Fab guests Laura Gassner Otting and Athena Dion joined Rob Kates and me to relive a bit of #LMA23. But quickly (sequins notwithstanding) the conversation turned toward authenticity and advocacy and framily. …
Learning that wonderhell isn’t a destination but a journey; that once you’ve achieved your goal living in a place of “how can I top that?” is doing yourself a disservice; that achievement is about what you learn about yourself and others in the process; that taking the pause after is ok and good because your next adventure will come naturally and organically through; and more.
Yes, we talked about Florida and how #dragisnotdangerous but also how this moment has revealed the good (and sometimes the disappointing) in those around us. We learned that “you don’t have to give your trophies back” after achievement. They’re yours. You earned them. Don’t feel an apologetic need to put them back in the universe. And that sometimes after achievement, a fulfilling path can be helping others then find theirs. And, oh, sometimes “rage and greed” (and borrowed couture) are the only spark one needs to go to that next level!
Shout outs during the show to Megan McKeon, Jennifer Petrone Dezso, Lee Ashby Watts, Danna Tauber, Rich Bracken, Jessica Aries, Holly Amatangelo, Lisa McDonald Kamen, Kevin Iredell, Jessica Haarsgaard, Susie Sexton, and more!
As the saying goes, people support what they help create. Now that the dust (and sequins – more on that later) have settled and we’re back at it at our firms and organizations, I’m reflecting on what was extraordinarily created at LMA’s recent 2023 Annual Conference in Hollywood, Florida…abundant COMMUNITY. Nearly 1,200 of us coming together in person to network, learn ― and sometimes commiserate! But the energy and sense of community at this conference was unique, motivating and palpable. In addition to the many standing-room-only sessions taught by leadership and thinkers on top-of-mind issues in legal marketing, there was a widespread feeling of community, shared experiences and belonging – always LMA’s “special magic” and never more on display than at #LMA23.
True to our conference theme of “Amplify” (our voices, careers, teams, work), the stellar education sessions covered everything from how law firms are or are not using ChatGPT, what works/doesn’t work/needs fixing in the eyes of General Counsel (spoiler alert – they’re FOR using AI!), the crucial value of storytelling and narrative in client connection, how DEI can and must be a pillar of firm culture and evolution, the latest vistas in martech, how to develop and retain talent, and the crucial role of client teams in the engagement and growth continuum among myriad other hot topics.
One of my favorite a-ha moments came from Aarash Darroodi, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation General Counsel and Executive Vice President, and a compelling and provocative “contestant” on our GC panel “game show” (expertly moderated by conference co-chair Jennifer Dezso). He said, and I paraphrase, “Wining and dining is fine, but don’t take me to a football game. Come visit me AT my company and see our culture firsthand and learn what we do. THAT will show me you care.” He and the other panelists *might* have also noted (accurately) that marketing and business development ARE key differentiators in a firm and are crucial to clients’ understanding of capability and connection. You can take that to the bank!
And getting back to sequins, our 2023 conference theme, Amplify was kicked off with a highly-caffeinated, strobe-lit bang in our opening session. In a move to underscore LMA’s inclusivity and encouragement to amplify ourselves, we opened the conference with yours truly singing – well, big old community theatre-style belting – Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and sharing the stage with renowned drag queen and community activist Athena Dion. With a crowd on its feet singing along and cell phone cameras aglow, we kicked off the conference with an “everybody say ‘love’!” wake-up call (sorry/not sorry to those whose coffee hadn’t yet kicked in)! Sequined suits, rainbow chiffon and all.
The message (I hope) was clear – each of us is born to be special and we should bring our authentic selves to our work and lives every day. And as my mama taught me, and I offered to the beautiful assembly: “Tell others what they mean to you IN THE MOMENT when it will mean something to THEM.” (You can watch the full opening production here on Facebook; Thank you, Kates Media and By Aries, for the excellent video support!) Just after that, fabulous, motivating and authentic-badass-wrapped-in-a-warm-hug best-selling author Laura Gassner Otting, delivered a rousing keynote address about how each of us can and should live limitlessly and, well, get out of our own way, removing boundaries and inhibitions to achieve our true potential: Conquer Doubt. Dream Bigger. Be Limitless. Perfect for our Amplify theme!
(In what I think is an unprecedented move, our keynote wrote about her experience at the annual conference on her blog – it’s a lovely Valentine to all of us, so give it a read here.)
