Q&A with Benjamin Greenzweig

Interview with Benjamin Greenzweig
May 2011

Benjamin J. Greenzweig is the Managing Director of American Conference Institute, a global provider of conferences, seminars, trade shows and training courses. Serving as the company’s key executive responsible for driving growth, Ben has been a valued LMA member since 2007. Ben and ACI work with numerous law firms and have produced the 2010 and 2011 LMA Annual Conferences and have started work on the 2012 iteration.

What are you most proud of achieving during your tenure at ACI?

Apart from driving significant, real and sustainable growth for more than two years in what still remains a challenging economic climate, perhaps the achievement I am most proud of is the long term partnership ACI forged with the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) as the event organizer for their Annual Conference. The genesis for the partnership actually began in 2007 when I attended what would be my first LMA Annual Conference in Atlanta. Surrounded by such great people, successful professionals and dedicated volunteers, as a new member I simply felt that my company could create and deliver a more valuable experience not only for the LMA, but for all the attendees, speakers and sponsors. Selfishly, I wanted to create a better Annual Conference that I would be excited to attend. What started as a seedling of an idea eventually germinated into action as ACI has now delivered two highly successful Annual Conferences for the LMA (2010 and 2011) and we’re already working on the next one. Not only did this partnership bring long lasting value to all stakeholders, but it helped forge even greater business ventures for ACI; ACI now counts almost half a dozen professional associations as clients that we service in varying capacities.

Tell us a little about your career before ACI.

Prior to ACI, I worked for The Economist Group in the Conferences division as the Director of Sponsorship Sales. In this role, I developed and managed a global portfolio of events that capitalized on the newspaper’s valuable brand and reputation as well as worked with dozens of Fortune 500 and AmLaw 200 companies seeking greater exposure and thought leadership opportunities with an audience of board level executives. Before The Economist, I worked for the Institute for International Research (IIR) which was acquired by Informa several years ago. That’s where I began my life in the professional conferences industry.

From your perspective, how has the legal industry/legal marketing industry changed over the past three years?

One word: sophistication. From my perspective, all of the successful players in the legal industry have grown more sophisticated in how they manage, develop and sustain business. While there will always be challenges, understanding them first – and subsequently creating a plan to remedy them – requires a baseline of market intelligence and savvy that this industry now possess. The mere fact that so much time and effort is spent on social media and SEO just highlights how much the legal industry has evolved in a relatively short term. The top sessions from the 2008 LMA Annual Conference were “Powerful Presenting for Marketers: How to Quickly Prepare and Deliver Compelling Messages Every Time” and “Debunking the Myths: Elevate, Strengthen and Expand Your CRM and ERM System.” Now fast forward to 2011, and the top rated sessions were “A Tactical Approach to Adopting and Executing Alternative Fee Arrangements,” “Creating Successful Pitching Strategies to Improve Win Rates and Demonstrate your Value to the Firm” and “The Path to World Class – Exploring the Attributes that Distinguish Top-tier Legal Marketing and Business Development Teams.” Clearly the market – and all of the players in it – have become more sophisticated and that presents new challenges and opportunities.

Tell us a little about what other industries are doing and which ones you see growing the most?

Not surprisingly, the industry where I have seen the greatest amount of growth is the legal industry, specifically regarding regulatory affairs and compliance. As the world still recovers from the “Great Recession” tidal wave, what remains washed ashore is an ever increasing regulatory environment and, unlike the 2001 recession, no industry has or will escape unscathed. A decade ago, SARBOX caused major changes in regulation, however many other sectors – and policies – were left untouched. In the current environment, there are simply no stones left unturned. Whether you are working in finance, technology, communications, advertising, energy, global trade, life sciences or consumer products, you are – or will be – influenced by some new regulation both in the US and abroad. For many reasons, I personally do not foresee any decrease in this activity for quite some time, most notably because regulation is a “victimless” action. While some can (legitimately) argue that increased regulations can suppress growth, innovation and economic activity, typically when one large entity (the government) comes down on another large entity (i.e. the pharmaceutical sector or the energy sector) it is very hard for most people to directly relate to the impact the outcomes will have on them. No one outside of the industry wakes up and worries that today’s FDA ruling on a medical device approval process will impact their ability to get a new hip in 25 years – even though it could.

What can legal marketers/law firm leaders learn from other industries and what can they do to continue to be successful?

I personally would never underestimate the importance of innovation across all job functions. Look at the industries that have, over the long run, been able to survive and thrive in all economies. Proctor & Gamble, for example, has capitalized on every single bull and bear market to constantly innovate its process, people and products. McKinsey Quarterly ran a great article in June of 2002 that recently resurfaced after Lehman Brothers’ collapsed entitled “Learning to Love Recessions,” by Richard F. Dobbs, Tomas Karakolev, and Francis Malige. These authors wrote a brilliant piece about companies that have emerged from previous recessions stronger and more highly valued than before the economic decline. The focus of their research was on how these organizations made strategic choices that, as the authors wisely put it, “defy conventional wisdom.” I personally adopted many of these tactics in my business at ACI and have seen several law firms and legal solution providers onboard similar strategies. Innovation is the only skill that can never be outsourced or downsized and every organization must constantly strive to find ways to utilize this resource in both successful and challenging economies.

What are some of your secrets to running a successful business in a challenging economy?

As banal as it may sound, the value of human capital simply cannot be understated. Deriving value from your staff takes more than a slogan or a process – it takes a well thought out and successfully executed strategy designed to fit the personality and brand of your organization. When all employees feel engaged and vested in the success of their efforts, high performance can materialize. While this process starts from the top down it must be constructed from the bottom up. ACI has at least half a dozen practices in place to drive employee engagement and the results so far have surpassed my expectations.

What advice to you have for legal marketers on how they can help lawyers and Firms raise their visibility with clients?

I firmly believe that as our economy becomes ever more digital, the value and opportunity of a face-to-face meeting skyrockets. Simply put, the value of a handshake can never be replaced. As business drivers, legal marketers have a tremendous opportunity to generate handshakes for their partners which, simply put, can translate into business. They are as much gatekeepers as they are rainmakers. While they may not live by the billable hour, they are, in my opinion, no less responsible for it than a partner. One of the easiest ways to get more handshakes is through live events. In some cases, this is through an association meeting, in other cases it happens by working with a professional conference company. In 2011, ACI will host more than 11,000 professionals across our conference portfolio, including 100% of the AmLaw 200 and 100% of the Fortune 500. There are many handshakes in that crowd and a savvy legal marketer will be able to maximize these opportunities time after time. Some of the most successful legal marketing professionals I know have as close a relationship with me as they do with their partners. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Close relationships beget success…as do handshakes.