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Managing marketing – hot potato or high performance team? Part 1 (first published in Managing for Success by the Law Society)

Many small firms struggle to get the resourcing of their marketing right and find themselves with a revolving door of staff which can frustrate their marketing strategy and may be costly in recruitment fees.

Sue Bramall draws on her experience of working with numerous law firms to highlight the key pitfalls and the steps to take to ensure that your human marketing resources deliver an acceptable return on investment in an article first published in Managing for Success by The Law Society.

This first part looks at:

  • leadership; 
  • the pros and cons of a marketing partner; and
  • the pros and cons of a marketing committee. 

Future chapters will look at:

  • planning and clarifying objective of a marketing team;
  • whether to recruit or outsource a marketing team;
  • managing a marketing team; and
  • pitfalls and common mistakes with law firm marketing teams.

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 % of fees billed compared to over 10% in other sectors. This figure includes staff costs relating to support staff, but probably ignores the time spent by fee-earners on marketing or the management of a firm’s marketing.

While there are still a few die-hards who 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.

Sue Bramall draws on her experience of working with numerous law firms to highlight the key pitfalls and the steps to take to ensure that your human marketing resources deliver an acceptable return on investment.

Leadership: Marketing partner v marketing committee

Deciding who is responsible for marketing is not always easy.  Should you have a committee or a single marketing partner?  Are partners vying for this role, or are they hoping it will not land on their desk?

In part, this will depend how much authority for decisions is delegated 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.

Where a plan has been agreed, and a budget set and the partner or committee have freedom to make decisions within these parameters, then either can work well. But there are key considerations with each approach.

Marketing partner – pros and cons

Appointment as the marketing partner may be desirable (you have control of a budget and resources and can make a mark) or as a poison 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, enthusiasm? Which partner has free time (not usually a good indicator of marketing skills)? Or does everyone take a turn?

The advantage of a solo 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. 

The cost of lost fee-earner time will be less than the cost of several committee members attending the same meeting, but will the partner be allowed sufficient time to manage the marketing? 

The disadvantage is that marketing activity may become skewed in a particular direction according to that person’s strengths or personal preferences. 

If marketing partners change frequently, as the role is passed around like a hot potato, then there is also the 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.

Marketing committee – pros and cons

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 off-line 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 actually contributing anything.  This can occur when people are appointed to a committee as a sign of status, or they volunteer just 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.

Whichever route you choose, then you need to consider whether your marketing partner or committee members need training or coaching, and 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.

If you are a member of The Law Society’s Management section, you can read the full article on their website.

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