All of this would not be possible without the leadership of our outstanding 2023 LMA Annual Conference Advisory Committee (ACAC) Co-Chairs, Jen Dezso, Megan McKeon and Lee Watts, along with the entire ACAC. They fueled innovative thoughts and formats, brought together top thought leaders to share insights and knowledge, and helped more than 115 speakers share best practices and approaches to successful law firm marketing and business development with nearly 1,200 attendees. For those who couldn’t attend, attended but missed a session, or want to relive and review a session you attended, the CONFERENCE RECORDINGS will be available later this month, so watch your inbox. The recordings are included in the Conference registration and are also available for purchase if you weren’t able to attend.
There’s really nothing like being in person at an LMA Annual or Regional Conference. The connections you make, the important information imparted, the nuanced tips and tricks shared among colleagues that are immediately implementable, and meeting with and learning about the new services, platforms and technologies available to make our work better through vendor partners (90+ at #LMA23!) make for an invaluable experience. I strongly encourage each of you to plan now to attend the 2024 LMA Annual Conference that will be held next April 3-5 in San Diego. Registration will open this August (with an Early-Bird Discount) and there will be a Justification Kit available to help you gain approval to attend. I can’t wait to go “All In” at #LMA24 and hope to see you there!
In the meantime, the party continues over the coming months in the events and get-togethers of our eight dynamic regions and more than 40 local groups. They provide of-the-moment learning, support and community year-round. Check out the upcoming events and the fall regional conferences here ― and go! You won’t regret getting involved. I’ve had the privilege of chatting with our amazing regional presidents the past few days, and I know they have BIG things planned for this fall. You won’t want to miss these unique opportunities to reconnect with your regional communities and continue the conversation begun at #LMA23.
Whether you were at #LMA23 in person or not, take that AMPLIFIED, limitless mindset, enthusiasm for our profession and all the incredible learning – (or upcoming learning through the conference recordings) – back to your firms and organizations and use your own version of “sequins” to be your most authentic, amazing, amplified and successful selves. Without authenticity, you never achieve brand differentiation – for your firms, for your companies, for yourselves. And with a “community” like LMA, anything and everything is possible.
P.S. In a wonderful and authentic moment of serendipity, GrowthPlay‘s Deb Knupp stopped me in the hall late on day one of #LMA23 and said she was so motivated by the session opening that she found her key mentors – including CLIENTSFirst Consulting‘s Chris Fritsch and Content Pilot LLC‘s Deborah McMurray among others – and told them that they were instrumental in her setting off and developing her business. And that they needed to know that. Shortly thereafter, who do I run into, but Chris Fritsch who says, “Craziest thing! Deb Knupp just came up to me and told me how important I had been to her career and her personal and professional growth!” Funny that! Don’t hesitate to tell people the positive impact they have had in your life. It makes a big difference to them. And to you.
Fate brings people together at just the right time and just the right moment. Laura Gassner Otting is such a gift. This message below had me beautifully gobsmacked. I’m honored and touched – but more importantly I love how she sees our Legal Marketing Association – LMA International community. These are special souls and her message will mean the world to all.
This past week I keynoted one of the most fantastic events ever. It was the Legal Marketing Association’s annual conference, and while you might think that an association conference could never be exciting or even surprise you… you’d be wrong. Dead wrong.
And here’s why.
Roy Sexton is the chair of the association, and Roy knew his members, and he knew what his members needed: an emotional release, unbridled joy, and amplification of their truest selves after a long few years of taking it on the chin. And, he decided to give them exactly what they needed in the form rainbows, sequins, wigs, and platform heels.
Yes, my friends, there was a drag queen duet to start a conference of 1100 legal marketers. Because why not, right?
My call time for the stage was 9am. At 8:15am the doors opened. All 1100 of the legal marketers in attendance filed in and found their seats. (My parents, who had never seen me speak, were also there and filed in alongside the attendees.) People were subdued, back together for the first time in years, an early morning after late night travel, and while they were excited to see each other, there was a palpable nervousness in the air.
At 8:30am, the room went dark, and Roy, backstage and bejeweled from head to toe in a rainbow-sequined tuxedo tails and silver shirt and pants started singing the opening bars to Born This Way by Lady Gaga. The audience started clapping in time as he came out from behind the curtain and performed the first part of the song.
But, wait! There’s more!
As he began to belt out the chorus, Athena Dion, The Greek Goddess, strode out to join him, and together they sang. The audience was on their feet. The room was pumping. The audience sang and danced as they worked the room like a runway.
