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| 24 minutes read

CMO Series EP142 - Sivan Koenig Galinsky of BFKN on Crafting an Award-Winning Website in a Mid-Size Firm

Building a digital presence that meets client expectations and exceeds them while staying within the confines of budget and resources is an intricate art. 

On this episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Charles Cousins sits down with Sivan Koenig Galinsky, the Chief Marketing Officer at Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP (BFKN), to hear her insights, from resourcing to stakeholder management, on delivering a successful law firm website in a mid-size firm. 

Sivan and Charles discuss:

  • What the website looked like when Sivan joined BFKN and the key drivers for delivering a new website build
  • The starting point for the project and how to identify the right team and talent to take it on
  • The key challenges of delivering a brand new website including resources and budget and how to overcome those  
  • How to choose an internal committee and bring the wider firm on board throughout a website project 
  • Notable successes since launching the website 
  • Top tips for others embarking on a law firm website build

Charles: Building a digital presence that not only meets the client expectations but exceeds them all while staying within the confines of budget and resources is an intricate art. Today,

I have the privilege of talking to Sivan Koenig Gilinsky, the Chief Marketing Officer at Chicago Law firm, Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg or BFKM who brings a wealth of experience in steering the successful delivery of a law firm website from navigating the stakeholder management to identifying the right talents for the job.

Charlie: The CMO Series podcast is brought to you by Passle. Passle makes thought leadership simple, scalable and effective, so professional services firms can stay front of mind with their clients and prospects when it matters most. Find out more and request a demo at Now, back to the podcast.

Charles: Sivan joins the CMO Series to share her lessons on how to craft an award-winning website for a mid-size firm. Welcome, Sivan.

Sivan: Thanks so much. I appreciate being here.

Charles: When we last spoke you were about to head out and watch the solar eclipse. How did that go?

Sivan:  Oh, it was incredible in Chicago, I must say. We had an almost total. It was considered a partial, but we had a 75 degree clear day. So we really saw it all.

Charles: And you managed to get hold of some of those little glasses that you watch it through?

Sivan: Yeah. I had to borrow a pair of glasses from a neighbor because I was not prepared, but yes, it worked out perfectly.

Charles: Fantastic. I remember when we had the eclipse here in the UK. I had my father's welding mask out, looking at it through that, but I saw everyone in the US had those neat little sunglasses. They would have been more practical.  So really, today we're gonna delve into the website project, particularly what was involved, how you executed it and what you were trying to achieve. So, really to kick things off, you've been at BFKN now for three years. What was the website like when you joined and what were the key drivers for delivering a new website? What was it that made you think we need to do this as a project?

Sivan:  Yeah, so that's a great question. When I joined the firm, obviously, my first focus was not redoing the website, although I sort of knew that that was coming, but it was definitely something where we noticed as a team that outside of the outdated design because of course, after probably about 10 years or so of having 7 to 10 years of having the same website, typically firms do redesigns. That was sort of an obvious reason. However, we also saw some core challenges on the back end of the site.  The functionality, we had some issues with functionality and making changes that we needed a lot of help from the actual vendor to do which isn't really typical. You know, and between the two things of being outdated and then some functionality issues, we sort of felt like we had to prioritize the project earlier than we planned only because we didn't want to keep pouring money and time into a website that ultimately needed an overhaul. And so it was sort of like we just had to bite the bullet and really jump on the project. So looking back to the start of that project, how did you identify the right team and the right people to take it on another great question. I mean, that's probably the most overwhelming part of starting these projects is sort of lining up various internal resources and external resources to help you. I would say the biggest starting point before you even involve any lawyers or any internal teams other than your team is to pick your vendor.  We didn't do a very lengthy process. We narrowed it down to really three vendors that we then RFP’d in full, we got full proposals from about three vendors. We chose vendors that were at different price points just to kind of get a sense for what we might get differently from one vendor to another when it comes to pricing and when it comes to support and help throughout the project, we ultimately chose to work with the vendor who actually was already hosting our CMS or our content management system for at the time current website. But that vendor had not handled the full project, they had not handled the design when the redesign was done for that old site. And so we actually chose them really because of their extensive experience building law firm websites and particularly for law firms in the middle market, right? So there are some vendors who specialize in working with much larger firms. There are some that specialize in working with very small firms. We're sort of in the middle and we wanted to make sure we picked, you know, a company that had worked with law firms and had worked with many of around our size, which kind of then dictates about how much content we might have on our site versus another site that is for a larger firm. We also had to make a decision pretty early on um to just, you know, to figure out who was gonna handle the content updates the content, you know, the massive amount of content that goes on a law firm website. We decided early on that my team internally, which is only, you know, 3 to 4 people was gonna handle the bulk of managing the content overhaul. However, we did keep an open mind about the concept of needing to possibly hire external help for that just in case it became sort of too much for my team to manage. And so we sort of built a little bit of a budget for that but kept an open mind on it.

