The most powerful marketing is honest, consistent and meaningful to your firm and your target audience. Because of this, it makes sense to ensure that how we market ourselves reflects our firm’s values, goals and differentiators. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
Some firms spend time in a retreat or hire a consultant to take the firm through a process to identify purpose, goals, differentiators, culture, etc. But when it comes time to do marketing, decisions on what you will do and how you do it are often made based on different criteria than the elements mentioned above.
Example one: A firm defines their target market and differentiators but then opts for a website that feels more “corporate, professional and unobtrusive” to certain partners. As a result, the website doesn’t speak to the culture of the firm, doesn’t reflect the target market, and doesn’t promote the firm’s differentiated benefits. But it looks nice and won’t offend anyone.
Example two: A firm promotes a community-based brand, but spends very little money on grass roots or charitable endeavours in the community. Or perhaps they do make the investment but feel it’s “braggy” to let people know what they are doing. Either way, there is no “proof” of their brand to the marketplace through the firm’s actions.
Example three: A firm declares itself to have a culture of training and support. But in the course of determining its marketing spend, most of the funding goes to senior partners with established careers who like to take trips to far-away conferences. Almost no funding is given to up-and-coming lawyers seeking to establish networks and referral sources.
These are examples of firms making decisions for what they believe to be good reasons, but that are at odds with decisions already made.
It’s difficult to manage the needs and concerns of individual partners AND the best interests of the firm as whole. Ultimately, managing is about allocating resources (people, time, money, tools). There will always be competing needs for those resources. Firms that make these decisions based only on the needs of a particular individual (instead of the declared priorities of the firm as a whole) can face long-reaching negative ramifications. Here are just a few examples:
- A firm that goes against declared values (or acts differently to the way it said it would act) will lose staff and associate morale. They won’t work as hard, they won’t care as much about the firm.
- Lawyers think like less than 20% of the population. That means that if a lawyer likes an ad, you should probably start again. So, marketing that favours an individual lawyer’s perspective instead of adhering to the advice of the firm’s marketing expert will likely be far less impactful once in the marketplace, which can be a very expensive mistake. That marketing can also confuse the marketplace in comparison to the other marketing the firm is doing that DOES reflect it more accurately.
- If junior or mid-level lawyers see that only the opinions and needs of senior Partners are being considered, they will start to check-out. They’ll refrain from expressing opinions, which means they aren’t learning as much. They won’t see the value of marketing because they’ll feel the firm doesn’t see the value of them marketing (after all, the firm isn’t supporting it).
Good management requires determination of the priorities for the proper allocation of resources. Priorities are best determined through a broader planning process for the firm. What are our long-term goals? What, then, are our shorter-term goals? How will we pursue them? How can we best align all of our actions with the accomplishment of these short-term goals?
The answers to these questions should form the filter through which you run all decisions. This will ensure that you align all of your actions with your values, culture and goals. This will help you to see when you might be straying from these things. This will help you know when you should say “no” to opportunities. This will help to ensure that all of your marketing is consistent, on-brand and aligned with a declared goal.
There may be management exceptions that need to occur in any given year. Unfortunately, many firms are run by those exceptions. The newer generations of lawyers don’t understand this logic. If they aren’t in a position of power to challenge it directly, they may vote with their feet.
Marketing (and in fact, all firm) decisions should be based on what’s best for the firm as a whole. Focus on strong planning AND strong implementation. Be clear, consistent and meaningful to the members of your firm, and to your marketplace.
Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms, lawyers and administrators. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org