By: Sharon Berman
Published: The Leadership Exchange, Greater Los Angeles Chapter – Association of Legal Administrators
There are a host of new marketing elements in the air, such as “social media” and Web 2.0. As the dust settles, they’re sure to have a role in a firm’s marketing arsenal; however, one basic fact never gets old: to get the best ROI from these and other tactics, they have to be integral components of a well-thought-out plan.
No matter what the economy, it’s important to have a marketing plan, and this is the time of year to be laying the foundation for the future. If you’re serious about making next year the best it can be, don’t skip any of the following steps.
The situational analysis gives you a picture of where the firm stands today, where it has come from, and where you want it to go. Start by identifying professional strengths and weaknesses. What type of work do your attorneys enjoy and what do they dread doing? Leveraging the areas they enjoy will create a strategic advantage.
Next, look at the firm in the context of the marketplace. What are the core competencies? What are its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to marketing? Are your lawyers great at creating relationships, but less good at nurturing them in the long term? Is your marketing department skilled at planning ambitious campaigns, but not persistent in execution? What can you learn from the firm’s billing patterns about the services that really attract clients?
Your situational analysis may have revealed problems to address, which may or may not be a result of the economy. With economic challenges come opportunities your competitors may be missing. Compare each of your firm’s service lines to the service lines of competitors. Look for overlaps of service and—most important—market niches that are ripe for a new service your attorneys could supply. Next, research your clientele’s industries, particularly emerging trends, “hot” issues and new market opportunities that may necessitate additional services or a new practice area.
Who, specifically, is going to buy your firm’s services? Firms tend to think in terms of practice areas, but clients think along industries. Although the legal services that attorneys provide may be similar in different sectors, clients want to know that you have special expertise in an area of commerce. Additionally, becoming that industry expert broadens your positioning outside of someone who just provides legal services. Think broadly across a wide spectrum of geography, industries, company sizes, etc., then focus it down so you can target your efforts.
Set both short-term goals (a year or less) and long-term goals (up to three years) for marketing. Set targets for the year, with interim quarterly objectives. Be specific. For instance, one objective might be to sell $200,000 in tax controversy services over the next year, 40 percent of which will come from small business owners, an underdeveloped niche you discovered during your situational or billing analysis.
Examine the trends in lead generation, overall and by service line, for the past few years and project them out for the planning period to arrive at a top-line forecast. Then, do a bottom-up prediction by factoring in the amount of business your attorneys can realistically attract, projections of repeat business and estimates of other new income. Although your top-down and bottom-up numbers will likely differ, you can find a common ground by considering market factors, trends, your firm’s expansion plans, etc.
Before you decide on specific tactics to increase business, look at the marketing process from a strategic perspective. Your strategies might include educating clients about the full scope of the firm’s services or a new practice area or increasing visibility through public relations, or an e-newsletter in an emerging area of law.
Develop key messages about the firm. These should be “universal” statements that can be tweaked for various target audiences, with the essence of the message remaining consistent. The goal is to create a positive, memorable position for your services in the minds of target audiences.
The ever-broadening range of marketing tactics includes traditional venues (advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, media relations, publicity, web and email), as well as new tools such as social media, e.g., “LinkedIn, twitter, etc. Develop detailed plans within each tactic and include specific objectives. For example, if you decide to send email blasts on new case law, what do you wish to accomplish with this tactic?
Budgets and timetables go hand in hand. Looking at your budget and timetable from a yearly perspective may save you money in the long run. For example, you can stretch your budget further by planning your marketing activities to take advantage of special advertising rates or low-season discounts offered by newspapers.
This is where you get to “share the wealth” of marketing plan responsibilities. Everyone in the firm, from senior partners to receptionists, should have a role to play in executing the plan. This helps build accountability.
Specify in your plan how you will evaluate and measure your efforts. You’ll learn much from an examination of what worked and what didn’t during the year. As much as possible, your measurements should be quantitative, but some will, of necessity, be qualitative.
Now that your marketing plan is complete, make sure that it remains a living document. Don’t let it sit on a shelf while your attorneys are wondering why the phones are not ringing. Your whole firm has invested time and effort into the plan. Now put it into action and reap the benefits.
Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Marketing & PR, a marketing consulting firm specializing in working with professional services firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The firm’s website is www.berbay.com.