Charles: So it sounds like you sort of leveraged your internal expertise, but you also leveraged a bit of external. How did you decide which bits you were doing internally, which bits we were doing in externally?

Sivan: Yeah, I would say that you obviously can't really be the website vendor, right? So we definitely needed to hire a vendor that was going to both build the website itself and manage the CMS. So manage the back end. We really thought it was important to have that vendor be the same vendor. There are some instances where I've seen websites be redesigned with the design going to one vendor and the back end or sort of the UX and the back end and sort of the building of the site going to another vendor and that can cause a lot of problems along the way. So we knew that we needed that external resource and we wanted it to be consistent. So we locked that in. I would say that the internal resources, you know, we just sort of started with what we had and that was gonna have to sort of be before we even got the lawyers involved.

Charles:  Yeah. And I just had a question, you talked about selected vendors and you had a number of criteria. But how did you actually start, did you get online and Google Web agencies or did you pick up the phone and ring one of your pals? How did you get a sort of a short list or a long list?

Sivan: That's another great question I think, you know, I've actually been lucky enough to do this at other firms, one other firm in particular. And so I definitely kind of new just from industry knowledge of the vendors that we would consider. I think there was one additional vendor that was new to me and that was a referral from one of my colleagues at another firm. So I really did ask around a little bit before sort of picking a few that we would ask to RFP the project for and obviously wanted to also give the chance to the current vendor that we had used for our back end to RFP the project as well. So that was one of the three.

Charles: Yeah, when we spoke before, you mentioned about some of the constraints around  team resources and budget. Can you talk us through the key challenges of delivering a brand new website and how you maybe overcome some of those resource constraints and budget constraints?

Sivan: Yeah, I would say the key challenges definitely arise at the beginning of the prob of the project, right? So, you know, once you pick your internal committee, which I'm sure we'll talk about in a little bit, you first need to kind of look at this as an opportunity to refresh a lot of things that you would put on the site. So for example, it's an opportunity to either have your firm do messaging projects, messaging work in the first instance, if you've never done that or updated whatever materials you have prepared in the past on sort of your firm messaging, you want to do this before you even dive into designing a new website. You know, if you haven't all agreed, you know, I mean, with all the key stakeholders agreed on what the firm messaging is, you really won't be in a position as a marketer to tell the firm's story. I believe a new website is not just about a new look and a new feel and better functionality and a better search tool, for example. I think it's more important that you look at a new website as an opportunity to give the marketplace a fresh look at your firm story. What you're trying to do and what, where you're trying to go is really what hopefully is depicted on your website. And that's gonna be depicted with a number of different interactive tools like words and video and art and pictures. But you can't really do that work until you know what that story is, what that message is. What your position is in the marketplace and you have to be thoughtful about doing that work before you even sort of waste anyone's time building a website. I will also say it's really important to be able to be in a position to use your site as a recruiting tool. And I think that was something that was sort of lacking in our old site. So we spent some time focusing on that even before we designed it to basically say we're not just using this project to up, you know, our game as far as our capabilities go, but we wanna make sure that this website depicts us as a firm as best as we can depict us online, right? So what it's like to work here can come out in our website and so that was another focus of sort of doing that messaging work and doing that prep work um with our internal committee and with our stakeholders internally before we even had the website company on board to sort of have the clock start ticking.

