What’s the right option for marketing in your firm? Should you have a marketing committee or make a single partner responsible? Should you appoint internally, recruit or outsource? Sue Bramall provides her top tips
The recent Financial Benchmarking Survey published by the Law Management Section revealed that average marketing budgets for respondent firms remained at a pitiful 2.2 per cent of fees billed, compared to more than 11 per cent in other sectors . This figure includes staff costs relating to support staff, but respondents were not asked to include the time spent by fee-earners on marketing or the management of a firm’s marketing.
When faced with the need for marketing input, many firms start by hiring a junior marketer on a full-time basis. While this may work for some, other options are available. If you require strategic input, a more senior individual could be an option
While a few diehards may remember the days in the 1980s when marketing was still prohibited for solicitors, nowadays marketing is firmly on most management agendas. However, many small firms struggle to get the resourcing of their marketing right, and find themselves with a revolving door of staff, which frustrates their marketing strategy and can be costly in recruitment fees.
So how can you ensure that your human marketing resources deliver an acceptable return on investment? In this article, I provide a practical guide to effective marketing resourcing for law firms.
Deciding who is responsible for marketing is not always easy. Should you have a marketing committee or should a single partner be responsible for marketing?
In either case, it is important to delegate sufficient authority from the board to the partner or the committee. Is it necessary to return to the board for approval of all decisions, or just those outside agreed budget parameters? Does the structure ensure that discussion is not duplicated, and time is not wasted? It can be incredibly frustrating if you have been handed responsibility for marketing, but the rest of the partners then wish to be involved in every aspect so that projects are held back by slow or non-existent decision-making.
Whether you choose a committee or a single marketing partner, you should agree a plan, set a budget and give those responsible freedom to make decisions within those parameters.
You also need to consider whether your marketing partner or committee members need training or coaching, in regard to the marketing activities they will be responsible for. A one-day course on marketing will not make anyone an expert in branding, the internet, databases, client communications or social media. Just as your compliance partner or team needs to attend training courses, so do your fee-earners with responsibility for marketing.
So how do you make the decision? There are key considerations with each approach.
Appointment as the marketing partner may be either desirable (you have control of a budget and resources and can make a mark) or a poisoned chalice (you have many competing demands and it is hard to satisfy everyone all of the time). It is as important to have the right person in this role as it is to recruit the right support staff. Do you allocate responsibility on the basis of skills? Or on the basis of enthusiasm? Or on which partner has free time (not usually a good indicator of marketing skills)? Or does everyone take a turn?
The advantage of having one partner with overall responsibility for marketing is that decisions can be taken quickly and initiatives progress as fast as possible. There can be no confusion over who will do what, no delays in trying to coordinate diaries for meetings.
You may be concerned about the cost of lost fee-earner time, but it will be less than the cost of several committee members attending the same meeting. Will the partner be allowed sufficient time away from fee-earning work to manage the marketing?
The disadvantage of taking this approach is that marketing activity may become skewed in a particular direction according to the individual partner’s strengths or personal preferences.
If marketing partners change frequently, as the role is passed around like a hot potato, then there is a danger that the marketing strategy will lurch from one direction to another. You also fail to get a return on the investment made by that partner in developing their marketing expertise.
A committee can work well if it is not too large, there is a strong chairperson, everyone on the committee has a clearly defined role, everyone makes an active contribution, and meetings take place sufficiently frequently (even with just a few participants) to ensure that activities are progressed.
A key advantage is that responsibility for different activities can be shared around, and there will be more balanced representation of all parts of the firm (so less risk of lurching). For example, a strategy led by corporate lawyers is likely to have a different emphasis to one led by private client lawyers. A small committee of two lawyers would ensure more balanced representation, and oversight responsibilities might be split, for example between offline and online, or between communications and networking.
On the other hand, a great deal of time can be wasted by lawyers attending meetings but never contributing anything. This can occur when people are appointed to a committee as a sign of status, or they volunteer to find out what is going on. When this happens, it is a good idea to ask the finance director to add up the costs of participation and ask the committee to consider if this is the best use of resources.
Once you’ve decided who will lead on marketing in your business, you need to build an understanding of what additional support you need, and how you will resource that. Below I provide some tips on how to secure the right marketing support for your firm – including whether to fill the role internally, recruit externally, or outsource.
The first step is to create a marketing plan. The old adage ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’ has become a cliché for a good reason. Without a plan, your marketing is likely to have a scattergun approach, responding to opportunities and ideas (often copied from competitors) rather than determining what needs to be done to achieve your overall business objectives.
Once you know what you need to accomplish, then you can define roles more clearly and ascertain what additional resources or skills you need to support your marketing partner or committee.
The next step is understanding what elements of marketing you want to do – that will help you define the personality types and skills you need to deliver those elements.
