of all WSGR attorneys at the fingertips of each attorney.  KM tools can help you sell, deliver and collect more effectively and efficiently.”  Chris refines this core pitch for different lawyers’ practice groups. Chris’ approach makes sense given that KM typically covers a broad range of activity and what resonates with one practice group or administrative department may fall flat with others.

With his more specific KM role, David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Manager at Goodwin Proctor, offers this: “I serve my firm the same way that a librarian does, but I work with the content and experience that our lawyers have created, rather than information outside the firm.  So I help people find firm work product like briefs or contracts; locate the firm’s experience on legal matters; figure out the best way to do their work efficiently and effectively.  I tell people that all of these tools should be leveraged primarily to find the right people to talk to, so they can do their jobs better, not just faster. I have ended up acting as an intermediary between the IT group and the legal business.”

Over the years, I have tried different approaches with varying degrees of success.  Inspired by my colleagues and recent reading, I decided to try to come up with something new, turning first to the sites offering free pitch-builder tools.  After all, isn’t one aspect of KM about not re-inventing the wheel? Though the ideas and tips on the sites are useful, I found my results from the pitch-builder tools amusing, but not particularly helpful. So, I decided to try my hand at free-form drafting, seizing on the one tip that rang most true for me: one site advised starting with a value proposition coupled with a story your listener can relate to and finishing with how you can help.  Here is what I came up with:

“My job is to give a big part of your life back to you and help you bring more money in at the same time.  Years ago, I overheard two partners talking on an elevator; one had just made partner and celebrated the birth of his first child.  When congratulated, the new partner quipped, ‘Yes. Great news all around, but I guess I won’t be seeing my son again until he graduates university.’ This might have been funny if it weren’t so close to the truth. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  By incorporating the right technology, tapping into our collective wisdom, and re-thinking how you work, KM can build more time back into your day and make you more effective, accurate, and productive.”

The key lessons I have learned from this exercise are:

1.             We need to devote time to critically examine the value proposition of every aspect of our work and each project.

2.             We need to write a separate elevator pitch for each of our varied client groups (for example, partners, associates, firm leadership, and administrative people), each component of our mandate, and each project.

3.             Given the nature of our work, we need to re-evaluate and rewrite our pitches fairly often to keep them fresh, compelling, and relevant.

For those of you who want to give it a try, the following sites might be helpful:

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