Charles: Yeah. And in terms of timelines, what did that look like in terms of that period where you internally sort of worked out, you know, to use your words knowing what your story is, what were the sort of scales on that months or weeks?

Sivan: Yeah, I would say we took a month or two, I mean, of course it was a summer time where people were on vacations and had some challenges scheduling wise, but we really were thoughtful and we really didn't rush it. We took a month or two to sit down and have quite a few meeting. Once we had some things on paper, we wanted to vet them with a number of key stakeholders at the firm. So I would say it took a month or two and I would say that the vendor was very helpful to be patient with us because they were very clear with us that once that clock started ticking, they were going to keep us on budget and on time, Right? They were going to make sure that a six-month time frame wasn't going to turn into a year. So we were really mindful to not let them, you know, jump and start until we were ready with everything we needed to sort of do that start. And then I will also say, you know, we relied really heavily on the website vendor once that part of the project was going So once we said, here's our messaging, here's our materials and they did give us a questionnaire that was very helpful. They gave us a questionnaire with a number of questions that they needed us to convey to them, which was a lot of this for messaging I'm mentioning right now. So that we were able to work through that in a way that would make sense to the vendor. And then once we started the project, you know, we really counted on them to keep us on track. And then as far as the content went, you know, we realized that, you know, if we hired someone at the time, obviously on such a tight timeline, it would also take us time to you know, kind of train up this external vendor on the content, train them up on our firm, train them up on our lawyers, have them understand, kind of like how to tell our story. And we sort of quickly, probably in the first two months of the project realized that it would just be better if we did it, it would just be more efficient if we did it. And so the way we handled that was, we had one particular team member who was really a good writer and she was also a really good proofreader. And so we sort of assigned her to the role of being the common thread throughout all the content edits on the site. So throughout this entire time frame of this project, she was not only the one who helped us draft a lot of the content, but she was the one who finalized content. So we would send her the drafts and have her edit and proof. And we just wanted to make sure that she was looking for common voice. We didn't want the content to sort of be all over the place. We wanted it to all sound similar. We wanted to sort of use, you know, certain standards to make it sound similar. And that was also really why we chose not to hire an external vendor. We really, you know, we had to manage it properly to get to goal, but we really wanted to make sure there was common voice and there was sort of one person who was in charge of really distilling all the content. 

Charles: I'm just gonna pull out thing that you mentioned there around the internal committee, because I'd be quite interested to learn how did you choose that group? How did you go about bringing the wider firm on board throughout the website development? But how did you go about selecting that in internal committee? And who was that made up of, was it partners? Was it the marketing team? Who was involved in that?

Sivan: So this is a great topic and it's a really important one from my perspective. I think this particular question in area can make or break your project for in a lot of different ways. So I will say I worked with our co-managing partner, kudos to him, he picked with me the committee. We called it the website committee, the lawyers, I'll explain in a second, but it included my entire team. It also included the our head of competitive intelligence because she was obviously very helpful when it came to research and data for this project. And then it included a hand picked committee that we agreed upon in a lot of conversations back and forth. He personally asked each potential member for the committee to join the committee and he also had a personal conversation with each of them to kind of give them a sense for, you know, what is involved, what's going to be involved in being on this committee? What are you gonna be doing on this committee? We also made sure to pick a pretty diverse group that was a good cross section of leaders at the firm from various practice areas. And another tip, I would say that was really helpful is we also made sure to ask one of our IP attorneys in particular, our IP group focuses on trademarks and sort of, you know, branding. We asked one of our IP attorneys actually the head of our practice group for IP to join the committee because we felt that it was extremely helpful to sort of get that person's background in working with our own clients, brands on design, on websites, on branding related projects. So we kind of made sure that that was something that we prioritized and we figured that person would be really helpful given that's part of his day job.

