According to The Center for Business Planning, a mission statement should be a clear and succinct representation of a company's purpose for existence.

This summary statement should incorporate socially meaningful and measurable criteria, which addresses issues such as the ethical position of the business and its public image, the target market, the scope of products and services, the geographic coverage, and management's expectations of growth and profitability.

Nearly every corporate entity in the country posts a mission statement on its Web site, from Betty Crocker's Red Spoon Promise to the vision of St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Despite the many business texts that profess mission statements are a necessary part of organizational development, some consultants claim that most phrases are full of ... nothing.

Who may be to blame? Tom Cruise.

In the Hollywood blockbuster "Jerry McGuire," Cruise plays a sports agent who will do whatever it takes to make success stories out of his clients. When the pressure overtakes him, Cruise's character decides to write a mission statement for his management company -– a philosophical sermon that lasts 25 pages in length.

While in the moment of creative passion, the motivated McGuire shares his manifesto with everyone in the company, a move that he lives to regret.

Goals, ambitions, ideas, and inspirations are supposed to communicate a brief letter of intent to clients and communities, yet law firms are being warned against statements that could be used against them in a court of law. While most statements summarize the same things (superior legal service performed in a timely fashion for a reasonable fee), some firm's promises tiptoe on the side of guaranteeing positive outcomes.

To be safe, marketing directors choose to articulate beliefs and values with less ambitious words and phrases, moving from actual mission statements to a few short sentences explaining the firm's guidelines for practicing law. Rather than a written promise, the lines of text become more of an approach to client service. All other expectations and commitments are formed into personal mission statements, which are used as governing principles for the individual lawyer's marketing plan.

Management expert, Joel A. Rose, tells his law firm clients to "skip the syrupy stuff, purge the platitudes, and cross-out the self congratulations."

Once that step is complete, writers should describe the firm's true purpose, the partners' perceptions about the firm's values, and the plan to compete effectively in the marketplace.

The final step is adhering to that which has been put into writing and published for everyone to read.

Other business advisors remind companies such as law firms to re-read their mission statements every five years to assess whether the direction is the same (hinting that it should not be), and to tackle three key areas: Needs that are going to be fulfilled, the plan to tackle them, and the core values that direct the work performed. If written correctly, the statement should arouse support, motivate and convince those associated with the organization, be free from terminology and full of verbs, and catchy enough for easy reciting.

However, in the pursuit to help legitimate organizations express themselves in a genuine way, a joker exists to poke fun at both the process and the pledges. Known as Despair, Inc., this promotional products company attempts to end what it calls "corporate propaganda", taking themes such as hope, success, and teamwork, and replacing them with grief, anger, and nausea.

Called "Demotivators", one-liners spark humor as well as debate. As the customer service link explains, "... we're not satisfied until you're not satisfied."

A poster related to consulting is captured with these memorable words: "If you're not part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem."

Whether the marketing committee of a law firm is in support of a mission statement or against the publishing of survival strategies, the words of Jerry McGuire may be the only ones that clients need to hear: You complete me.

Brown is a legal marketing executive and the owner of a professional writing agency in Charleston.

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