The terms ‘marketing’ and ‘business development’ cover a broad spectrum of activities, from strategic planning to stuffing envelopes, from tender support to Twitter. Some firms want their business development team to spend time with their clients, others require only back-office support for fee-earners. Do you need a technical wizard or someone with great interpersonal skills?
So the first step is to decide which activities you need to get done. Consider all of the following:
Now you know what marketing tasks you want – but how can you identify which tasks you are already undertaking, and whether or not they are done well?
If this is your first marketing appointment, it is likely that a certain number of marketing tasks are being undertaken already by your fee-earners and support staff. If this is the case, you need to carry out an exercise to identify what these tasks are and who does them now, and whether you wish them to continue. Do you want the new marketing appointment to mop up all this work and relieve more expensive staff of these tasks? Or do you want someone because there are lots of new jobs to be done?
Once you’ve decided who will undertake which tasks, you need to communicate that across the business. Some fee-earners may think that they no longer need to do any marketing and reduce their involvement, others may see the additional resource as an opportunity to do more. If fee-earners have responsibilities, such as targets for networking or contributing content to the firm’s blog, this should be documented in the marketing plan and personal business development plans. Either way, this needs to be made clear, and should feed into appraisal and recognition systems if they exist.
How will you know if your marketing resource, once in place, is delivering results? You need to define what you expect this person to achieve, within certain time scales.
You have already clarified the types of activity you require and which of those will be undertaken by your new marketer. However, you may need to pick and choose from these to ensure the best return on investment. Anything you cannot accommodate immediately can be picked up later on.
There is a lot of specialist software and technology involved in marketing
Do you have the management information systems in place to track and report on performance? For example, if you want to increase new business for the firm, you will need to ensure that you track the source of all new enquiries; if time has been spent optimising the conveyancing section of your website and hosting an event for estate agents, you should expect to see a growth in enquiries from these two sources.
Track more than just new instructions. The proportion of enquiries which become instructions is not usually significantly influenced by the marketer: it is function of the fee-earner’s sales skills and capacity.
Take care to set the right key performance indicators (KPIs). If your marketer achieves the target for growth in Twitter followers, but this does not translate to new enquiries, then you may not have set the right KPI.
These KPIs should be closely linked to the marketing plan. The two should have the same goals – one should never be revised or amended without the changes being reflected in the other.
Do you have the appropriate resource in-house? Does that person have the requisite skills, or do they have the capacity to develop them? If so, are you prepared to invest in training, carve out time for them to undertake this role properly, and reward them accordingly? Asking a secretary to ‘fit in some marketing’ is rarely a recipe for success.
If you don’t have resource in-house, you will need to decide whether to recruit or outsource. Outsourcing may be an option if this is your first marketing appointment and you want to test the water.
Be clear in your objectives from the start and you’ll achieve much more value from your marketer
Katherine Thomas, formerly of Pinsent Masons, now provides outsourced marketing services to law firms in Western Australia, and feels this option can offer a number of benefits. ‘When faced with the need for marketing input, many firms start by hiring a junior marketer on a full-time basis,’ she explains. ‘While this may work for some, other options are available. If you require strategic input, a more senior individual could be an option. Employ them on a part-time basis to retain cost parity with a junior marketer and still achieve the same, or greater, level of output. Firms will benefit from experience and productivity without incurring a fixed employment cost. Consultants also provide an excellent way of managing marketing without committing to a head count. Be clear in your objectives from the start and you’ll achieve much more value from your marketer.’
However, recruitment also offers a number of advantages, Emma Potts of Chancery Legal says ‘building a function from scratch offers you a one-off opportunity to design a team structure specifically to suit your requirements’.
The rest of this article focuses on what to do if you decide to take the recruitment option.
If you decide to recruit, you now need to draft a job description.It is not uncommon for inexperienced firms to appoint someone to a marketing role without any job description or any clear framework, and several months later, wonder why nothing much is being achieved.
In the early years your marketing team is likely to be fairly compact – you will not have room for any bad apples
Emma Potts, Chancery Legal
It is not just the marketing executive who needs to know what his or her responsibilities are – everyone in the firm will benefit from a clear understanding of what this person is employed to do or not do.
The job description should be rooted in the marketing plan and KPIs which you’ve already defined. Make sure it addresses both knowledge and experience, and softer skills and capabilities such as interpersonal skills and communication.
The figure below shows the marketing competencies you should be including in your job description and looking for in your selection process. This is based on ‘Professional marketing competencies’, created by the Chartered Institute of Marketing, which I have adapted to cover competencies for marketing professional services, including law firms.
Emma Potts emphasises the importance of a rigorous selection process. ‘You should be prepared to devote time and investment into a recruitment process that will thoroughly investigate a candidate’s suitability for any given role in the function. In the early years your marketing team is likely to be fairly compact – you will not have room for any bad apples.’
She emphasises that, ‘as with any lateral hire, so much depends on the recruiting law firm doing all it can to create the optimum conditions for success. Management buy-in is vital, but this also needs to be given in conjunction with clear communication across the firm about the marketing executive’s remit and purpose. This should be done in advance of her or his arrival, not on the hoof.