Charles: It sounds like you've got a good range of individuals in terms of actual head count. How many people were in that committee?

Sivan: I would say when all was said and done it was probably around 10 people. And I would also say that throughout the project, we pulled in a few others, we pulled in the head of our BD committee for a lot of different things. When it came to the website, we pulled in our other managing partner. We sometimes would pull in members from HR for the career site. So I would say that was our core committee, but obviously, as other stakeholders, sections of the websites were involved, in particular content, we pulled in many others from the firm, as the project went along, but that core team was really the team that was gonna make decisions.  It was the team that was gonna hopefully not be too much in the weeds, right? It was our job to be in the weeds. It was their job to be strategy and sort of make decisions on strategy and on core aspects of the site and also on the messaging as I discussed. So that was the big crux of what we spent a lot of time with that group on once the project was rolling, we obviously had regular meetings and we asked them for a lot of advice, but that they weren't meant to sort of be in the weeds like we were.

Charles: And on reflection do you think that group was the right size or do you think you could have had more people involved or less people involved or do you think you hit the nail on the head?

Sivan: I think it was the right size. I think it's gonna depend on your firm size and your practice groups and your stakeholders, right? I don't think there's an exact right size overall. I think it's the right size for your firm. We weren't as focused on like keeping the committee a certain size. We were focused on having the right people on the committee and we were also focused on having people who we knew would care about the project and be involved and engaged and sort of not MIA, right? When it came to it because we knew this was a long project, we knew this could take us, you know, roughly nine months, 6 to 9 months. So, we didn't want people who were going to start getting really excited, do something for a few weeks and then sort of fall off. Right. These are all really busy attorneys. So, I think it's all about the strategic picking and the strategic building of the committee and not as much about the number of people, but if you had a 25 or 30 person committee, you just wouldn't be able to get anything done. That's kind of obvious. So, I would say you kind of have to find the sweet spot between those two factors.

Charles:  So when did the new website go live? 

Sivan: April of last year. So we actually just hit our one-year anniversary. I think it was April 13th if I remember correctly.

Charles: Fantastic. And since launching the new site, how has it been received and what success have you seen?

Sivan: So I would say, I feel super confident saying that the news site has been a success and I was thinking sort of about the reasons and truly there's quite a few, you know, first and foremost, I will say, I know our CFO and our management committee was thrilled about the fact that we came in both on budget and on time. I'm sure anyone who's listening knows that these type of projects often don't stay on either of those timelines and either of those budgets. You know, both of these are huge feats and I know that, you know, when managing an overhaul of a website, there's so many things that come up that you don't expect. And oftentimes, you know, you fall off on either of those areas. So that to us was a big personal accomplishment as a team. I will also say we watched the site analytics pretty closely and we can sort of, you know, share data with you. Now, I can sort of share a little bit of the highlights just that really showed us that the new site was doing very well. In the first month of the new site being up versus the last month of the old site, we went from 12,000 visitors per month to 47,000 visitors. We also saw, I know I was, we were like shocked. We also saw the average minutes that someone spent on the site go up from a minute and seven seconds to four minutes. So, you know, those two analytics tell us that, you know, the site's engaging people are not just coming to the site in obviously much higher numbers, but they're spending time on the site. You know, we obviously did our research and sort of worked with our vendor to understand what is successful. What are the rates that say? Oh, wow, your site's successful from an analytics perspective. And they were really thrilled with these results. I will also say obviously when you first launch a website, your data analytics is are gonna be a little bit inflated because you're spending time driving people to the site, but they've stayed pretty consistent, pretty much double what our visitor rates were on our old site. They've stayed that consistent this whole time, this whole year, pretty steadily, we check them probably once a month. And so I will say I can continue to say that, you know, that part is still going strong. And then, you know, thirdly we've won a bunch of awards. We had didn't even know some of the awards we were winning or submitted to. I think our vendor probably submitted us for a few. And I think, you know, some of them are a little more organic, but we've won um a number of awards and that are actually not Law firm awards like law Industry awards, but web Industry Awards, which was basically meant our site was being assessed against many other industry sites. And as we know, law firm websites are usually not at the forefront of compared to other industries that are sort of ahead of us when it comes to technology and when it comes to, you know, digital market. But I will say we were recognized with a web excellence award with two .com platinum awards with two web3 awards, one of them was gold and one of them was silver. So these are just a few, there's a few others. I'm not going to bore you with mentioning, but obviously that is an indicator in the marketplace that the site sort of was viewed as a good site and also a good web redesign that was sort of one of the categories. And then finally, we just received a lot of feedback. We, you know, we saw feedback from our attorneys and also our staff at the firm were very proud sort of to work at a firm with this new site. Lots of good feedback from everyone at the firm and then clients and friends of the firm have spent quite a bit of time reaching out to us telling us, you know, how much they like the site. They noticed that homepage video is exciting to them and the imagery and sort of the functionality improvements and all the fresh content on the site sort of has gained a lot of attention. So I would say those are kind of all the reasons why I would deem it a success.