Regardless of where you stand on the nonsense fight going on about drag queens — I mean, let’s face it, with the existential climate crisis and rampant mass shootings, don’t we have bigger fish to fry?!? — you can’t help but fall in love with love.
(By the way, if this week’s newsletter offends you, feel free to show yourself out here by unsubscribing. It’s cool.)
Roy wanted to open this conference — the first time they were all back together in three years — with a message: a welcome mat laid out wide, love for all, amplification for every one of us.
Here’s what I know to be true this week: There are million billion miles between being loved and being seen. (Tweet this.)
So many of us feel unseen. Even if we feel loved, we stand nervously on edge, worrying about whether of not people will love the real us when we show them who we really are. Roy blew the doors off of that notion, inviting the entire audience in to his world, and showing them that they could invite him into theirs.
Oh, and, from now on, I’m going to insist in my rider that a drag queen opens every keynote for me.
We’ve gotten a couple of inquiries through the general LMA inbox – only two through that channel – but nonetheless expressing concern about us having an event in Florida given the current political climate. Below is how I have responded in both instances. There are likely better, smarter words I could have used, but these thoughts come from a place of sincerity. I don’t share this here to stir controversy unnecessarily or to spark debate; rather I am simply offering for collective awareness and for continued mindfulness. My response follows, and my door is always open …
“Hi – I appreciated your note about Florida. I actually addressed this a bit in our recent LMA Townhall. You may or may not know this about me, but I am gay and understand deeply your concerns. Of course, as you might imagine the wheels are set in motion on these events years in advance with long-term contracts and such. But even that isn’t a proper answer.
“What I said in the Townhall is that we have members in Florida and communities we serve who have been negatively impacted by state leaders’ actions. Our presence has meaning to them. Also we are identifying programs for LGBTQ youth and people of color and will be doing outreach and fundraising activities to support. I also have a surprise that I don’t want to spoil with which we will be opening the general session that will be a definitive statement as well.
“I know these words are probably cold comfort to you, but it was important for me to let you know that I hear you and we are doing what we can. Thank you for writing.
“Happy to discuss if more helpful – and thank you for your caring heart. Roy”
Me? Write about sporting events? Yeah, I don’t think so.
As a result, you are just getting some random, blurry iPhone photos, illustrating our second AMA Monster Energy Supercross event in as many weeks, this time at Detroit’s own Ford Field.
(Last week’s event at Daytona International Speedway gets a shout-out here.)
This weekend, Supercross returned to the Motor City after a six-year absence, which was an odd gap since Motown has always brought sold-out crowds … but nonetheless we’re glad to see it back at Ford Field.
So, who won the big event tonight? James Stewart. No, not this James Stewart. THIS James Stewart.
Lady and the Tramp at EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival (Photo by Author)
Orlando, Florida is like visiting another planet. A plastic, overpopulated, abundantly colorful, manic far-satellite where they charge you a quarter every time you take a breath.
Last year, we visited Orlando’s sister kitsch-world Las Vegas, and, in 2014, we made our return to Central Florida after a three year hiatus.
It is just as delightfully suffocating as I recall.
Don’t get me wrong. I actually find comfort in super-commercialized, super-merchandised, super-programmed environments. (Some day I will be brave enough to post photos of our basement filled with sentimental, entertainment-themed tsotchkes culled from years of visiting the Disney Bubble and places like it.)
But it is a rather exhausting place to be, making one ever more grateful for the quiet moments amidst a pile of dirty laundry and credit card receipts when one finally returns home.
Call her MISS Poppins! (Photo by Author)
The “polar vortex” continues to grasp at the edges of impending springtime, and our weather was rainy and downright cold most of the time. (I even bought an over-priced knit hat at Disney’s Old Key West gift shop … to wear alongside cargo shorts and flip flops. Quite a look, if I do say-so myself … like a drunken Gorton’s Fisherman at a frat party.)
Nonetheless, we hit the outlet malls, the gift shops, and the tourist traps like the good capitalist lemmings Orlando requires.
I’m not much for “food and wine festivals,” but we happened upon EPCOT’s annual International Flower and Garden Festival. What I would have otherwise thought would bore me to tears was actually delightful – if topiaries artificially contorted into the familiar shapes of classic Disney characters is your thing. Surprisingly, it was mine. Who knew? I wonder if my neighbors will mind this summer when I turn our hedges into the cast from Toy Story? (View the full photo album here.)
