Job Security: Demonstrating Value to the Management Committee

By Dick Dahl, a journalist residing in Somerville, Massachusetts,USA. For many years he was a reporter and editor for Lawyers USA.  He can be reached at (617) 776-3363 andvze1jzk3@verizon.net. 

As economic conditions continue to decline, professional firms’ in-house marketing professionals’ historically insecure job security would appear to be growing ever more shaky. 

Professional firm partners—usually of the senior variety—mistakenly see marketing departments as a frill. They believe that marketing people are the ones who are in charge of nonessentials—the social gatherings, the brochures—divorced from the firm’s financial nuts and bolts. So when the time comes for them to search out cost-cutting opportunities, marketing departments are primary targets. 

But if in-house marketing professionals are doing their jobs right, this situation need never arise. In fact, savvy legal marketers say, well-run marketing departments should be viewed as necessities for the firms’ bottom lines. When management committees understand the importance of good marketing, they say, they are less likely to cut budgets and jobs there. 

Connection between marketing and revenue

The key, these marketing professionals say, is education.

“Let’s face it,” said Catherine MacDonagh, president and co-founder of Legal Sales and Service Organization, a Boston-based association. “Fee-earners are paying their marketing professionals a tidy sum of money and they’re expecting to get a return on their investment.”

The challenge for marketing professionals, she said, is in showing fee-earners that there really is a connection between marketing expenditures and the bottom line

In order to do this, MacDonagh said, marketers need to understand their own true roles in the firm’s financial process.

People employ a two-step process when they buy legal services, she said. First, she said, they engage in a screening procedure to narrow down the field and then they select. 

“Screening is where all the marketing takes place. You have to have your website, your brochures, the bios have to be updated, and there should be quotes from the paper. They are important steps, but they are not what close the deal. Marketing should drive people to the selection step.” 

“It is important for marketing people to understand that marketing and sales are different, but intertwined, disciplines,” she said. “Marketing exists to support sales, so they need to tie what they are doing into activities that are driving the firm’s revenue.” 

That means that in-house marketers need to do two things to demonstrate value to a management committee. 

  • ·        First, they must strive to have the committee members see them as part of the firm’s sales function.
  • ·        Second, in their role as members of the sales team, they must provide the committee with the kinds of numbers and information they want to see.

In September, MacDonagh and Donna West Cross, director of business development at Patton Boggs in Dallas, gave a presentation at the Chief Marketing Officers Forum in New York, and provided several pointers about how they might quantify and demonstrate this value for management committees.

MacDonagh and Cross, both of whom are fee-earners, said that marketing professionals can provide management committees invaluable service by analyzing the firm’s client base and its own economic prospects, giving advice on which clients are good to keep and to fire, and what kinds of new clients the firm might pursue.

“I don’t think marketing professionals should necessarily try to be business-development professionals,” said MacDonagh. “It’s just a matter of learning how to translate what you’re doing in a way that demonstrates your value. That’s why you have to know your numbers; you have to measure and track.”

Tying marketing efforts to revenue results

At 125-lawyer Crowe & Dunlevy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, business development director Gail A. Huneryager agreed on the importance of numbers to substantiate marketing efforts.

“Everything needs to be tied to results as best you can,” said Huneryager, whose responsibilities include marketing. “Right now, we’re looking at how we do that. We’re building the infrastructure so we can better link revenue to specific tactics we’ve taken. Fee-earners want to know: ‘What did we get for this? We spent X amount of dollars on this. Everyone felt good about this and we had a good time, but what did we get back for it?’” 

About two years ago, Crowe & Dunlevy’s partners made a strategic decision to beef up the firm’s business-development capacity and hired Huneryager, then working in that capacity at Grant Thornton, the international accounting firm. 

As the firm’s first true marketing professional, Huneryager didn’t have to worry much about previous ways of doing things. She also had the advantage of working for a firm that had already committed itself to developing new ways of thinking about marketing. 

She said that her first goal as the firm’s business development director was to meet and talk with every fee-earner in the firm. 

“My approach was: ‘I’m here to help you as an individual. What can I do to help you?’ When you ask that question, it’s amazing how people will warm up.” 

Beyond the building of individual relationships, she said, the value of this approach provided her a broader understanding of the firm. “Little by little, you put the pieces together on how all these people interact, the relationships they have with each other; but you also learn what the needs and common threads are. You start seeing that something comes up again and again and maybe we really need to do something about that.” 

She met with each of the firm’s practice groups and continues to be regularly included on the agenda for each. She also attends each of the firm’s monthly executive committee meetings—sometimes to talk about a specific project or subject and sometimes just to keep the firm updated on the activities of her three-person department. 

Pointers for marketers 

Huneryager has been on the job less than two years, but she’s developed several definite pointers to share with other law-firm marketing professionals who’d like to improve their relationships with management committees. 

1.    “If you’re not your own cheerleader, nobody else is going to be. You have to let them know, but not in egotistical way, that you’re good at what you do. You have to be willing to stand up for your ideas—within reason.” 

2.   Get to know everyone, including associates and staff. 

3.    Remember that marketing activities can be internal as well as external. Crowe & Dunlevy has launched a recycling initiative to save paper and donate the amount saved to a local school district. The program has strengthened the office’s sense of teamwork, she said. 

4.    Constantly be thinking about innovative new ways to market the firm that can bring real results. For instance, she said, Crowe & Dunlevy recently hosted a program in conjunction with KPMG’s Dallas, Houston, andOklahoma City energy practices groups. The law firm and the company invited their own clients, opening the opportunity for both to get new business. 

The precise programmatic connection between a firm’s chief marketing officer or business development director and its executive or management committee may not be that important, in MacDonagh’s estimation. 

Getting a seat at the table

“I don’t really care about having the proverbial seat the table,” she said. “What I care about is being able to do what I was hired to do.”

In order to do that, she said, “you’ve got to know the sales and you’ve got to know the numbers. This is how you make a contribution—and when you do that, you enhance or demonstrate your credibility. 

“You don’t get a seat at the table just because you have a title. The really great marketing people ask for a seat at the table because it will benefit the firm. The people who aren’t so great want a seat at the table because of what’s in it for them.” 

In addition to the communication function, MacDonagh said that the key to success for marketing professionals in professional firms is providing “exceptional service.” 

When they do, their standing in the firm rises—and so does their ability to make recommendations. 

“Why shouldn’t the marketing professional, who is supposed to be tracking what’s going on in the industry, call things to the attention of the management committee unprompted?” she asked. 

At Crowe & Dunlevy, where the executive committee welcomes the input of its business development staff, Huneryager said any initial trepidation to the new pro-marketing policy seems to have disappeared.

“It was something new and fee-earners tend to be resistant to change. But success breeds interest. The people who maybe were afraid to put their toe in the water have learned, because of the cheerleading that I do, of the outcomes or nibbles on new business that an individual or practice group have gotten and it starts to open their minds.” 

Huneryager said doing marketing and business development in a professional firm is different from performing those functions for an accounting firm, her previous job, because of the different nature of the enterprise. 

But it’s still essentially the same, she said. 

“Business development is not rocket science. Sure there are market trends and other things you need to know about the industry, but most of business development is about the power of the relationship. In the end, it’s about connecting with other people, asking them what they need, and being able to follow up.” 

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