Dressing The Part: Hollywood’s Lessons To Law On Pitching To New Clients

Last Friday night the movie theatre was empty. Well, not quite, the economic recession permitted a near fifty percent occupancy. But, it’s safe to say that moviegoers are nonplussed by new releases.

Has Hollywood lost its edge or its equity?

Typically, Fall-released movies fall short of the success of summer flics. Nevertheless, opening weekend for Disney’s John Carter, whose production price tag hit $275 million, not only missed financial expectations, it flat-lined, according to the Harvard Business Review Blog. At an operating loss of $80-$120 million, Disney claims this film is arguably the biggest flop of all time.

For all its pyrotechnics and high-tech effects, you’d think Hollywood would have mastered the formula for box-office success. But, when it comes to the technology of financial prediction, producers have been relying on feeling as opposed to financial modeling.

In fact, this gut-check method of choosing creative screenplays has existed for a while now.

A study by Kimberly Elsback and Roderick Kramer titled, “Assessing Creativity In Hollywood Pitch Meetings: Evidence For A Dual-Process Model Of Creativity Judgments,” explained in 2003 that producers link certain behavioral cues, such as “dressing like an artist” or exhibiting a Woody-Allen-like neuroticism, to creativity.

Basically, producers are using personality and behavioral stereotypes—snap judgment instincts—to determine whether or not a person has creative talent and whether or not to produce their film.

One producer stated in the study, “Sometimes the more dull a writer is in a room, the better you think their writing is because you assume they have an internal world they’re in, and that’s what they do. They put it down on paper and don’t waste time figuring out how the presentation should be.”

Furthermore, some of these behavioral quirks—like lack of polish or anxiety—are known to be the opposite characteristics as those correlated to actual creativity. This might explain the recent trend in feature flops.

How do we know all this? Data. Analytics.

“Analytics allow studios to go beyond simple focus groups or established financial modeling to determine how audiences might respond to a given film. It’s all about identifying patterns in past data, melding them with current data points that are readily available, and then taking action to improve business performance,” writes Scott Schlesinger for the HBR Blog.

Hollywood producers may be missing the mark because they’re not marking any data points.

“For a studio looking to reboot a franchise or remake a film that had potential but wasn’t executed well (queue John Carter) [analytics that assess statistically significant factors in predicting economic performance of motion pictures] would be highly recommended to help determine precisely how best to remake a film and what return you could expect to gain,” advises Scott Schlesinger for the HBR Blog.

Still, what does this lesson for Hollywood give to law firms?

First, like Hollywood, law is about appearances. When pitching your expertise to a new client, remember that it’s sometimes just about the appearance of credibility. Dress the part, speak the legal lexicon, and display the characteristics of a lawyer.

Look competent in your pitch and your clients will assume that you are.

Second, like Hollywood, law is dependent on analytics. This means, finding trends in the market (for example, a rise in bankruptcy practice or contingency cases) and seizing them.

Leverage historical data on your law firm to find the biggest budget gluts, and opportunities for profit.

Don’t assume nailing the pitch and claiming the client is enough to succeed. Law firms should always be conducting robust and unbiased analyses on their performance. So, like motion pictures, you can allocate the appropriate amount of funding to talent, marketing, and operations.

In the end, the only thing formulaic about a blockbuster hit is the extent to which producers plan its timely release and predict its revenue. In law, be passionate about your practice, be systematic in your data analysis, and definitely keep that gut in check.

-WB

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