This month, the LMA West Region is excited to feature Ramona Whitley, Allen Matkins’ Chief Business Development and Marketing Officer. Ramona, who is based in the firm’s San Diego office, was given this shiny new title in February of this year. Prior to her current role, Ramona held the position of Senior Director of Client Services and Strategic Planning at Allen Matkins. She is a Southern California LMA Member.
Within minutes of our conversation it was evident that, while kind and warm, Ramona is as sharp as they come. Her unique perspective is underscored by her experience working in media for over 17 years before joining the legal world. Here is a little snippet from our Q&A…
So you went to school in Iowa and Minnesota. Did you grow up in the Midwest and if so, how did you make the journey to San Diego?
R: It happened rather organically. I moved from Northern Minnesota in the land of 10,000 lakes, to Minneapolis for undergraduate and then a little farther south to Des Moines for graduate school. And by the time I was done there it was time for an adventure and my final move South, to San Diego, California. The goal was to stay a few years and return to Minnesota, but the lure of great weather kept me here.
You have 17 years of experience in media, most recently at the San Diego Union Tribune! How did you segue into the legal industry? How did your previous role prepare you for legal marketing?
R: I was looking for a change and had vocalized it to a former colleague from the paper I had just split with my attorney boyfriend when my colleague, who was consulting with Luce Forward at the time, suggested I interview for their CMO role and referred me. I went into it second guessing my decision to interview, thinking to myself, ‘I just got rid of one attorney, what am I thinking introducing 200 new ones into my life,’ but I got there and spent some time getting to know them and realized I liked them and really hoped they liked me too! It turned out they did and the rest is history. They had a good platform but were looking for someone with the strategic mindset, and I had been running the strategic planning function at the newspaper.
I started out in media as a Marketing Research Analyst, using marketing insights and research to help the newsroom develop lifestyle , but about 80% of my time there was spent with the advertising team. We would survey the marketplace and leverage that data to increase ad revenue. For instance, our biggest ad revenue came from retailers like Macy’s and Nordstrom, so we would do surveys and interview people about when, why and where they shopped, and we put together data and analytics that was proprietary for the newspaper and we would share this with our key clients. Over time my role shifted into a strategic researcher and planner, so I think I was able to parlay that analytical experience into the law firm mentality of where ‘how can I grow my practices,’ ‘where can my lawyers grow’.
Both your degrees are in Psychology! How did you make the transition to media?
R: During my master’s program I worked most of the time at the state hospital in a psych ward. It became pretty obvious to me that it was not something I wanted to do long term and I shared that with the chair of the department. Somehow or another, the Des Moines Register called looking for a paid intern. I was lucky to learn early on that sharing your intent opens up opportunities. If you are willing to throw your intent out there and let people know you are looking for something different, doors open.
What would you say to someone considering furthering their education with a masters or MBA?
R: Having amaster’s degree has opened doors for me, more than I actually realized it would at the time. An advanced degree is something that can differentiate you from other applicants during the interview process and I would recommend it to someone considering going back to school, especially if your degree is in another field. In hindsight, and given where I ended up working, a J.D. would have been beneficial. But having work experience can provide some context to what you are learning in a masters or MBA program.
When you lead the client services team, did you ever get nervous doing client feedback interviews? How would you recommend someone get over that initial fear?
R: The first client feedback interview program I launched, was set up a little differently than the program we are running today at Allen Matkins. To get buy in, I had a team of 5 lawyers that were trained on good questioning techniques and areas to explore, so we would tag team. I would typically lead the conversation, but for those first interviews it was nice to have a lawyer with me especially if there are lawyers on the other side, because they have the legal ear and would, at times, pick up on nuances that I might miss. At the time it also made me feel more confident to have a lawyer with me.
A client conversation is about treating people well, and learning what works and doesn't work for them. If your start with that premise, meeting with clients is less intimidating.
I also had the experience of meeting key clients and getting in front of them while I was at the newspaper, so it wasn’t as daunting as it might have been. If you are interested in client services and working on that confidence, I would recommend you just ask some of the lawyers at your firm if they could bring you to a client lunch. Just tell them you want to get to know the firm’s clients better and ask if you can tag along!
When you aren’t at work, what do you like to do for fun?
R: I think most people would be surprised to know that I enjoy freshwater fishing, and try to get out once a month! We also own acreage in Oregon, and I love to go up there to disconnect and hike. I think I’d like to live off the grid for some period of time.
What would you say is the most valuable piece of your LMA membership?
R: Having a community to make connections and network is so valuable. I am grateful to have a trusted group of folks to learn from, and people I can reach out to when I am looking for answers. Instead of doing hours of research I can send an email to my network and get answers on how to do something within minutes. We are there to help each other and I value the relationships I’ve made.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting in legal marketing industry?
R: I would tell someone starting out to be intellectually curious about the business, open to new things, flexible and never to have a typo! I would encourage them to learn the business of law. Be willing to put yourself out there and have the conversations to get to know your attorneys and their practices. If you can dig a little into their client and provide insight as to what challenges they may be facing you will prove your value. Come to the table with some information about their clients that may not be on their radar, and they will take well to it.