Alumni communities have so much potential to drive success for law firms. The ability to nurture a community of current and future clients is so powerful for firms, and the ability to benefit from a valuable network holds a huge attraction for alumni.
Ali Bone is excited to welcome Jenna Grange, Chief Marketing Officer at Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP (DGS) to the CMO Series to talk about what it takes to build a successful Alumni Program.
Ali and Jenna explore:
- Jenna’s journey to CMO at DGS and how the Alumni Program came to be a success for the firm
- What the alumni program looked like in the early days compared to what it is now
- How to make an alumni program a community that people actively engage in and want to be a part of
- How to measure and report on the program
- Particular success stories from the program that has made it worthwhile
- How the "Good Deeds" program at DGS came about
- Advice for other legal marketers looking to build a successful alumni community
Intro: Welcome to the Passle podcast CMO Series
Ali: Welcome to the Passle CMO series where we discuss all things marketing and BD in professional services. The topic today is going to be around running an effective alumni community. We all know that alumni communities have so much potential to be real drivers of success in multiple areas for law firms. On a high level, for the firm, there is the ability to nurture a community of current and future clients. And for the alumni, they benefit from a valuable network. Ultimately, there's great synergy between the two. I'm really lucky today to welcome Jenna Grange, Chief Marketing Officer at Davis, Graham & Stubbs to talk about what it takes to get an alumni program really firing. Jenna, welcome.
Jenna: Thank you.
Ali: Absolutely thrilled to have you on. I hear that it's been a very busy month for you, so thanks so much for making the time.
Jenna: Thank you. It's great to be here. I appreciate your time.
Ali: Really excited. So I guess to really kick things off, what would be great to understand is how did you actually come to the CMO at DGS? And along with that, how did you realise that the alumni program would be something that you thought could really drive results at the firm?
Jenna: Sure. I've personally been in legal marketing and business development for 20 years now, which is hard to believe. I fell into it after undergrad at the University of Colorado when I pursued a job at an advertising agency in Annapolis, Maryland, just out of Washington DC. And the majority of the agency's clients just happened to be larger law firms. So after spending about five years working on these AM Law 100 sized accounts, I took a job in house at a law firm based in Texas with offices in Dallas, Houston and Austin, and knew in my heart of hearts that I had always wanted to make my way back to Colorado. So I actually connected with the then DGS Director of Business Development and Marketing at a Managing Partners Forum conference and she just happened to be hiring at the time. So I applied on a whim, was offered the position, and then relocated back to Colorado. She is actually the firm’s CFO now, and in case she's listening, is one of the smartest individuals I've ever met. I've been at DGS for 11 of those 20 years now, and time flies when you're having fun, and I feel like it's easier to accomplish more now that I've gained institutional knowledge and the trust of DGS attorneys and their clients. For reference sake, DGS is the third largest law firm in the state of Colorado and we have 145 attorneys based here in Denver. With respect to your question regarding the alumni program, over the last decade, it just became more apparent that many of our attorneys who did leave DGS took in house counsel positions and the firm had done a nice job at the off boarding process, but we were not strategically able to follow up with alumni once they had actually left the law firm. So we started a distribution list in our CRM and the initiative organically started to come together over time. Although some larger law firms have this programming in place, frankly it was harder to find a mid size law firm with an alumni program. So we met with those in the business who do them best, including educational institutions.
Ali: Amazing. I think firstly, how brilliant that you're able to make your way back to Colorado to a place that you loved, a fantastic firm. I mean, what a stroke of luck about it. And then secondly, I suppose that in house institutional knowledge that you are able to gain has clearly helped you sort of position that alumni program. So actually what would be great to understand is actually what did the alumni program look like in those early days compared to what it is now?
Jenna: In the early days, the firm would hold one off events where we would get periodic requests for contact information for specific DGS alumni. But then in an effort to really harness this power and effectively follow up with the DGS alumni, the firm launched the DGS Alumni Network in June of 2020, which was a nice excuse to be able to reach out to many of the law firms contacts. During the pandemic, the DGS Alumni Network created a consistent touch point between DGS, the firm's alumni through a password protected alumni web portal, complete with a DGS alumni directory, a list of firm events, future job opportunities, volunteer opportunities, electronic newsletters, and more. I know it's quite a bundle, but during the lunch we did create a video that featured a dozen of our alumni that explained the initiative. And then the first newsletter had a 46% open rate, which I'll never forget because it has only gone up from there. And each issue features a popular DGS alumni in the news section where we actually announced DGS alumni job moves, new leadership positions, accolades, and other timely newsworthy items.