Charles: Yeah, I mean, it’s a pretty robust argument but you, you know, you've got the, the anecdotal stuff, you know, your CFOs happy, your clients and friends of the firm are saying you've got a brilliant website, but then you've also got the numbers to back it up as well, so that you talked about those, you know, over a 300% increase in web traffic. And the additional time people spend on the website. So you've got the numbers and the anecdotes so it sounds like you absolutely nailed that one.

Charles: So, now we're at that point in the podcast where we jump into the quick-fire round so we can find out a bit more about who is Sivan Koenig Galinsky. The first question is, what are you listening to or reading right now?

Sivan:  So I have to admit I am definitely listening to the new Taylor Swift album, but I have a nine year old daughter. So I don't really think I have a choice.

Charles: I think everyone's listened to that. That and the Beyonce one. And reading anything at the moment?

Sivan: Not right now, I'm the queen of starting books and not finishing them. So I would say it would be a waste of time to tell you all the books I'm in the middle of.

Charles: No problem. What was your first job?

Sivan: So I would say my first real job was the director of a summer day camp in our neighborhood for a number of summers actually.

Charles: Oh, awesome. What did that involve?

Sivan: Running multiple kids' day camp groups, camp groups, camp counselors working with the head of the lifeguard team. It was at a country club. So it was actually a pretty busy camp. So it's kind of a great way to learn how to manage people and also have a really fun summer.

Charles: Oh, lovely out outdoors as well.

Sivan: Yes, very much so.

Charles: Yeah, perfect. And personally and professionally, what is one piece of technology you can't live without?

Sivan: I think this was a very easy one. My phone and specifically my calendar, I would be absolutely lost without that piece of technology.

Charles: Is that for both personal and professional?

Sivan: Oh, I would say so. Yes. I know a lot of people who have like a family calendar separately and a personal calendar separately. I don't know how those people function. It all needs to be in one place.

Charles:  Absolutely. And what's a small habit you have you that you think could help others.

Sivan: So, I am a little old school when it comes to taking notes. I'm a stickler for handwrit notes and handwrit lists. There's this insane amount of satisfaction and actually crossing something physically off a list. I'm interested in how the world has turned into taking notes on electronic tablets, but I don't think it's for me, it's just something I've always done and something I've always found very helpful and satisfying. I also think it helps me remember things better when I write things down and I physically need to actually do the writing down for that to be the case. So that's just me.

Charles: Yeah, I've got all of my notes for this conversation in a little notebook in front of me. I'm actually nearing the end. And there's also that satisfaction when you get to the end of your notebook.

