New media irritations for NSSTA and SSP.

As perhaps one of the first industry bloggers, and definitely the first industry podcaster, I get almost daily questions, complaints and feed back from other settlement professionals about the impact that new media is having on our one time sleepy, staid, "under the radar", industry. Their complaints typically range from annoyance that a few people who have taken the initiative to start blogs and learn the ropes of blogging now seem to dominate the industry conversation, or that the cost and complexity of starting a new media broadcast is far beyond the scope of most professionals or general agents. Add to that the recent entrance of a media marketing group that is funded by factoring and life settlement interests, and that their aggressive push to turn themselves into the "voice of the industry" to attorneys, investors and the financial community, has created a level of anxiety that gets expressed to me almost daily in some fashion by a settlement planner or life company official.

So the question to my brethren in the settlement world is this " How long are you guys going to sit on the sidelines and complain, and at what point are you going to stop bitching and get in the game?" 

The fact is that most of the biggest complainers are those who have for years enjoyed a competitive marketing advantage due to exclusive selling or marketing arrangements with big casualty firms, self insureds or governmental agencies, relationships they have worked long and hard to develop and jealously protect. It took a specific skill set to operate in that world and to succeed in the settlement profession, but the emergence of new media and open communication, coupled with greater plaintiff sophistication and control, have created a new dynamic where "experts" can arise over night and the end users of our products and services can research our industry with a click of their mouse. People and firms can choose to hide behind their walls, but all walls can be breached and the fact is that our industry is being out worked and out financed by companies and industries that often don't have our clients best interests at heart.

So what do structured settlement firms, settlement brokers and our respective industry associations need to do to get in the game and seize the high ground?

1. NSSTA membership needs to get behind and adopt the Army of One proposal laid out in the Austin, TX meeting by the marketing committee. For those of you who missed it, this presentation laid out the foundation of an industry communication and marketing program that is self financing, enlists the support and talents of the entire NSSTA membership, but leverages new media tools such as blogging, podcasting and sophisticated email campaigns to educate our end consumers and settlement decision makers. The response and support of the NSSTA board has been great on this, and the Joe Jamail videos that will be unveiled at the La Jolla NSSTA national will be the opening shot in this long term battle for the minds of consumers, but this "job" can not fall on the shoulders of the NSSTA staff in Washington, DC. Every member of NSSTA needs to become informed about the details of this program and make an effort to implement it into the daily practice. Get out of your caves, get off the golf course and do the 8 to 10 hours of work necessary to make this part of your firms contribution to your industry. You will be stunned at how much it will raise YOUR profile with your clients and the additional business you will realize as a result of these efforts. Outside interests are about to eat our industry's lunch in media relations and PR and you will only have yourselves to blame. Don't wait for "NSSTA HQ" to do it, get it done yourself today as the tools are there for you to get started.

2. SSP needs to break free of the perception that they are a captive of the factoring industry and start a real communication program. Time for a little tough love for my friends at SSP. I was a member, I wrote checks to fund lobbying and donated a lot of time, money and capital to promote the interests of this group that was organized to be an advocate plaintiff rights and issues. As a career plaintiff advocate I had a stake in the growth and survival of the SSP, and although not currently a member, I still would like to see it continue to grow and become a viable entity to promote plaintiff interests and issues. However, the over dependence of the organization on funding from factoring companies has created a taint on the organization that prevents a substantial number of professionals from joining or supporting the organization. I know that John Darer has become a permanent thorn in the side of SSP and many of it's members on this topic to the considerable annoyance of the society. Well, if you don't like the heat or don't want the exposure, or if you think he's inaccurate in his commentary, how about SSP starting a blog, doing some podcasts or getting into the game to explain their positions and beliefs? Just talking to each other isn't getting it done guys and I know that you have members who have agitated to start some new media efforts, but their proposals were shot down on the premise that "hiring LBN" was "giving SSP money to a competitor", a reference that hiring LBN to promote SSP would be somehow putting money in my pocket as a partial owner of LBN. Fine, hire someone else at 3 times the price, but until you get serious about developing and funding a comprehensive communication strategy that includes blogging, podcasts and search engine optimization you are going to be a punching bag to those who have the platform you lack. The SSP does some very good things and has some outstanding professionals, but if you do a search of the term on Google most of the results turn up attacks on the society and that is going to be your lot in life until you take the steps necessary. You guys know my number and LBN is open for business.

3. Individual brokers and general agents need to develop their own new media strategy in a fashion that partners with their customer base. It doesn't matter if you are plaintiff only, such as Forge asserts they are, if you are an exclusively defense oriented firm, as most firms working AIG claims are, or if you are a mixed shop like most other firms and brokers, you all have your installed base of clients and prospects. There is no better return on your marketing dollar, in my humble opinion or personal experience, then that spent in partnering with your clients on new media ventures. It doesn't have to be grandiose or absurdly expensive ( i.e. Ringer Radio ) in order for it to work to your benefit or the benefit of your client. A simple example for those out there to ponder. Everyone of you knows of a lawyer in your city that has a " Saturday morning Law show" on the local radio station or cable TV channel. These shows are valuable marketing and educational efforts for attorney's all over the country. What if I told you that for less the $1000 a month you could go to those law clients of yours and offer to " take them national" with their show at ZERO additional work on their part with you as their signature sponsor of ALL of their internet content and marketing? Do you think they might look at you in a different light now that you are effectively leveraging their efforts and helping them solve a problem, all while obtaining national exposure and credibility yourself? That's just one idea and opportunity available, but once again it takes you spending some time, money and creativity to develop long lasting partnerships with your clients. Help them, help yourself, and oh by the way, I can also show you how to make it so that it eventually costs you ZERO to sponsor them if you stick with it and the show is a success. Again, you know how to reach me.

The point of this post is this: You guys who keep calling and emailing me need to stop complaining about other bloggers, podcasters, media interlopers and others and get in the game! All marketing money for every major firm in the US is shifting dramatically to online media and if you want to get left in the dust, be my guest. Just more for the rest of us while you sit there grumbling. LBN is an open platform that develops partnerships and channels for YOUR client base of attorneys, law firms, state and national associations, and soon enough, insurance companies as well. If you don't like me or don't want to deal with LBN, there are other entities out there you can contact as well. However, if you don't do it, your competitors will. So, let me repeat it one more time for emphasis.

Get off the sidelines and get in the game! 

Posted on March 25, 2008 and filed under New Media, Speaking of Settlements.