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A few years back when Mary Beth Pratt asked the new marketing director of a large firm how things were going, she was met with a simple response. “She said to me, I hate lawyers,” said Pratt, the chief marketing officer of Pepper Hamilton. “I just remember thinking that she wouldn’t have a long tenure. And sure enough, she didn’t.” Large law firms seem to go through top marketing professionals like Donald Trump goes through apprentices. Pratt is the longest-tenured top marketer at a local large firm, with six years under her belt, and is the only marketing chief who has put in longer than three years at one of Philadelphia’s 10-largest law firms. Dechert has had four top marketing officials in the past four years. Drinker Biddle & Reath hired a new chief marketing officer last year. Blank Rome has been looking to for a CMO for almost a year, and Morgan Lewis & Bockius and Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young will soon be without marketing chiefs because of recently announced departures. According to Altman Weil consultant Charles “Biff” Maddock, the high turnover is caused by a number of factors, most notably a lack of clearly defined expectations and job specifications and of support from firm leadership in helping the marketing professional carry out the job. And many marketing professionals go into the position from the corporate world or other professional service industries and have a hard time adapting. “Many of these people come in from a hierarchal organization where it’s clear who’s the boss and everyone in the organization follows that person’s lead,” Maddock said. “But law firms are partnerships with flat leadership. It’s much harder to get everyone on the same page.” Cherry Hill-based law firm consultant Joel Rose said that the problems often start during the job interview process, when the managing partner and others involved with the hire make promises that they cannot keep. “There is often a tremendous gap between what a marketing person expects and what a firm can ultimately deliver in terms of willingness to cooperate with implementing strategies,” Rose said. “The marketing person will go in with great expectations about what they can achieve. But so many partners are either not made aware of what this person has been hired to do or they are not committed to following through on advice given by the professional. “For example, a great number of firms are asking partners to develop business plans. Many of them wind up not completing it, and there’s little followup from firm management. The marketing directors feel like they have hit a brick wall and grow frustrated, especially if they come from a hierarchal environment, where management makes a decision and everyone follows through. And at law firms, it’s hard to force a partner to do things, and a marketing director is going to be judged on . . . business achievements.” Pratt said a successful match of law firm and marketer often starts with how articulate firm management is at explaining the role of the new hire to partners. “Lawyers are independent by nature,” Pratt said. “And that has an effect on how law firms are run. So the marketing person needs to be flexible and adaptable. In a law firm, different people have different needs on different days, and you have to deal with all of them.” Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen chief marketing officer Bob Gero said the turnover mirrors the development of law firm marketing from its infancy 20 years ago. Back then the main tasks were writing press releases and event planning. Now marketing departments are necessary components of business plans, where chief marketing officers are lured from other firms or industries with six-figure salaries. Even with all of that change, marketing at law firms has yet to catch up to marketing in other industries. He said some firms are not yet ready to have their partners submit to the expertise of a chief marketing officer. “CMOs are supposed to be included in management planning and strategy, so when you take the job, that’s what you hope happens,” Gero said. “And if someone leaves early, it’s probably because the job was not as advertised or there was a personality conflict.” Gero added that marketers must learn to accommodate the way lawyers approach strategizing and problem-solving. “Law firms are a different breed of people,” Gero said. “And if you want to stay in this business, you have to be the one to adapt. You can’t take things personally. Lawyers are taught to look for problems, and you just have to understand that and try bringing those problems to their attention first.” After years of going without a high-level marketing professional, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll has begun a full-scale search for such an individual. Firm chairman Arthur Makadon said he believes the firm’s partners are ready to conform to a strategic marketing plan, but he wants the person ultimately hired to come from a legal background. “We aren’t selling widgets here,” Makadon said. “I want someone who understands the legal profession and how lawyers get clients.” Duane Morris chairman Sheldon Bonovitz has built one of the largest marketing departments in the city, with more than 35 professionals in the ranks. He said the department went through tremendous growing pains trying to work with lawyers. Last summer Duane Morris brought in a consultant who urged the firm’s partners to have patience. “Lawyers are often skeptical about marketing because they don’t see the initial payback,” Bonovitz said. “That’s why I like to see our marketing people establish themselves with low dangling fruit. If they have a tangible success, regardless of how big or small, the partners will notice and be more accepting. That’s why it’s important to have a realistic approach and not to over-promise things.” Saul Ewing managing partner Steve Aichele said that many times, law firms want marketing professionals to implement the same sophisticated concepts as corporations or other professional service firms, but provide only a fraction of the financial resources to do so. While he believes law firms sometimes hire high-level marketers before they are ready, he said marketing initiatives have to start somewhere. “Someone once told me that the life expectancy of your first marketing hire is going to be about a year and a half,” Aichele said. “But how do you prepare yourself for a high-level person without having any marketing staff at the firm?” Maddock said he advises firms seeking to enhance their marketing capabilities to do three things: Clearly and narrowly define expectations, give the person hired the staff and authority to succeed, and give the hire the freedom to make mistakes. “If a marketing or business plan is developed by a marketing director or consultant, it’s not going to get done because lawyers won’t follow that lead,” Maddock said. “That’s why it’s so important for a firm’s key partners to show that they support these initiatives by playing the key role in developing them with the [marketers'] help.”

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