May 18 '16
You’re not alone when it comes to putting articles to one side to save for when you have time. We know it’s been out a while, but we were really interested to read the PM Forum Marketing Leaders Benchmarking 2016, when we eventually made a cuppa and picked it up. It reinforces much of what we’ve noticed about the professional services industry over the last year or so.
As the regular readers amongst you will know, we’ve sat on both sides of the desk in law firm marketing, both as in-house marketing professionals and as agency consultants and the last few years have been transformative for the legal sector. We’ve seen the introduction of ABSs and virtual firms, a boom in direct access for The Bar… more and more cloud-based technology, digital communication and advanced client reporting… and we’ve seen more and more complex demands from clients in terms of the ways in which legal services are delivered.
The days of the oak-panelled, book-lined room with a legal authority ‘giving enough information to scare but not enough to solve’ are over… Never before have we marketing and PR professionals been under as much pressure to demonstrate client intelligence, innovation, return on investment and strategic thinking.
Below we’ve drawn out a couple of key points from the report that we have noticed first hand, working with law firms and barristers’ chambers in the UK and US.
Greater status of in-house marketing professionals
As you would imagine from the PM Forum, the report doesn’t hold back in terms of comments about the importance of marketing professionals. Of course we’re pleased to see this. We all know that when finances are tight, the first hit budget is marketing. And we also know that this is usually the last thing that ought to happen. 93% of those surveyed said they believe marketers’ skills will play a key role in addressing the strategic challenges their firm faces. The problem was, though, that 60% also said they wouldn’t speak highly of their firm’s current strategy, if asked. That means over half of all the firms surveyed didn’t believe in their overall marketing strategy – rather a worrying thought.
A good marketing strategy is the key to targeted, results-driven marketing. You can’t carry out great marketing without it. Neither can you measure your marketing. A few years back the emphasis was on tactical marketing, and we would be approached to carry out the tactics – write copy, design websites, do press releases. Now we are pleased that we are asked to do so much more strategy development with our law firm clients. And that isn’t as lofty as it sounds. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a logical plan of what you want to achieve, who you want to talk to, what you want to talk to them about, what you’re going to do and how you’re going to know you’ve succeeded… then you didn’t really ought to be spending a penny on marketing tactics.
The report looked at the skills-gap within law firm marketing, and we feel this demonstrates that the era of the ‘all-rounder’ within law firm marketing is well and truly dead. When many of us first started out you had small, generalist marketing teams. Now firms are increasingly looking for specialists, whether that’s in strategy development, key account management, digital marketing or data analytics. A few years ago the skills gap would have been in technology and social media, but now that gap has been filled and we are seeing firms crying out for help with strategic planning. Again agencies and consultants are being pulled in to develop high quality strategies, whilst they take on the tactics in-house.
Ok… so let’s think about this logically… we’re in a relationship business. People assume you know the law but they don’t know if they like you or want to have a professional relationship with you, based on trust. So, we’re selling the client relationship, right? If there’s only one area of the professional services marketing mix that you get right, client relationship management has to be it, yes?
So, why did only 37% of respondents say that client feedback or improving client service was their number one priority for 2016? Ouch. And only 24% had any plan to link client data with financial analytics (so they could actually monitor whether it was working or whether it was a total waste of time)… double ouch. And only 12% were already doing this… treble ouch. And 39% still didn’t tailor their marketing to different markets or client segments… need we say more?
Come on people. Client management isn’t just about going to the pub with the clients you like and keeping your head down at the annual party to avoid the ones you don’t. Client management is the biggest opportunity you have for making a significant dent in those targets. And that’s why we believe it needs to be directly mapped to strategic objectives and financial targets.
It’s something we do a lot of here at Elephant Creative. In fact, we like nothing better than getting our teeth into a client care and key account management project. Whether that means surveying clients to find out what they think, testing your brand against market perception, working out what’s important to clients, or trawling through your CRM and files to set out a structure for managing and developing key accounts and targets – people – you can’t afford to forget client management like this!
Innovation and transformation
Although transformative change has been a big topic for the legal sector it’s been interesting to see that this hasn’t filtered down to the marketing teams in many cases. The report said that “innovation [was] high on the agenda” but was it really? Or was it just lip-service? How much innovation really goes in to marketing in most law firms? The fact was, reading between the lines, everyone seemed to recognise it was necessary but we’re not sure that the profession is quite ready to actually demonstrate it.
66% of those surveyed said they recognised that an element of transformative change is necessary to maximise marketing ROI. Yet, throughout the report, few seemed to be actually doing marketing in a way that would build trust from partners and demonstrate that innovation doesn’t have to mean hasty, slapdash and rash.
So what does this mean in plain English? It means something big needs to change if the marketing efforts are ever going to be as effective as we need them to be. In many cases this might mean changing the processes and tools used to measure marketing effectiveness (only 20% of marketers currently use technology portals to automate client communication). It might also mean marketing having a bigger part to play in structuring strategy, planning, client care and so on. Or perhaps it means that the impression of the value marketing professionals can bring. Ultimately, we think it all comes down to the same thing. If you have a clear plan of what you want to achieve as a firm then the marketing strategy comes from this. It demonstrates what you’re going to deliver to contribute to achieving the firm’s overall objectives. And it demonstrates how you’re going to report on this and measure success along the way. Let’s not forget, lawyers are people that like proof. So why, as marketing people do we spend so much time ‘doing stuff’ and so little time thinking about what it’s supposed to achieve and how it’s going to be measured?
For help with your strategic planning, messaging or client care/KAM get in touch with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
For more content like this, comment and advice on legal marketing sign up to our monthly marketing e-shot via the panel on the right. Or tweet us @Elephantcreate