A brainstorming session is a valuable and creative tool law firm marketing teams can use to foster their brands, communicate their messages, and deliver real impact in their law firm branding, marketing and public relations.
Elements of an Effective Brainstorming Session
Here are 10 brainstorming guidelines for today’s law firm marketing teams that will help make your meeting — and outcomes — more effective.
1. Appoint a Moderator
Appointing a designated person to run the meeting will make that time more productive, effective and focused. The moderator should be perceived as neutral from within or outside the firm. If the boss is the moderator, they must not interject their ideas — they must be a good listener and give everyone a chance to share their ideas.
2. Mix It Up
It’s important to pull from as many populations as possible. Don’t just invite your marketing team or senior partners. Rather, include people from various aspects of your law firm. If it makes sense, consider inviting clients, colleagues, referral sources, vendors and other strategic partners to participate in the process. Include those who deal with the clients on the front line, including receptionists, administrative personnel and paralegals.
3. Communicate a Clear Objective
The participants of the brainstorming activity should all understand the objective of the session. Explain why they are there, the objective of the gathering and the basic rules of the game (aka brainstorming). Think of it as a game: everyone needs to know the rules before they can play along.
4. Define the Target Audience
To keep the meeting focused, it is imperative to know the target audience you want to reach. Messages for clients may be vastly different from those for referral sources or internal audiences. Define their personas. Who are they? Where are they? What are their titles and does that matter? What motivates them? How do they make decisions? What platforms do they use? Who are their influencers? What do they want and need?
5. Start With an Ice Breaker
To get everyone in the room (or virtual room) comfortable, have the moderator conduct a short ice breaker. There are hundreds of resources for icebreakers. However, one I recently witnessed that worked well had the moderator make a statement and then each person in the room add to the statement. In between each person’s statement, the moderator says “and,” and then identifies the next person to speak. For example, the moderator could say, “I am really happy when I start my morning with a giant cup of coffee and … .” Then the next person would respond. At no time is a person interrupted or stopped — the idea is to create an environment of free-flowing ideas.
6. Agree That all Ideas are Good Ideas
When you bring people together and ask them for their ideas, let them deliver their ideas without feedback or criticism. All brainstorming ideas are good, and every idea can lead to something else. Don’t stifle creativity.
7. Capture the Ideas Neutrally
There are many ways to capture ideas neutrally. That could mean having people write their ideas on index cards and having the moderator read them, having each person write their ideas on sticky notes and post them on a board in categories, or getting even more interactive using electronic message boards connected to laptops. Regardless of the mechanism, you use to deliver the ideas, make sure you capture them in writing.
8. Don’t Deliver Criticism
It is important to let the ideas flow. Allow the participants to be as creative as possible. Remember, all ideas are good ideas. In the ground rules, explain that participants may not use any negative comments or language. Tell them that they cannot use language that will ruin brainstorming such as:
- That won’t work.
- That’s not a good idea.
- I’m concerned that it won’t …
- I have reservations that…
- I’m not sure that …
- While that’s a good idea, I think we should …
- That has been done before.
Analysis of the ideas comes well after brainstorming.
9. Provide Closure and Follow Through
During the final 30 minutes of the brainstorming, provide a mechanism for anonymously voting on the ideas the attendees believe are the most feasible using a 0 – 5 (0 being least effective to 5 being most effective) scale. Tally up the scores to determine the top three ideas. Then spend time discussing next steps on the top three ideas.
The moderator should explain who will follow up and how, and then thank everyone for their time. If there will be another meeting, provide the time, date and format before ending the brainstorming session.
10. Stay On Time — Sample Agenda
All meetings should start and end on time. Make sure the moderator explains how long the brainstorming will take place and each of the components of the meeting. Consider the following brainstorming guidelines:
- 10 minutes for your icebreaker.
- 50 minutes to conduct a brainstorming activity such as word associations.
- 10 minutes to cluster those activities into categories.
- 10 minutes anonymously voting on the ideas that the attendees believe are the most feasible using a 0 – 5 (0 being least effective to 5 being most effective) scale.
- 10 minutes discussing the next steps on the top three ideas.
Think of a brainstorming session like a war room meeting for trial strategy — all ideas are good ones until proven otherwise. Remember what Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
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