LMANY's 9th Annual CMO Forum

LMA New York’s 9th Annual CMO Forum provided social and professional insights in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic that has forced a significant portion of the population to work remotely. CMOs have been faced with the challenge of conducting business in a now virtual world. The focus of discussion this year was learning and innovation and how the expectations placed upon CMOs and law firm marketing departments as a whole have changed. 

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The March 16 virtual program featured panelists Iris Jones, Chief Business Development & Marketing Officer at McNees Wallace & Nurick, LLC, Kevin Iredell, Chief Marketing Officer at Lowenstein Sandler LLP, Kimberly Rennick, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer for the Americas at Allen & Overy and recently retired Simpson Thacher CMO Danzey Burnham as moderator. More than 100 LMA NY members listened to the panel’s thoughts and views on how best to traverse this new, virtual world of business. 

CMOs are expected to guide firms in this new environment, navigating and providing guidance and new recommendations that are more technologically advanced. “Innovating and adapting quickly is the name of the game,” Ms. Jones explained. “CMOs are expected to navigate, to look around the corner, to be prepared with research and numbers and actually provide advice and recommendations.” 

Firms are not generally equipped with high-level marketing people in the executive or management level committees; the CMO is where the buck stops. “We are it,” Ms. Jones explained. She added that, as a marketing leader, one cannot afford to be afraid of technology and learning new things.

Expectations are now higher than ever. Many have been tasked with doing everything they were doing before, but faster. As a result, marketing and IT are now also working more closely together. As Mr. Iredell pointed out, “CMOs must be businesspeople who understand the entire enterprise.” Marketing departments that are successfully adopting and utilizing the technology that’s available are those departments that are more successfully working with their IT counterpart. 

With all of the changes that have taken place and the additional expectations placed upon CMOs in this virtual environment, staffing is one of the greatest challenges. While appropriate staffing is important, we must also understand that things are ever-changing, especially in business and marketing and some things cannot be avoided. 

As Ms. Rennick stated, the goal of the CMO is to “create vision, communicate it to the team and across the firm and be able to triage all of the day-to-day things that come up. Developing a comfort level and the ability to accept not getting through your to-do list is important” Ms. Rennick said. “Make your best judgment and understand that it may not always be perfect.” 

The consensus among the speakers regarding marketing and business development specialists and their professional growth was to “own your path.” Ms. Rennick said, “I am here to encourage and support career growth. Team members have to own their path. Don’t ask what you can do to advance. You should have some idea of your own. Be an active participant in your own growth.” 

Marketers must show that they deserve a seat at the table. Demonstrating a consultative mindset means having an informed opinion. Take initiative to do the work and communicate that to your attorneys. A confident demeanor never goes unnoticed, Ms. Rennick shared, nor the ability to take initiative and seek out opportunities to learn new things. 

Mr. Iredell stated, “To get to a CMO role, you need to be exposed to branding and PR. Show up with your recommendation and expertise; that’s your seat at the table. You have to have a certain level of competency across the marketing and business development boards.” 

Ms. Jones added, “Be prepared to make educated, well-informed opinions. Once you become the chief, you have to know enough to manage, know when to let people you hired to do their job.” 

While the pandemic placed an enormous amount of pressure on business operations and their marketing departments, the social injustices that took place over the past year and the social response to those injustices have since held every individual and business to a higher standard. 

Many firms put out a statement about their commitment to social justice and inclusion after the George Floyd incident. 

As Ms. Jones shared, this past year was “not the time to be visibly invisible,” as “clients are looking, expecting and demanding that the teams reflect the community.” It is more than putting out a commitment statement and putting it on the website. What really matters is what actions are being put together to support this movement. 

Ms. Jones shared how her firm, McNees Wallace & Nurick, is putting its money where its mouth is with the creation of their LEAP program (Legal Equity Advancement Program), developed for black-owned businesses in nine counties throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Five black-owned businesses, out of more than 80 applicants, were selected to receive $50K each in pro bono services in the first year that the firm will be working with them. 

As Ms. Jones explained, they knew a statement on the firm’s website was not enough and that they needed to do something more. The end result was that many of the firm’s clients were impressed and wanted to support and take part themselves.

This year’s CMO Forum wrapped up with the consensus that, as we move forward in the virtual world, marketing and business development in law firms and marketing professionals will forever be changed. The four CMOs concluded with a unified message to do what you do with passion and vigor. They reminded us that marketers are leaders and game-changers who must always keep their finger on the pulse of change, ingenuity and creativity. They must lead with conviction and act without fear. 

Sabrina J. Williams is a Communications Specialist with Anderson Kill P.C.

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