By: Sharon Berman
Published: The Recorder
If your firm has ever looked for outside marketing support, you may have been puzzled by the choices. Firms are bombarded with consultants and agencies promoting their ability to generate leads and business. The dilemma comes in figuring out what you need and where to start.
Confusion abounds because lawyers understand marketing and business development in the abstract, and its importance in their success, but very often have not been educated about the elements of the marketing and business development process. Most often, they make the unwitting error of embarking on tactical marketing before creating a foundation, e.g., determining their market positioning, communication points, etc. They are lured by what looks like the panacea of a specific tactic, such as a blog, website videos, or advertising. These each have their role, but as part of a comprehensive strategic plan.
This then, is an attempt to explain the range of options when it comes to marketing advisors, what each does and when you should seek a specific kind of firm. The word “attempt” indicates the challenge: the nebulous areas caused by the overlap in what marketing firms do, the interchangeability of terms, e.g., marketing consultants may respond to the term branding consultant; and the amorphous nomenclature, e.g., marketing firms consult on and develop some kind of plan or strategy for clients, but may not call themselves ”consulting” firms.” Marketing professionals and firms cover a spectrum of expertise, but each entity has its “sweet spot.” (The term “consultant” can refer to an individual or a firm.)
A marketing consultant most often focuses on a firm’s objectives, strategies and tactics, and may or may not do hands-on implementation. For example, an established firm might call on a marketing consultant when the partners can’t agree where they should put their emphasis going forward. Should they focus on a particular industry or expand a particular practice area?
This marketing consultant or firm might interview firm partners to get their perspective, conduct market research to pinpoint opportunity, identify your most profitable areas, etc., and work with you to develop a marketing plan: what do you want to achieve, what strategies will you use and what marketing tactics will you use to accomplish it. The firm might implement the plan itself or engage the consultant to determine how to get it done.
Branding is about communication. A branding consultant sees that you consistently convey your message to your markets verbally, written and graphically, the latter being what most professionals associate with branding. For example, your firm decides it’s time to update its look and message. The branding professional probes to get your perspectives. They may also interview clients to get an outside-in viewpoint. They focus on honing your communication points. The deliverable at the end of the process is a new logo and look for all of your external online and hard copy materials. It may include the verbiage your professionals use to describe their work or the firm. This type of work tends to be project work. After this process, many branding consultants and law firms amicably part ways.
Sometimes a firm recognizes the need to train its lawyers about how to market, e.g., how and where to network, how to build relationships, and how and when to ask for business. In this instance, a business development consultant or coach would be in order. These professionals teach lawyers skills that were never taught in law school, namely how to sell in a professional and effective manner. However, the realm of most business development consultants does not cross over into other areas of marketing.
A firm might want to increase its name recognition in its target markets, so that when there is a need, the firm comes to mind first. It might also be facing the challenge of attracting talent because recruits have not heard of the firm. For this purpose, you would seek a public relations firm that aims to create top-of-mind awareness of your firm and its expertise through the media and social media. They position your lawyers as experts with journalists so you are quoted in news stories. They look for opportunities for your lawyers to publish bylined articles as well as obtain speaking engagements. Since public relations and social media are inextricably intertwined, a public relations’ firm usually encompasses social media.
Sometimes firms are hampered in their ability to implement their marketing. The firm may have great ideas, which they haven’t been able to get off the ground, or their marketing occurs in fits and starts. This firm would look for a marketing firm that specializes in the hands-on strategic implementation – getting it done, which can cover a range of marketing tactics, such as public relations, social media, direct mail, search engine optimization, etc.
Then there is a myriad of firms that specialize in a particular tactic, such as website development, broadcast advertising, search engine optimization, etc. They all have depending on the firm and where you are in your marketing lifecycle. The main point is that you want to have your foundation in place before embarking on tactics. Your marketing advisor can advise you when to bring them on board and manage the process.
An outside marketing consultant or firm can help reinvigorate or focus your firm’s marketing. While the choice can seem overwhelming, having more insight into the professional expertise available can narrow your search, find the professional or firm right for your firm so that you can quickly get your marketing underway.