Ali: That's fascinating. I suppose when you've been so ingrained into a firm, it's so nice to be able to make the most of actually engaging with all those individuals that either are still there or have left and what a nice way to do and actually love all of the different sort of things that are going into the melting pot there that you mentioned. In terms of that password protected area, there's so much that people can actually engage with, which is fantastic. Which actually leads me on to my next question, which was how do you make an alumni program a community that people actively want to engage in and be part of? It'd be great to really get into the nitty gritty on that one.
Jenna: Sure. To make this program meaningful and sustainable, we really have tried to create as interactive of a forum as possible. We genuinely want to hear from our alumni, whether it's for newsletter content suggestions, a new hiring need, or an event topic CLE that would prove helpful to their practice. Also, in the password protected web portals, DGS alumni have access to one another as well, including email and phone numbers, which as many of you listening now can be kind of hard to find online these days.
Ali: Yeah, as you say, opening up that directory is just so incredibly important and having that interactive element, just being able to communicate with each other. If we look at modern day and communications, be it sort of Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, whatever it might be, that's how people are wanting to engage you, particularly in this online world. So fantastic that you've been able to harness that, Jenna. With that, are there ways in which you're actually measuring what you're doing and reporting on the program? Although we can certainly tie new and enhanced business anecdotes to ROI, this initiative is really intended to support DGS attorney business development. We carefully manage the firm's attorney on boarding process and calculate roughly twelve alumni invitations or mailings each year, which serve as helpful reminders and impressions. But the program was really never created to be a standalone revenue generator.
Ali: Sure. Well, I think on the point of managing that off boarding, I think you're sharing with me beforehand, I hope you don't mind me saying this, actually in that off boarding program, I think you get given some rather nice Tiffany's gift.
Jenna: We give those exiting the firm as a thumbprint bowl because they left their fingerprints here on the firm.
Ali: Yes, I think that's absolutely brilliant. I'm sure anybody listening will be, especially if they're part of DGS, looking forward to that if they ever move on. But anyone else leaving firms, what a nice gift. And actually, when you've got that on your mantle piece, aside from the alumni program that you're running, what a nice way to kind of look at that and think, oh, look at all those great people that I used to work with, I need to be in contact with them, or whatever. So a really nice kind of touch point. I mean, I suppose a little bit like our Passle octopus that are spread far and wide now. But anyway, as you were saying, I'm just picking back up on that. Before going off on a tangent, you're talking about sort of some of those anecdotal examples from that. Have there been any particular outcomes from the program that made it really worthwhile?
Jenna: Yes, I can tell you without a doubt that we have helped place in-house counsel positions who have been going on to hire the law firm. We have also linked events and CLEs to new and more business. But again, without the attorney relationships that have been maintained too, it's really hard to pinpoint what has tipped the scale. The ROI consists mainly of anecdotal feedback at this juncture, but what I can confirm is that now we have roughly twelve impressions with DGS alumni each annuum that we do not consistently have in place prior to 2020.
Ali: Yeah, that's amazing. I'm sure that in time, those anecdotal examples lead to revenue and that's when everyone really starts to engage with it. But fundamentally, just creating that community, which is something that we all sort of sought after so much, is clearly having a really big impact. I know you touched upon BD there a little bit in terms of our alumni program and what it's brought for the lawyers, but we previously spoke about another program that I just wanted to bring up and I think you called it the Good Deeds program at DGS. And I know there's a bit of a link here and it's brought a huge amount of benefit to the firm. But I was wondering if you could just tell us a little bit about it because I absolutely loved it and what it stands for.
Jenna: You bet. The year DGs turned 100, the law firm did 130. Since we couldn't pick just 100 volunteer based good deeds, all of which were supported by a financial contribution to each nonprofit. We branded the initiative as the Year of 100 Good Deeds and launched a ticker on a custom microsite internally so we could monitor our progress, had branded promotional items, etc, etc. But long story short, DGS ended up making connections to various nonprofit leaders in town. During the same time, we recognised how helpful it was for many of our transplant lawyers in particular, who we had recruited from the coast to meet local business professionals. The DGS lawyers were gaining soft leadership skills by running these nonprofits, sharpening their practice of law tactics via the pro bono work they were doing for the nonprofit, and were more organically able to ask for the business in this sort of grassroots setting. Fast forward a few years later. We currently have lawyers and 155 charitable, civic and legal nonprofit leadership positions and programs in town. And keep in mind that we have 145 lawyers. Again, some of these board commitments include pro bono work, which is helpful since the firm pledges 50 hours of pro bono work per lawyer to the Colorado Supreme Court each year.
