By Debra Henry, director of marketing & business development at Gordon Feinblatt LLC
Abby Bradfield is the senior business development manager at the Baltimore office of Jackson Lewis P.C., where she has worked since 2017. With more than 10 years of in-house marketing experience plus experience outside the legal industry, she shares her perspective on managing teams and developing communications strategies amid a crisis.
How did you get started in legal marketing?
I was the marketing director for a health club and was looking to change industries when I saw a job posting for a marketing coordinator position at White & Case. I was initially attracted to the global nature of the firm and excited about international work travel. That perk quickly wore off when I discovered it came with early morning calls to accommodate schedules in Tokyo and that hotel conference rooms look the same wherever you go. That said, I also discovered that I loved working in an industry with smart, educated people who expect you to bring your A-game and where you have an opportunity to constantly learn.
What stands out to you when you are interviewing candidates?
I am drawn to working with people who have an internal drive for growth and continuous improvement. Of course, it helps if you have relevant experience and skills. That said, the rate of change is so fast that certain technical skills that were necessary five to 10 years ago are now obsolete. Best practices and industry dynamics are constantly in flux, so I want to hire and work with team members who are not only willing to keep up, but excited about the opportunities disruption brings.
What’s one of the biggest challenges (or opportunities) to leading a team through unexpected change in the workforce? And how do you/did you overcome it?
I think the biggest leadership challenge in a time of crisis or unexpected change is communication. The normal cadence of meetings and emails rapidly becomes insufficient. Additionally, there is an increased need to be thoughtful about messaging to different internal audiences. The natural instinct is to focus on audiences more senior than you who are looking for answers; yet equally, if not more important, is keeping the lines of communication open with your team.
My friend, who is a Delta pilot, once told me that passengers on a delayed plane feel reassured by hearing from the captain frequently; even if the update is, “Our mechanics are still evaluating the problem and I’m afraid we are not yet clear on the issue or how long it will take to resolve, but we are committed to doing this efficiently and keeping you informed along the way.” I tend to want to wait to communicate until I have something meaningful to share, but this story was a powerful reminder to me about how to adjust in times of crisis or uncertainty.
One example of how our firm responded to our clients’ need for increased communication during the COVID-19 crisis is that we started a “Daily Briefing” at 4:00 p.m. (15 minutes of substance followed by five to 10 minutes of Q&A). Following the passage of the CARES Act, daily attendance reached as high as 1,600 people, with more than 150 questions submitted. We developed a process to identify the relationship lawyer for each client question submitted so the lawyer could follow up with a response to add value beyond the briefing. On May 20, we hosted our 40th briefing and the success of the initiative demonstrates that in times of crisis, you may want to consider shorter, but more frequent communications.
What advice would you give to your younger self as it relates to your career or legal marketing?
I would tell my younger self that it is great to have dreams for the future and to set ambitious goals – but don’t be afraid to deviate from the straight path you had in mind. In my personal experience, I chose to leave legal marketing for a few years to join a boutique management consulting firm. After two years, I knew that wasn’t the right fit for me and I really wanted to get back into legal marketing. My younger self may have seen that experience as lost time, but I learned new skills and perspective that I never would have gained in my roles in the legal industry. I’m far better at my job as a result and I believe this can be the case whether you choose a different path or change is forced on you by external factors.
What do you read to stay up to speed on business trends?
I subscribe to Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Review, and McKinsey’s emails/newsletters. As we all know, the legal industry tends to be conservative and a bit behind other professional service industries, so I like to find inspiration outside of the legal world. These sources also keep me close to our clients’ businesses.