Marketing – a question of resources (First published on Law Society Gazette/In Business blog)

Marketing costs are split between external disbursements such as advertising or web design, and time in developing and managing initiatives.

How this time is resourced has long presented a challenge for law firms, but this becomes more acute in the face of large national brands.

It seems that there are three main choices:

  • do it yourself in-house, sharing tasks amongst fee-earners;
  • employ dedicated marketing staff; or
  • contract out to an external provider.

In practice, there is usually a mix of these three resources and balancing that mix is a challenge in itself.

Relying solely on fee-earners may seem like the least-cost option, but there is the hidden cost of fees not earned whilst marketing is done. In addition, this approach tends to be rather ad hoc, moving initiatives forward only when fee-earners have time, rather than at the pace of the market. Many firms have pared their support teams to the bone during the recession and finding spare capacity to resource marketing is proving difficult when the market starts to pick up.

Few fee-earners have relevant marketing experience in the more technical activities such as commissioning a website, implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) system or launching an e-newsletter. Learning a whole new discipline can be very distracting from other potentially productive business development activities.

For firms of a certain size, the benefits of employing a marketing executive start to outweigh the costs, and many may take a first step with a junior appointment or promotion of an existing member of the admin team. The challenge here is to find someone with the right mix of skills - someone who can help shape the strategy and budget at the start of the year, but will be just as happy to update the CRM system or stuff envelopes for a mailshot.

As firms get larger and more sophisticated in their requirements they often look for someone with more experience who can help the management team drive the business forward. Historically, it has been hard to find someone who would stay a long time in such a role where typically there were few direct career prospects. The advent of alternative business structures will certainly create opportunities for effective business development directors.

When we get to the large firms, or a corporate, resources permit the employment of a marketing team, where you will have specialists in PR, web, social media, tenders, events, and so on. The structure allows fee-earners to focus on client work and face-to-face marketing, simply providing legal input to initiatives as required.

It is easy to see how scale can facilitate more focused and more efficient marketing. When you combine this with direct routes to market for the likes of the Co-operative, Saga or RAC via their members, then it becomes a very powerful combination that will be hard to compete with.

Click here to see this article on the Law Society Gazette web site.

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