It’s that time of year when marketers are busy with strategic planning. In any organization it is important to involve top executives in the exercise and vet the plan to ensure consensus, but in a professional services environment (i.e. law firms) this is especially important – without a marketing strategy for your marketing strategy it will fail, no question about it.
Because of the unique organizational structure of a law firm, where there are multiple “owners,” implementation of a firm-wide marketing strategy it is not as simple as it is in other organizations where vetting through a handful of top executives is all that is needed. Rather, you need to ensure that all of the firm’s top partners are on board, and consider how their diverse agendas and perspectives will impact the plan and its success.
Consider a commercial law firm that has practices in a couple of dozen areas – each practice group and that group’s attorneys believe that their practice is the most important and they are all focused on growing that business. But realistically, a firm’s marketing department simply cannot serve them all. To try to do so, without a plan that focuses efforts based on financial, profitability and client data, results in a department that scrambles every day simply to react to the myriad of requests that oftentimes do nothing to support the firm’s bottom line. This renders the firm’s marketing resources ineffective. In a firm that understands the importance of strategy, however, and that has leadership with the wherewithal to back up a firm’s marketing director, there are significant opportunities to build business in key areas. But again, there is legwork to be done in any case, to ensure consensus by the firm’s key lawyers who drive the business.
I can attest to the importance of taking the extra time (and it will take lots of it) to ensure the plan’s ultimate success. Here are some proactive ways to facilitate it:
- Annual Firm Retreat: If a firm truly understands and supports the notion of strategic planning, marketing and business development will be at the top of its annual retreat agenda. This is the best opportunity for a marketing director to lead a fruitful discussion with key players to ensure data is shared, digested and understood as it relates to current firm performance and future goals.
- Marketing Partner and Committee: No matter what the firm size, at the very least a law firm marketing director needs a credible senior lawyer with whom to partner who “gets” the concept of marketing. This person will be invaluable in helping drive consensus. At a larger firm, a marketing committee comprised of a diverse group of lawyers (in key practices and those identified as future leaders) will not only help drive consensus but will serve as a valuable brainstorming group.
- One-on-One Meetings: Once the plan is solidified, identify any groups or attorneys who may be sensitive to a perceived lack of value and who need care and feeding to get to yes. Meet with them to carefully outline how the plan was developed. This step is crucial..not doing so will result in naysayers undermining your efforts throughout the firm.
- Broad Communication: Don’t forget to also share the plan broadly with all attorneys and staff as they all have a role in strategic marketing, and to the extent the plan includes a branding component, are the voices of the firm’s brand. They must all understand and agree upon the direction if the plan is to ultimately succeed.
In all cases be prepared to back up all portions of the plan with specific data that supports the plan’s objectives (i.e., why have certain practices been identified as having the greatest growth potential?) and be clear that departmental resources will be focused on those objectives and will not support new activities unless they directly support the plan. This is the toughest part… it may require difficult conversations with lawyers who have always had support for whatever marketing activity they have decided to undertake.
While time-intensive, and sometimes frustrating, in the end this extra attention to detail will bear fruit. In Strategic Planning in Law Firms: Essential Steps for Success, Eilene Spear said, “Law firms doing the ‘same old thing’ isn’t going to work anymore. Despite all the legal industry changes discussed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, 66% of Managing Partners report that their law firm’s strategy has not changed. It is imperative for today’s law firms to have a strategic plan that evolves with the firm and changes in the market; however, only 24% of law firms report having strategic plans, even though 71% of Managing Partners report that having a strategic plan improved their firm’s performance.”
The numbers say it all and it’s up to marketing and business development leaders to argue the point in their firms.