Sivan: I'm in the same place in my notebook right now.

Charles: Oh, fantastic. Where is your favorite place to visit and why?

Sivan: So, I love traveling through Europe. I will never get sick of going to certain places in Europe. I've already been to like Italy or France. I will say. I haven't seen all of Europe yet and I still have both Spain and Greece on my bucket list. So I'll be trying to get back there at some point.

Charles:  Fantastic, good time to go actually in the summer in Europe.

Sivan: Yeah, definitely.

Charles:  Wonderful. If you could give three tips for others embarking on a law firm website build based on the experiences you had and the process you went through. What would those three tips be?

Sivan: So I would say first and foremost, definitely do your leg work up front. Don't rush to start the project even if your vendors pressuring you to start, right? Don't rush to start the project until you have truly, you know, spent the time, made the effort to get it right before you embark on this timeline. And as I mentioned, the firm messaging the strategy around what the firm story is and how you will depict it on the site, picking the right vendor, you know, in the first place and really strategically building that internal committee, I think those are the three key things to sort of, you know, fall under the doing the leg work.  I would also say, you know, when you're thinking about picking a vendor, I think you really need to pick a vendor that not just that they really know what they're doing and have done it many times. But I do think, you know, it should be a vendor that has worked with companies in your industry, first and foremost, but also companies that are similarly situated to you. So, you know, as I mentioned, there are vendors who do law firm websites and they specifically are vendors who do them for very large firms. I think that it was important to us to pick a vendor that has done, you know, 500 or more times for firms that are our size and firms that have around our scope of services. So as similar to our situation as possible. And then I would also say, you know, pad deadlines, we had internal deadlines for everything, we had multiple internal deadlines. And when we set those deadlines up, we made sure that, you know, we spread those out. So because of how many stages there are in particular to the process with the vendor, but also to then updating your content. So how much is there to update? I would say there's so many balls up in the air throughout the whole project and to be able to stay on schedule. You really need to provide internal deadlines both to your team and your team needs to provide those to the internal stakeholder who are updating things like their bios or practice group pages. You need to spread out those deadlines and those deliverables to really be running the entire length of the project. So that when you're getting edits and drafts and things coming to your desk, you're not getting them all at once, right?

You have an ability to spread out what's coming your way and continue to sort of push the process through but not have unrealistic expectations for timing. And then that way you're sort of working on content for, you know, 6 to 8 months, however long it takes you, you're not sort of waiting for design to be done and then you start content and you only have a few months for that. That's sort of the piece that takes probably the most time while your vendor is guiding you on everything else.

Charles: Wonderful. Yeah, I jotted those down. So leg work up front, know your story, know your firm, message two, pick a vendor that knows the industry, knows your sort of the structure of those mid-sized firms and how they differ from those bigger firms. And then three, setting those clear deadlines and goals and having a sort of a thought out timeline that you're working to it. I guess it, it makes sense that's what led to the success you saw and the proof is really in the pudding. I've been on your website. It looks fantastic. You've got some fantastic feedback and you're getting the numbers you want to see for that refresh of the time you've put in.So it sounds like you're off to a really good start with the website that's that went live last year.

Sivan: Thanks so much. Yeah, we feel that way and hopefully this can help others who are wanting to dive into the daunting project of your day job, plus redoing a website.

Charles: Yeah, it's definitely one of those make or break projects isn't it? You definitely have people staying up late nights and sweating about it.

Sivan: Absolutely, wine and popcorn at 2 a.m. only for a few weeks though. We really only had sort of the final grind in the last few weeks, I would say before our deadline up until then everything was sort of really doing it during the day and during the regular hours. But yeah, there's always that final push that you can't avoid.

Charles: You're out and you're on the other side. So fantastic job on the website. Thanks for coming on today and talking about it. And um hopefully if folk are embarking on a similar project They've now got a few ideas of how they can nail it just like you have.

Sivan: Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me. This is one of my favorite topics.




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