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| 16 minutes read

CMO Series EP122 - Emily McKeown Of Godfrey & Kahn On Authentic Business Development - Building An Approach That Fits Your Market & People

Legal business development has its best practices, but every firm is different. An effective approach to BD is one that fits the firm, its people, and its clientele. 

Today on the CMO Series Podcast, Cam Dobinson is lucky enough to sit down with Emily McKeown, Business Development Director at Godfrey & Kahn, to talk about how to build an authentic and effective approach to Business Development that fits your market and people.

Emily and Cam explore:

  • What an effective Business Development approach is and why it should fit the clients and the firm
  • Emily’s journey to her current role 
  • How to ensure that Business Development happens in a way that clients respond to positively
  • How the firm engages in its own Business Development, and how to fine-tune the approach to do that
  • The conflict between what clients expect from Business Development and what the firm is able to deliver
  • Managing the challenge of scale with the approach to Business Development
  • How to measure and report on success when it comes to Business Development
  • Advice for those trying to build a more authentic and effective Business Development capability in their firm


Cam: Business development does have its best practices. Yet every firm is different. An effective approach to business development is one that fits the firm and its clientele. Today, we're talking about how to build an authentic and effective approach to business development that meets clients where they are. Who better to join us to discuss this than Emily McKeown, Business Development Director at Godfrey & Khan. Emily, welcome to the CMO Series.

Emily: Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Cam: The pleasure's ours, Emily, to start off. Could you paint a picture for our audience of what an effective business development approach is and help us understand why it means that a BD approach fits both clients and a firm?

Emily: Business development is always about relationships. It's about a personal connection and it is about strengthening and deepening your ties to your community. Whatever that may be, the legal community, a regional community, your nonprofit community - business development will always be about strengthening relationships. But now more than ever, the way that we work is in a state of evolution, there's much more emphasis on flexibility. No one's coming or very few people are coming to the office for a consistent 9 to 5 Monday through Friday these days. So, an important element of any BD strategy recognizes that and responds in a way that beats the client where they are, but also continues to emphasize those personal connections. One thing that is often talked about is work-life balance. And of course, it's incredibly important, but oftentimes it brings to mind an image of someone shutting down their computer every day at five o'clock and heading home. And unfortunately, that's often not the case in professional services. So we often strive for something more like work-life integration. Maybe you are working till seven o'clock at night on a project or a networking event, and you stay a little later one night, but the next day, maybe you're logging off at three o'clock because you have to make it to a little league game. So again, work is changing and evolving and we have found a successful BD strategy really responds to that and incorporates it.

Cam: Yeah, I think it's a great way you framed it as a work-life integration. I really like that. And as you mentioned there, it's something that's got to be individual to each person, but also, you know, find something that works for you as a firm as well. Emily, you bring a unique perspective to this discussion. Could you take us through your journey and how you ended up in your current role?

Emily: Sure, like many of your recent guests, my path to legal marketing wasn't linear. I went to law school and then, after graduation, I actually worked in public policy. I worked for a local government focused on housing policy. And from there, I was fortunate to hold a number of different roles and, as is often the case in government, I wore a lot of hats. So I took a role where I was doing budgeting and HR and policy. But I was also working in public relations and media relations and public information campaigns. So when I was looking to take my next step in my career, business development really felt like a natural fit. I brought the legal background and the legal training, but also business operations and some PR work as well. So I was very fortunate to land at Godfrey & Khan into a role where I can really pull on all those various skill sets. Recently, I am also coming back from maternity leave. So now more than ever, I have a whole new appreciation for workplace flexibility and the importance of meeting people where they are in life.

Cam: Absolutely. And I'm sure that yeah, you're very appreciative of the work-life integration balances as you put it. And as you mentioned, the sort of not having the sort of linear path but having been at law school, I know from speaking to a lot of people in similar positions who have ended up in BD marketing or comms roles. It tends to have a great understanding or it tends to be a great help having that understanding, having gone through law school and, you know, you can meet the lawyers where they are a lot easier and their way of thinking. Emily, what else are you doing to ensure that business development happens in a way that clients respond, that clients respond to it positively? 

