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By Kevin Wheeler
Since the Financial Crisis in 2008, I have witnessed marketing in many law firms take a backwards step: senior marketing and business development specialists have been dispensed with in order to save money, marketing budgets and staff have been cut, and partners have gone back to hiring more junior marketing staff who are less likely to challenge what they are doing.
In fact, the Carter Murray survey, “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Beautiful: Marketing by law firms, the client’s perspective” serves as supporting evidence for my premise that legal marketing has gone backwards of late and should now be taking its lead from the clients rather than the partners. In fact, one respondent said: “Interestingly, as the market has declined and the economy weakened, the more prevalent ‘bad’ marketing becomes.”
The survey polled the views of 84 leading GCs in the UK, who were each asked two simple questions: (1) “What law firm marketing works for you?” and (2) “What law firm marketing doesn’t work for you?”
Before delving into the answers to these two questions it is interesting to review what GCs consider “marketing” to comprise. Broadly, they feel that it covers the following activities:
Two observations spring from this: firstly, the importance of doing a great job for your existing clients, not taking them for granted, and thereby ensuring that they give you repeat business and recommend you to others; and secondly, the complete lack of mentions for things like advertising, sponsorships, legal directories, websites and social media.
What law firm marketing works for you?
Returning to the answers to this question, the following responses were most common:
Above all, recognition of the need to invest in relationships, building an understanding of the prospective client’s business and needs (and secondments can help with this), playing the long game, and not being too pushy for work shone through from respondents’ replies.
What law firm marketing doesn’t work for you?
Three main themes to this question stood out, namely:
GCs felt that internal pressure to cross-sell and develop key accounts was leading to increased incidents of approaches from lawyers that they did not instruct, with this being made worse by the pushy, arrogant and self-interested nature of many such approaches. Whilst demonstrating expertise is key to the sales process, many complained about the “bragging” and “showing off”, with firms highlighting cases and deals without relating this to the specific needs of the prospective client.
Whilst knowledge transfer can be a powerful marketing tactic, most GCs felt that many law firms took the easy option of blanket mailing them with every update produced, rather than being selective or even tailoring something specific to their organisation. It was also noted that lawyers often don’t do their homework on an organisation before a sales meeting or a pitch – a blatant schoolboy error.
Setting the wrong tone covered a multitude of sins but most commonly referred to adopting scare tactics in their marketing, jumping on topical bandwagons, and offering extravagant hospitality in these austere and post-Bribery Act times.
How to respond
It is clear to me that this survey and others like it provide a clear indication of the sorts of marketing that lawyers should be engaging in to be effective at keeping their existing clients and winning new ones. It is also clear that through their actions many lawyers – and we really mean partners, as they have the main responsibility for this stuff – just don’t understand what good marketing really entails.
To build this understanding and effect the necessary behaviour change in partners to get them to adopt the approach that clients are screaming out for is not easy. However, it ought to be the responsibility of the marketing/BD team to make this happen. To do this they need to stop spending their time on PR, websites, preparing legal directory submissions, social media and event management – which is where they feel safest – and, with the help of the firm’s management, start to challenge what their partners are doing by getting them to respond to what clients say they want.
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