Ali: That's amazing. Just saying you got 145 lawyers and 155 positions is incredibly impressive. And what I love is that it's not just the partners, it's across the board. And again, I think something that has come up in so many different conversations with people in the marketing and business development world, in legal firms and the lawspace is that actually it's so hard to teach those soft skills. People come up throughout and often they're not really taught. And then you get to becoming a partner and you expect to go out and do this business development. And what you've really leveraged there with that program is that people are going out and doing good in the community first off, but also just able to work on all those soft skills and then ultimately bring in some business eventually. And I think you touched upon there as well, bringing people from the coast obviously come to Colorado because it's a fantastic place and it's a chance for them to integrate into the community. So a really nice one that I'm sure you're very proud of.
Jenna: We are. It's been a terrific program for the firm and it's a feel good initiative.
Ali: Yeah, of course, feel good. When you can get back to everybody around you, it's only a good thing, right? So that brings me round to just that final question, the final question that we always ask people on our podcast and it's about that one piece of advice, that single takeaway for anyone who's listening. So what would be your one piece of advice for legal marketers, Jenna?
Jenna: It has been said before, but I'll say it again, clients want to work with people they like and trust, so take the time to cultivate real relationships around you. There is no one size fits all marketing program or a magic advertisement that is going to guarantee you billable work. It really is that simple. Be your authentic self and hopefully these types of underlining initiative examples I've discussed in this podcast can certainly help you and bolster awareness of your law firm's brand.
Ali: Yeah, I think you're right. That being your authentic self and just being able to build up those genuine relationships. And I absolutely love what you're doing with the alumni program because so many people are striving for something similar. And as I mentioned, you're creating a community that's having a huge benefit towards the firm and ultimately is allowing people to your very point there, building those genuine relationships. So thank you so much for sharing that. It's been really interesting to listen and thanks for obviously coming on. Today we're actually going to try something a little bit different that we haven't done before. We've had some fantastic knowledge from Jenna and I've really enjoyed talking to you about that alumni program and there's going to be so many takeaways for people, but for everyone to get a little bit more of a feel of who you are as a person. We want to do a bit of a quick fire round. So are you okay for us to wrestle with a few questions and give you answers on that?
Jenna: You bet. Let's do it. Really exciting.
Ali: So, to start us off, what's your favourite business and non business book?
Jenna: My favourite business book right now is titled In Charge the Energy Management Guide for Badass Women Who Are Tired of Being Tired by Doctor Arin Reeves. What a title. Right? In full disclosure, the book does contain a lot of curse words which personally kept me captivated and talks about the difference between being tired and being exhausted. I would encourage you to pick it up. Dr. Reeves spoke at a D&I related DGS event last month and she truly is one of a kind. She has been supporting some of our firm-wide initiatives for the last decade and helped us launch the DGS project based feedback program that we have in place here at the firm. As for my favourite non business book, I personally love biographies, and my favourite biography right now is by Patty Boyd. It covers the love triangle between Patty, George Harrison and Eric Clapton and reveals how the song Layla was born.
Ali: Brilliant. Brilliant reads, no doubt. Secondly, what was your first job?
Jenna: My first job was as a waitress at a pub in Philadelphia one summer in college, and I still remember the wing sauce underneath my fingernails when I would get off my shift. So gross.
Ali: I probably have something similar when I first started working my first ever job in the summer. So, thirdly, what makes you happy at work?
Jenna: I still feel like a cheerleader a lot of the time when the lawyers want to pitch or knock it out of the park with a client service gesture. It feels like a personal win for me and the team, which makes me happy.
Ali: Good. What are you listening to at the moment? I mean, that could be podcast, music, audio book.
Jenna: I have a three year old son named Gibson, and he currently dominates my playlist. His favourite song is Wheels on the Bus by CoComelon, and Gibson is also a fan of the Cars movie soundtrack when we tend to listen to these songs on repeat.
Ali: Well, I mean, I love Cars, but I think once you repeat, it might start to send me slightly loopy. And finally, what is your favourite place to visit? Or should I say, where is your favourite place to visit
Jenna: Since I'm so fortunate to live in the mountains here in Colorado for vacation or a holiday, I am always in pursuit of a new perfect beach. In case you or any listeners have recommendations.
Ali: I’m sure, we can give you a few recommendations over here in Europe. But Jenna, thanks so much for coming on. To be an absolute pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed, obviously, learning about the alumni program that you're running, the Good Deeds program, but also getting to know you a little bit better, and hopefully it's been a great listen for all of our listeners as well.
Jenna: Thank you. I really appreciate your time.
Ali: Thank you very much. Take care.
Jenna: Take care. Bye.