Emily: I think we have a number of great examples recently that really emphasize this concept of meeting people where they are. We recently reinvigorated a women's networking event. And historically, this is an event that would kick off, say at 5:30 you know, we'd meet somewhere downtown, there would be cocktails, there would be networking. But again, we are looking to meet people where they are and what they currently value in their life. And right now, we're at a state where everyone values tthat integration. So it was as simple as backing up the start time by an hour. Rather than going from 5:30 to 7:30 we went from 4:30 to 6:30. We had an incredible turnout during that first hour. I shared that I recently had a daughter, so it was nice for me personally to get out of there because I understand daycare pickups and spending time with family. But I also spent a good portion of the evening talking with a woman who had just recently adopted a puppy, and she wanted to get home to her puppy. So we really curated this opportunity that allowed for networking. But it also allowed for folks to be home not too much later than the normal work day. So we got a lot of positive feedback from that event. Another piece to that event that we really worked to refresh was our pool of vendors. Again, I think everyone is pretty conscious of how they're spending money these days and to make sure that they can make a positive impact with their dollars. So we made sure to source vendors that were local. And we used it as a way to support women-owned businesses. So not only were we supporting women professionally through networking, but we were also supporting women who owned businesses in the community. And so I think that was, again, a great place to meet people where they are. We know that our clients are looking to be a little more conscious in the way they impact our communities. And we're really able to incorporate that here with this event as well. So other examples of what we are doing to ensure that business development happens in a way that really resonates with our clients. We talked about the timing, and events that might have previously ended with a happy hour. We're now starting with lunch. We're also being creative in how we approach some of our ticket opportunities, sporting events and those kinds of classic business development opportunities. We've always had sporting event tickets. We have professional sports teams in town. Our baseball team is the Milwaukee Brewers. Our basketball team is the Milwaukee Bucks. Recently, we had a female litigator take her son with her to a baseball game, and she invited in-house counsel and asked her to also bring her son, which I thought was a really great creative use of those tickets. She knew that that woman valued facetime with her family. So now she has some quality facetime during a sporting event, but she was also able to create a really nice, memorable bonding opportunity for that lawyer and her child. So not just for women, that applies to dads too, but it's just about being thoughtful and creative and meeting clients where they are to make sure that they derive some benefit from the events as well. 

Cam: And we mentioned off-air Emily, before the podcast. You hosted a women's event and also you were talking about the pro bono efforts as well.

Emily: Absolutely, you know, lawyers have an obligation to give back through pro bono efforts. It's always been an area of emphasis for our firm and our lawyers. But what greater way to provide an ancillary benefit to clients as well than to open up a pro bono opportunity that we have organized for them. We get some face time with our clients and our referral sources and our prospects. So we get a nice business development opportunity, but it also feels good. We're giving back to the community together. We are helping our clients meet their obligation to give back through pro bono efforts as well. So it goes beyond just cocktails after work and really creating an opportunity that everyone feels good about.

Cam: Yeah, I really like that idea of, you know, you've spoken about a bunch of different ways of your meeting clients where they are and it's often the case that people talk that but having the ability for the litigators to take the son to the baseball game, you know, it's really practicing what you preach. So that's great to hear. The other side of this is how the firm engages in its own business development. How are you sort of fine-tuning that approach?