Kermit and Piggy promote good eating … and their new movie (Photo by Author)
Even better than the mouse-eared horticulture was the fact that Disney went all out with vegetarian and vegan fare throughout the festival. Each stop around EPCOT’s trademark World Showcase offered at least two or three vegetarian/vegan options and they were good. My favorite was this weird buttery tart scalloped eggplant thingie with a warm beet salad. Yeah, Top Chef‘s Tom Colicchio I will never be – I wouldn’t even be able to describe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and make it sound enticing.
The update to EPCOT’s Test Track is less an overhaul and more a redeco, with the cornier aspects replaced with sleek digital effects and black-light piping everywhere. It works well, though at times I felt I was zooming around Tron‘s rec room.
Kouzzina by Cat Cora at Disney’s Boardwalk was sublime as always … at least food-wise. The chef stopped by our table and worked out an incredible Mediterranean vegetarian spread just for us. Our server, though, seemed to have woken up on the corner of Cranky and Crabby Avenues, while some fellow waitstaff thought it would be nifty to tell the kids at a nearby table to throw their flatware to the ground repeatedly, screaming “Opa!” every time. I may be getting too old for this…
Woody salutes you at EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival (Photo by Author)
Disney continues to tinker with ways to make you feel even more cash-poor and over-managed during and after your visit. Maybe I am just old and cranky, but I feel they have passed the tipping point in this regard. A one day visit to one park is now over $100 a ticket and there is very little that is new or engaging at this point. In fact, there are visible signs of deterioration and “cast member” malaise at every turn.
Compounding the frustration is this new invention called the “Magic Band” which would make Orwell faint. With great cheerful fanfare (one of the few times I saw downright joy from a Disney employee this trip) you are issued these micro-chipped bracelets adorned with the silhouette of Mickey’s head. These bracelets (conveniently linked directly to your checking account) are your “keys to the world” whereby your every move, purchase, encounter is tracked, measured, predicted, and modified. In fact, while wearing the d*mn thing, I even had a story about them pop up on my iPhone.
Disney’s Boardwalk on an overcast evening (Photo by Author)
The concept is that they make everything easier as you don’t have to carry a wallet or keys and you just touch “mouse-to-mouse” on any kiosk or cash register or door around the mammoth resort. I didn’t like it, and I wonder how Disney CEO Robert Iger would take it if I show up next time with jar full of quarters and an abacus. I may try that.
We made our way to a long-time favorite – no Magic Bands required: Dandelion Communitea Cafe, a progressive vegetarian/vegan restaurant well outside the white-gloved, four-fingered reach of the Mouse. If you’re an animal-loving, adventurous vegan/vegetarian, this place is heaven. And, if you’re not, you will be after leaving. The food is so good, and the people are just delightful and authentic and caring. Try the “hunny mustard tempeh nuggets” – seriously. Do it. Your stomach … and chickens … will thank you. Dandelion’s motto is “If anything can go right … it will.” Good for them. I have to remember that now that I’ve returned to snowy Michigan where the sport du jour is “car swallowing/tire shredding-pothole dodging.”
Reducing our carbon footprint … on our way to a gas-hazed motorcycle race (Photo by Author)
Our rental Prius (we really were hippies on this trip) also transported us to Cafe Verde in New Smyrna Beach en route to Supercross at the Daytona Speedway. (Yeah, you read that sentence correctly.) Cafe Verde is a relaxing, vegetarian/vegan-friendly establishment with a wide-range of Mexican and Italian-adjacent menu items. Eggplant struck again, as my favorite item was this dip made from said vegetable pureed along with … some other stuff. Told you I’m not a cook, but I know what’s tasty!
Supercross, for the uninitiated, is a sport whereby a bunch of pleasant young fellows (who seem to hail primarily from Florida, California … and Australia?) ride rumbling dirt-bike motorcycles across a man-made muddy track with an endless series of ramps and ruts and hills and peaks (oh my!). These riders are as much acrobats as racers as they sail through the air with the greatest of ease. And, as you can imagine, the people-watching is priceless with a refreshing cross-section of humanity united in their love of standing out in the cold on a steeply banked Daytona track watching these gentlemen and their flying machines.
As much fun as we had, it’s always good to be home again. And I guess that is the best part of taking any trip. (As a side note, I think I’m going to bury my souvenir Magic Bands in a lead-lined box in the backyard for fear of Uncle Walt tracking me on any and all my grocery trips to Meijer.)