Tim Kenney‘s interview with Cynthia Howard
When I think about Cynthia Howard I envision an explorer who’s not scared to delve into the unknown.
You see, she’s not afraid to put a thought-out bet on, because she doesn’t see being the first to work on a project or with a business as a gamble, in most cases, it’s actually turned out to be a gold mine. A gold mine for opportunities, experiences and revenue.
Cynthia is bold, creative and full of experience, in the past 20 years, she’s worked with companies of all stages and sizes, from many angles including sales, PR, marketing and business development. She’s helped start an organization with only $100k and a business plan and she’s dedicated her career to high profile professional services organizations.
She even spent several years as a moonlight scriptwriter for John Tesh’s ‘Intelligence for your Life’ internationally syndicated radio show.
I spoke to her from her Colorado office to find out about her journey and how she got to where she is today.
So tell me about your going from forward-thinking Ernst and Young (EY) 20 years ago to working for a startup. Was it a difficult transition?
“It was, I remember thinking on my first day at the startup – what did I do? I didn’t even have a password to get onto the computer. EY had afforded me so many leading edge training opportunities and interactions with the most sophisticated clients and contacts…I was going into a different world.
“But working with Octane – an accelerator in Southern California for entrepreneurs in the tech and medtech industries – was so much fun it allowed me to just try, free from the restrictions of a process as nothing was established. I could see what worked and what didn’t and move forward quickly.
“Then a move back to Colorado prompted me to get into the legal marketing sector, working for long-established law firms like Holland & Hart and Lathrop Gage (now Lathrop GPM), which were both great places.
“Although in some ways it felt like being stagnant creatively because they were so very well established and knew exactly what they were doing and what their clients liked so they were less eager to try new marketing strategies, unlike my time at the startup.
“But where I am now at Greenspoon Marder allows me to channel that creativity and introduce new ideas because of the entrepreneurial spirit of our leadership team and the firm itself. The exciting benefit is that the niche industry pools we splash in become entry points to our core practice areas, including litigation, real estate and transactional services.”
Tell me about the variety of firms you’ve worked with, do they have different personalities?
“They sure do! So each one is very unique and different. I first went to Holland & Hart which is the largest Colorado-based law firm.
“They are over 100 years old and very established in oil and gas, they have really unique market spaces in Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico. So I had to learn the regional differences in how the attorneys practice law and in courts, plus the various ways clients want to be treated.
“Then I moved to the Midwestern Lathrop Gage, I worked with corporate and business groups there. They were both long-established firms so both had similar procedures but very different ways of doing them.”
Where did the instigation to work in the cannabis industry come from?
“Interestingly, Greenspoon Marder was essentially founded on a niche service in the 1980s when they started in South Florida with real estate law, particularly with timeshare which was at the time considered very risky – an idea many thought wasn’t going to last.
“But it worked for the firm, and worked well. And so the firm was founded on an entry point of calculated risk. So when markets like Colorado, Oregon and California began to legalise adult-use marijuana, our founders wanted to lead the way among their competitors and they followed their intuition. By 2016 they launched their cannabis practice and did a lot of things well before I joined.
“I joined two years later as they needed someone to tie it together – regulations were moving so quickly, so they wanted a dedicated marketing and business development person to help and that was me.”
Since joining, what are the milestones you’re most proud of?
“I would like to say that we’ve secured our spot as the number one AMLAW 200 firm dedicated to cannabis, but I can’t prove that so I will confidentially say we are in the top five.
“We’ve made some really bold moves in positioning our attorneys on hot, controversial topics and we’re well researched in the area and the clientele. You know, we’ve been at consumption friendly shows and conferences as the only law firm and we’ve been there handing out branded rolling papers speaking the language of our clients.
“And we’re putting our money where our mouth is, we’ve got a dedicated lobbying group based out of DC called The Liaison Group working towards federal legalisation. We’re also working on changing the banking challenges and taxation because currently there’s an insane amount of taxation on cannabis businesses which pushes people back to the black market.
It’s coming up to 500 days now for you in your CMO role, congratulations! Is there anything you’ve done that stands out to you during this time?
“Oh wow, is it, I didn’t realise! I was promoted during the pandemic which was interesting and hard, but as things were tumultuous on the outside we turned inwards.
“We did a lot of work internally and we made tweaks to processes and systems so that we’re now in a better position than ever to really be successful in our larger BD strategies. We really doubled down on our communications, in particular on social media and our website, analyzed data, made adjustments, and our followers and views have sky rocketed.
How much client work falls to your team versus to the attorney to get ready for any business development?
“We are very hands-on, we will do a lot of personalisation and customisation, and we get many opportunities for high profile pursuits across industries and practice areas.
“As a Marketing team, we have an open-door policy and we will always help, any time of day or night. Obviously, like all teams, we have to triage at some point when it comes to resources and time. In particular with larger government RFPs, in those cases, I will talk with the attorney and set boundaries as to what we can help with and the deadlines, as those can be very time intensive. Overall we try to work with every attorney on whatever they need, where some firms are very limiting on where they lend their marketing and BD resources. I’m always open to a conversation.
“For me, when you can think of marketing through a BD lense then that will win because it’s easy to create something that looks or sounds great but if it’s not going to sell, or it’s not what the client wants then it’s not the right angle.”
And does the team do any pitch coaching?
“All day long! We work hand in hand with attorneys to strategize on pitches, proposals and RFPs. We have an incredible internal program where we highlight our rainmakers and bring our various practice areas top of mind for all attorneys, keeping cross-serving as a marketing priority.
“Every day I work with attorneys to talk through ideas, opportunities and to remind them to think about BD even when things are going well. As they say, ‘you don’t plant seeds when you’re hungry,’ always keep an eye on what’s next and how you can increase your touchpoints.
Tell me about writing the John Tesh show ‘Intelligence your life’ scriptwriting and how it influences you in what you do today.
“I got the opportunity from my college, Chapman University, through a blind submission process. I was selected for my submission I worked really hard on. I pulled every knack my mom gave me about cleaning tricks, and made it into a fun and compelling script. Did you know, you can wash baseball caps in the dishwasher? Once selected, I’d write two different scripts, a long and a short one, on a whole range of random and interesting topics. It was a fast process, there were seven of us competitively submitting each week and it was all virtual (back in 2001).
“In fact, I actually got invited to dinner by John Tesh as a scriptwriter and when I turned up I was the youngest one there by 15 to 20 years and no one had any idea I was so green! He and his wife, Connie, and all the other writers were incredibly gracious.
“From the experience, I learnt how to write concisely, how to synthesise information and how to make it fun and pull the cream to the top. I carry this over to what we do today in our content strategy. Everyone wants bite sized nuggets of info.
Final question, what’s the philosophy of your team, what would your team members say about it?
“I hope every one of them would say that I’m focused most on relationship development, that goes to attorneys but also extends to our internal teams, to clients, referral sources, vendors, basically everyone.
“My backbone philosophy is “be nice,” which gets a good laugh when I remind people that’s of course the same as Patrick Swayze’s character in Road House. Let people know that you’re listening and curious about what they do and it will make what you produce for them more highly valued and in return they’ll value your marketing work. Plus, there’s really nothing you can’t do without a smile!”
Speaking to Cynthia it strikes me that she is exactly the kind of person that perfectly slots into Greenspoon Marder LLPs ethos, taking a risk is what its foundations are built on -as shown by the way the firm has paved the way in niche industries like legal cannabis. She is a force to be reckoned with and I am seriously impressed by her tenacity and hands-on approach.