Emily: Sure. For lawyers who are early in their career before they really turn their attention to external business development, it's really just as important to focus on internal business development. And as we've said, a couple of times now, it's about personal connection. There's really no replacement for personal connection and face to face opportunities. So we are actually encouraging our employees to come back to the office for those in person meetings. We have found that everyone responds to food.So we do a lot of lunches and snacks a couple times a month. It's an opportunity to bring everyone back in the office and mingle in a casual way and it really helps especially our younger associates make a name for themselves and make some connections to their peers and colleagues across the firm. So we are trying to practice what we preach and we encourage our attorneys to go out and make those personal connections, but we also want them to have those personal connections within the firm as well. Another example of how we are trying to practice what we preach and how the firm works on its own business development is some employee appreciation. We launched a family friendly zoo event um where we bring everyone together and rent out the local zoo for the evening and we have a nice long afternoon of programming. You can come early if that suits your family, you can stay late if that suits your schedule. We try to have something for everyone. 

Cam: And what was the most exotic animal that you had at the local zoo? I think the most exotic animal we had was a summer associate singing karaoke to the Spice Girls or I suppose I should say memorable.

Cam: Definitely memorable. I'm sure that's the case. And obviously you put a huge amount of time and effort into to being creative. Do you ever find that there is a conflict between what your clients expect from business development and what you as a firm and as individuals are able to offer?

Emily: There can be. Really, the conflict is always gonna be time. We are trying to get face time with those clients. They have probably a lot of law firms looking to get in touch with them. So we want to be creative, we want to provide an event that's fun, that's personal. That shows that we see and understand what they value. Of course, there's a conflict when it comes time for playoff tickets, not everyone can get playoff tickets to the Milwaukee Bucks. So we have to be thoughtful about how those are distributed as well. But again, it's just an opportunity to make sure we are connecting with the client on a personal level. We can't always rely on those kind of stay traditional boring business development opportunities. It's not always going to be cocktails and happy hours and steak dinners and golf. We need to understand that clients are busy, they have a lot of competing obligations and in order to be successful, we need to get to know them and understand what resonates with them and if we can come up with a business development opportunity that really hits home, we're going to be that much more successful.

Cam: And how does your team manage the challenge of scale with this approach to business development? And how are you accommodating the different styles and strengths of lawyers around the firm?

Emily: You have to recognize that business development will never be a one-size-fits-all approach since it's about personal connection. The approach has to be personal as well. So we recognize and play to everyone's unique strengths.  One attorney might be someone who really enjoys entering a room of strangers with a pocket full of business cards, mixing and mingling and making connections for the first time. We have others that aren't quite so extroverted, so they maybe love writing and we would work with them on a strategy that really showcases their ability to distill an issue into a client alert. Other attorneys really just enjoy social media and they are active on LinkedIn, and we support them in that, whether it's creating the graphics or the text or helping them along with a post to amplify their message. We understand that like I said, it's not one size fits all. And so our approach as a business development team, you know, can't be one size fits all, either.  I do a lot of coaching in my job and I often talk about business development, strengths and business development growth areas. It's really important to recognize that oftentimes we don't see our own strengths as strengths because they come so easily to us that we assume they come easily to everyone else as well. And this is not the case. So you really have to be introspective and take a look at where you excel and what your strengths are. And then when you craft a business development strategy that plays to those strengths, you're gonna be that much more successful because you're going to enjoy doing it. You're going to follow through on it, and you're probably going to see, results much sooner than, as a result since you are putting in the time and the effort and it doesn't feel like work. It's something you can enjoy. So it's important as a team as part of a law firm, supporting our attorneys that we recognize that everyone comes with different strengths and we're there to support them along the way no matter what those strengths are.

Cam: Yeah. And you mentioned it's important for the attorneys to meet your clients where they are. But also I guess for a business development team, it's really important for you guys to understand the individuals or the attorneys as individuals. As you mentioned, it might be more difficult for one of them to walk into a room and start handing out business cards. So giving them the tools to be able to be successful I guess is the really critical part there. And the last question Emily here is how do you know when an approach to business development is working? And what are you using, using as sort of measuring sticks or how are you reporting on when it becomes business development?

