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The Delaware Valley Law Firm Marketing Group (DVLFMG) held its monthly meeting on Oct. 23 at the offices of Fox Rothschild, where a group of more than 50 law firm marketers and administrators participated in an interactive panel discussion on marketing challenges in multi-office firms.

The panel –– moderated by Mary Beth Pratt of MBPrattConsulting and formerly head of marketing at several large, multi-office firms –– included James Staples, chief marketing officer at Fox Rothschild, and Martha J. Hess, business development and marketing manager at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Philadelphia.

The program began with a quick poll asking attendees about their firms. Most participants work in firms with five to nine offices, and many were from firms with 10 or more offices in multiple time zones. All levels of marketing staff, whether chief marketing officer or office marketing manager, face similar challenges: communications, resources, coordination, managing multiple relationships and serving firmwide versus office versus practice group needs.

Add to the mix variables in levels of responsibility, access, offices of residence, and inconsistencies in support staff and there are now financial, political and practical considerations to balance. Nevertheless, according to our panel, these ingredients can and often do result in robust, well-executed, and exciting marketing and client development campaigns.

In a question-and-answer format, the attendees and panelists identified the following.

• Managing the firm’s identity.
Recognize differences between firmwide and office needs. Marketing occurs on four distinct levels: firm, practice group, office and individual lawyer. According to Staples, while it is incumbent upon heads of marketing to illustrate the power of a unified identity or brand, long-standing partners can be great advocates for the benefits of consistency in message and presentation. A firm’s “brand” must support its lawyers as they market their particular practices in their communities and to clients and prospects in a broader arena.

Some firms support marketing centrally, while others have marketing staff in multiple offices. Many firms also have staff in specialized marketing functions: writers and editors, graphic designers, practice group marketers, business developers, events coordinators, database managers and researchers. Many practice group marketers also support an office, and vice versa. Most important is how each function supports the others.

Critical to blending office and firmwide initiatives is a resource “on the ground,” explained Hess. Staples recommends doing what Fox Rothschild called “riding the circuit” — regular visits to all offices. At least once a quarter he visits each office. He finds that marketing requests increase following a personal visit, and lawyers are more comfortable and knowledgeable about what resources are available. Such visits are reinforced with bi-weekly marketing staff status meetings, via conference call, to ensure collective thinking and avoid duplication on key projects. Hess and a number of the attendees underscored the importance of regularly scheduled marketing capabilities presentations in all offices.

Staples added that defining “brand” with a broad brush under which many variables can fit gives room under the marketing “umbrella” for flexibility in personal tastes and points of view, which encourages acceptance and use of marketing assistance and materials.

• Responsiveness: How do lawyers know whom to call when they need marketing assistance?
Centralize intake of requests. Streamlined systems help ensure good “client” service. Lawyers feel supported when they know that their requests are received, understood and readily answered. At Fox Rothschild, said Staples, attorneys call or send requests to an e-mail address — [email protected] The marketing department coordinates the response, ensuring appropriate follow-up. Attendees from other firms reinforced the need for good communications among the marketing staff and logging in and tracking how lawyers’ needs are managed. One firm puts copies of all projects and responses in a box, which helps produce its monthly activities report.

• Coordinating activities and materials.
Panelists and attendees agreed that marketing staff can lead by example. Treating the firm’s lawyers as clients and completing projects before deadlines inspires confidence. Usually, at least 80 percent of the firm’s lawyers use the resources of a marketing department. Over time, nearly all lawyers use one or more services of the department.

Do quality work. Lawyers judge marketing staff the same way that they do each other, and expectations are high. Proactively follow up with lawyers who have, on their own, taken the initiative to do a proposal or presentation. Find a way to create a marketing role in moving the project forward, in order to build trust.

• Maintaining communication.
Develop periodic easy-to-read, concise internal newsletters to position marketing as the hub of business development intelligence, share successes and new resources, and engender good will.

• Catering to differing marketing situations.
Create templates, and formatted materials. Post them on the firm’s intranet for easy access and off-the-shelf proposals. Provide “grab ‘n go” collateral, printable “off the Web.” For example, practice group descriptions and up-to-date biographies with the firm’s logo in color can be saved as PDFs, readily downloadable by lawyers and their assistants for meetings. Recognize differences in flavor and culture of individual offices, which generally reflect the communities in which they are located. Develop style guides for use in individual offices and delegate someone to ensure proper implementation.

• Providing lawyer marketing education.
Participate in new lawyer and lateral partner orientation. Mine for other venues within the firm that will position marketing as supporting the business of the firm. Do regular “show and tell” sessions and describe quantifiable results. When appropriate, bring in experienced and respected consultants, for example in of public relations. Paid consultants can often change attitudes and thinking in ways that in-house staff cannot.

• Allocating resources.
The firm’s resources must support practice group, office, individual and firmwide marketing activities. The panel agreed that each office should have a share of the marketing budget. For example, as Hess explained, Buchanan Ingersoll’s office-level budget includes civic and charitable activities, such as participation in local chambers of commerce. At Fox Rothschild, while offices have part of the firmwide marketing budget, the major marketing activities are practice group based.

It is incumbent upon law firm marketers to help lawyers in all offices understand how the budget is derived and how best to get the greatest value from those dollars.

Barbara S. Kaplan is the principal of BSK Strategies and a consultant in marketing and client development for law firms. She may be contacted at [email protected].

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