The Wall Street Journal has an interesting post this morning on Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's new book, "Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges". In the post, Dan Slater of The Journal observed that "This stuff could apply to lawyers, but it could also apply to anyone engaged in the art of persuasion, we thought."
Hey -- isn't that marketing?
The post goes on as follows:
""For starters: One of the things that immediately jumped out at us is the authors’ advice to acknowledge weakness in arguments right up front.
Under the heading: “Yield indefensible terrain — ostentatiously,” they write: “Rarely will all the points, both of fact and law, be in your favor. Openly acknowledge the ones that are against you. In fact, if you’re the appellant, run forth to meet the obvious ones.”
On the topic, the authors quote Frederick Bernays Wiener: “Grasp your nettles firmly. No matter how unfavorable the facts are, they will hurt you more if the court first learns them from your opponent. ... Draw the sting of unpleasant facts by presenting them yourself.”"
Interestingly, someone else who's used the nettle metaphor is David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy advertising agency, who wrote once that "Leaders grasp nettles."
I have a client who's furiously preparing for a pitch -- in this case, they're not a law firm, but an ad agency. They have very deep market and product knowledge, a really impressive leader, and a demonstrated ability to think creatively. They also have a strong personal relationship with at least one person on the client side already, which helps a lot.
However, they have one drawback. They're a small, young agency, and they're going up against two really big agencies. How should they handle this? Well, they really have two options. They can either try to sort of skate over this, which is kind of a fear-driven response, or they can acknowledge it up front, as Scalia advises.
By acknowledging it up front, they can take control of the issue. They can define it, and position it, and present it in the best possible light. First impressions count for a great deal, and by grasping this particular nettle, they will present themselves as confident, professional and in control. Which also counts for a lot. The lesson here, as presented by Scalia, is simple: don't hide weaknesses. They may not be weaknesses at all. What works for appellate advocacy will often also work in marketing.
And if this law thing doesn't work out, Scalia might make an excellent marketer.