Emily: Business development is inherently difficult to measure and to quantify. And I think that's because it's a long process. You are setting the foundation with your relationships now and building that business development foundation now for something that may not happen until many, many years in the future where someone needs to come back to you with a problem that they have. It might be quite a bit of time before they bring work in the door. So it's inherently difficult to measure. No one's gonna see results overnight. I think it's particularly difficult for our younger associates and our younger attorneys or for anyone earlier in their career because you just haven't had the time yet to see all your results and your efforts pay off. So it really does take patience. But at the end of the day, it's that much sweeter when you get a big, nice business development win. So rather than having a really rigid measuring stick, I would just say that we encourage everyone to do something. Doing something is better than doing nothing. If that's something works, keep doing it. If it's not working, pivot and try something else. But the most important key piece is just to try and do something because you can't sit back and expect business development opportunities to come to you.

Cam: That's a great way of putting it. And I think there are a load of different takeaways. I've been scribbling down as we've been talking and the fact that there's sort of no one-size-fits-all approach. And, you know, it's super important to meet clients where you are. But also the fact that for many of us, we don't recognize our strengths as strengths because they come so easily to us. Now, Emily, we're moving on to some quick-fire questions that we always ask CMOs on the podcast. What are your favorite business and non-business books, Emily?

Emily: I think I have an answer for both. I just finished reading This is Going to Hurt and it was a memoir about a doctor practicing in the NHS. And it was a real emotional roller coaster. It had been a while since I'd read a book that made me laugh out loud and also brought me nearly to tears because it was so poignant. But it was an interesting look at dealing with patients and working in the medical field. Although it resonated with me on a business level as well, I think in a lot of ways doctors and lawyers are alike and it was a good reminder about the stresses of working in a high-pressure job day to day. So I highly recommend it.

Cam: Yeah, I noticed there that he's just had a west-end show announced here in the UK. So I'm definitely gonna be making sure I get along to that because that seems like it would be great. Emily, what was your first job?

Emily:  My first job was as a sales associate at a mall store called Bath and Body Works. I sold lotion and fragrance. It was a real crash course and being a sales associate and there's truly nothing like working at the mall during the holiday season.

Cam: And is there anything you could take from that into your learnings now?

Emily: That I never wanted to do it again.

Cam: I'm sure it came with its challenges. So what makes you happy at work now?

Emily: At work, I am so fortunate to be surrounded by a really incredible team of marketing and business development professionals. They work hard, they get the job done, but we have a lot of fun too. I've never worked with a better team.

Cam: That's great to hear. We've gone through books, but are you listening to any podcasts, or audiobooks at the moment?

Emily: Well, like a lot of people, time is precious, and I'm always trying to multitask. So for me, it's starting my day and my daily commute with The Daily by The New York Times, a nice deep dive on a global issue.

Cam: Perfect. And final one here, what is your or where is your favorite place to visit and why? Is there a recent trip or something that takes you back to your childhood?

Emily: I've got to plug my hometown. One of my favorite places to visit is Milwaukee's Third Ward. It's just south of my office and the business district, great collection of restaurants and boutique shops and just a great Milwaukee community feel.  So put it on your list of places to visit.

Cam: Absolutely. I will do. I think that's probably the first person to have said uh their hometown, which is a nice change of pace. If you had to summarize this and you had one key takeaway Emily, what would that be?

Emily: You know, I started out talking a lot about how business development is evolving as a result of the way we work, evolving changes in flexibility and emphasis on that work life integration piece. And that a quality and successful business development approach will evolve right along with it, but I don't want to bury the fact that even though we're talking about kind of an evolution, the principles stay the same. Everyone wants to be seen and everyone wants to be heard. And a successful business development strategy will always recognize that and it will always strengthen and deepen personal connections. So I guess one key takeaway is that the more things feel like they're changing, the more things will really just stay the same.

Cam: That's excellent Emily.  As I said, loads of insightful bits of information there. Thank you so much for your time and yeah, we really appreciate it.

Emily: Thank you so much for having me.



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