‘It is hard to overstate the importance of getting off to a good start: the first three months of any strategic appointment are a critical time. What happens in these days has a huge influence on whether the appointment is likely to ultimately be deemed a success or a failure.’
Before a new recruit starts, you need to put in place a structure for them to work effectively.
First, you need to clarify reporting and authorisation routes and processes. Even in firms with a sole principal, decision-making can be delegated to a wide range of fee-earners and support staff, and a marketing executive can find requests coming at them from all directions.
Your marketing plan will help, as it will provide guidance in terms of priority, but you also need guidance on approval hierarchies for expenditure and the signing off of content and materials.
You also need to ensure the marketer is given sufficient agency, autonomy and responsibility to carry out their role. If your marketer is a junior appointment, they may not have the experience or gravitas to challenge partners over ill thought-out ideas, and may find it had to push activities through to completion or ensure compliance with agreed marketing procedures.
You also need to ensure the marketer is given sufficient agency, autonomy and responsibility to carry out their role
Your partners may have ideas which have been in the bottom of a pile for months or years, and see this as an opportunity to finally dump them on the new marketing executive to action. Or a partner may have a pet project that has been refused by every previous incumbent, and delight in having yet another chance to push it through. With instructions coming from all corners of a law firm, and every department claiming that theirs is the most important, your new marketing executive will need clear guidance on priorities.
Your marketing partner or committee also needs to be prepared to say no, and explain why internal resources are not available for certain activities. This is so much easier when there is a clear marketing plan for a firm.
Before the new recruit starts is also the time to start to build a culture of respect around marketing. Despite the fact there is a cost to the firm of employing marketing support, an attitude can prevail where the time of a marketing executive is of little value – meetings are frequently cancelled, emails ignored, and actions postponed. Firms where this is the case are often perplexed about why they have such a high turnover in their marketing team.
One leading law firm addressed this cultural challenge by including a seat in the marketing team for all their trainees. Broadening their experience in this way and building strong relationships pays dividends all around.
In a small firm making its first marketing appointment, the human resources function may not be too well developed. It may be handled by one of the partners or the practice manager on a part-time basis.
Typically, the focus of induction, training and development will be on the legal staff. The existing induction process, competency matrix, training programme or appraisal system (if one exists!) may not be suitable for a marketing executive.
Once the new recruit is in place, use the marketing plan and KPIs to build an induction and appraisal process for them which is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-limited). This will help you to manage their performance effectively and ensure the recruit delivers against their KPIs, and therefore achieves the goals of your marketing plan.
If after several months, you are wondering why you are not achieving much, do you have the mechanisms to refocus activity to get the results you desire?
It is unlikely that your new recruit will arrive with every skill already in their arsenal. If this is your first appointment, it’s likely that they will be a younger person, possibly with only a few years’ professional experience. Soon after they start, you should work with them to identify their training needs and begin to address these. Refer back to the competencies framework shown in figure 1 as a starting point.
One of the first training needs to address is technological. If you have recruited a younger person, you may think they know all about ‘the digital stuff’. But arts graduates may not have touched a spreadsheet for several years, and their use of Word and PowerPoint may well be self-taught rather than to a professional standard.
Get it right, and your marketing executive will be a valuable ambassador for your firm
There is also a lot of specialist software and technology involved in marketing – including client relationship management, website content management systems, email marketing, search engine optimisation, pay-per-click advertising and social media. A knowledge of social media, is not the same as an understanding of best practice – as was discovered by the law firm which was criticised for what were seen as insensitive tweets sent by its marketing assistant after the disastrous accident at Alton Towers.
In terms of marketing skills, there are a variety of organisations which can support law firms in their marketing activities – the Law Management Section often covers marketing issues at its events.
You could also consider joining an organisation specialising in marketing in professional services, such as the PM Forum or Professional Services Marketing Group. These have membership benefits, including events programmes, which could help support your new recruit and build your marketing capabilities.
Of course your firm is a wonderful place to work, but why is it that marketing staff do not stay very long?
Most marketing executives who have studied marketing at university or via the Chartered Institute of Marketing will have spent a few years immersed in case studies related to the big brands, with enormous marketing budgets and consumer-driven advertising strategies. They may well harbour dreams of glamorous photo shoots and product launches in Monaco.
Fortunately, there are a few of us who really enjoy the intellectual rigour of working with the law, and the challenge of working with a modest budget and often idiosyncratic management cultures. But this is not enough for many marketers, who find law firms a very frustrating place to work and, with a lack of a clear career pathway, will soon see if the grass might be greener elsewhere.
You can only do what you can – set clear objectives and priorities, create effective processes, give them the agency to do their job, offer development opportunities, and encourage partners to respect and value them. Get it right, and your marketing executive will be a valuable ambassador for your firm, adding value to your brand and reputation, and helping to build your business.