At any law firm, the JD/Non-JD dynamic looms large. Marketers are on a continual quest to create the most fruitful working relationships – not just with the attorneys, but also with other support departments, such as IT, finance and HR. Volunteering and seeking volunteers and cultivating advocates can help.
Creating Attorney “Champions”
For any given marketing initiative, but particularly for those with a high-level of complexity/involvement and/or budget outlay required, it is critical to look for evangelists. Project champions can be found from the associate to partner-level ranks, and these relationships’ benefits are mutual. For marketers, having a member of “Team JD” supporting a project often breaks down resistance. For partners, embrace of a new tech or social media initiative, for instance, demonstrates a commitment to innovation and firm leadership. For associates, productive relationships with marketers are another differentiator – helping their case for retention and later partnership elevation.
Just like in Congress, initiatives need co-sponsors to see passage and implementation. As a marketer, when considering multiple proposed projects, the path to success is much broader when buy-in on the JD-side is present. Failure to have advocates can make initiatives seem opaque and not worth pursuing.
A Team Approach
Seeking out buy-in and project volunteers from related support departments, like IT, finance and HR, helps create a unified front and ensures that a given project meshes with other firm priorities and resources.
Examples abound of instances where overly balkanized firms launched major, capital-intensive projects only to run into human and technical resistance. Content Relationship Management (CRM) systems and website overhauls are the type of initiatives that – if not properly launched – can lead to internal squabbling, poor deliverables and massive cost overruns.
By aligning with IT from the outset, marketers gain access to knowledge regarding whether a product will mesh with current systems. For instance, is the email campaign software the marketing department is about to roll-out frequently vacuumed-up by the recipient’s spam filter? IT team members can also point marketers in the direction of potential advocates and away from likely detractors that can serve as landmines. The relationship is reciprocal. When IT rolls out a major update or migrates attorneys away from outdated devices, marketers can volunteer to advocate for these changes – stressing both the technological and practical/brand protection imperatives.
Any firm not closely integrating its marketing and finance functions is making a real mistake. Take, for instance, the client intake form. It is not uncommon for firms to assign this task to the finance department alone, absent the insight marketers can provide. The onboarding questions from an operational and finance perspective are very different than those of value from a marketing standpoint.
Finance departments are rightly interested a Dragnet-like approach: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Clients provide names, addresses, billing contacts, etc. What they are not providing are key marketing insights. Is this company interested in receiving firm newsletters? If so, which ones? Would they like to be added to an event mailing list? If so, for what practice areas? If asked, firms may find that a client whose relationship is based on tax law is actually interested in receiving labor and employment materials – vital insight for cross-marketing purposes.
Marketers can find real value in volunteering to help finance departments fine-tune intake forms and in seeking that department’s insight on internal onboarding procedures. (These are in place, right?) For each new client, marketers should be looking to identify ways to engage with a client’s public identity. Are social media accounts being followed? Are managing attorneys tracking and providing key data, such as principal contact birthdays? (A $20 Starbucks gift card does more to bolster a relationship than many realize.)
A firm’s social events calendar offers opportunities – most often facilitated by the HR department – for marketers to interact with attorneys outside their offices and away (at least partially) from their ever-present client demands. It is critical that these happy hours, parties and outings be leveraged for maximum gain. Marketers need to network during these events, as opposed to keeping to their circles of confidants. What will frequently be gained is insight into what makes a key attorney – and potential advocate or stumbling block to a project’s success – tick. One should jot down notes afterwards, follow up and lobby.
One way for marketers to further leverage firm events is to volunteer in their planning and execution. As the person manning the grill or MC-ing the party, connections with other volunteers – including often influential attorneys – will be forged and the perception of one’s value and contribution to the firm will be elevated. In addition, serving as an event facilitator creates easy opportunities to interact with firm principals who may be tough to reach or who have a reputation for being cantankerous.
Beyond internal events, often firms have placed responsibility for scheduling external firm events in the hands of HR. By working closely with this department or function, marketers can gain access to data on who is attending sporting events and using concert tickets and which clients are getting invited – invaluable data points in informing marketing priorities and trend-spotting.
Buy the Cookies
In addition to actively working with fellow support departments, marketers should always look to seize individual opportunities with attorneys. Keep detailed notes – Outlook’s contact function is one way to do so – on factoids dropped in conversation with attorneys: everything from that new TV show they are watching to their favorite restaurant is useful in cultivating deeper relationships. Plus, this is modeling the same behavior attorneys should be using with their own clients and potential clients.
Another way of reducing internal project resistance and creating champions is to – within reason – support causes others bring to the office. The most visible manifestation is the annual Girl Scout Cookie drive. Buying a box of cookies for $5 can help bolster relationships and spur dialogue. And, whenever the firm is raising money for a cause – donate and volunteer to be its champion.
Partner, Volunteer, Succeed
Major marketing and communications projects are big lifts for firms and marketers. Without advocates and buy-in, they often fail and frequently are used as justification for changes in department leadership. It takes real risk to suggest a project, and marketers often plant land mines in front of themselves by failing to check key boxes, such as speaking with IT or finance. Volunteering to assist other support departments and gaining their support as volunteers on marketing projects reduces the risk of initiative failure.
Overall, active participation and volunteering are good practices for marketers as these activities serves strategic and positioning functions. The old chestnut about the cobbler who had no shoes is apt. Often, marketers become too externally focused at the expense of elevating their personal brands and their department’s brand internally.
The consequences of a failure to properly market internally can be significant – both for an individual and for the firm. A telling example is that of the firm that lands a new client, but neither the attorney nor the finance department tells the marketing department. Marketers, in the dark, help another attorney in a different practice put together a pitch packet for a competitor to the new client – before a final conflict check reveals all.
By embracing a public persona and actively partnering and volunteering with other support staff and attorneys, marketers can be more informed and effective.
By Michael Bond, Senior Media Director, Blattel Communications for the May/June 2017 LMA Mid-Atlantic Region Newsletter