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Am Law 100 firms are playing musical chairs with their top marketing positions. The few industry veterans with top-tier experience are being courted heavily, with ever-higher pay as the lure. According to interviews with a dozen marketers, analysts, partners and recruiters, firms in major markets are now offering the top talent around $400,000 for a job as chief marketing officer. Those currently searching for marketing leaders include Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison; Simpson Thacher & Bartlett; King & Spalding; and Kilpatrick Stockton. Some, such as Debevoise & Plimpton and McGuireWoods, are replacing veterans who have moved on to new opportunities and bigger bucks — in Debevoise’s case, Deborah Farone, now the first CMO at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. Though the old dollar barriers are falling, the questions that legal marketers are asking are more about power and culture: Will these highly paid CMOs, especially the first-timers, really have the clout to do their jobs and make a material difference in their firm’s fortunes? Such questions aren’t exactly new. It’s the answer that has been evolving. During the past two decades, marketing tactics and staffs have grown from a primitive starting point: a couple of longtime administrative employees dragooned into planning parties and mailing new partner announcements. Even as they have innovated — with bolder advertising and branding programs, more aggressive public relations, and slicker presentation skills for beauty contests — the culture of partners-know-best has remained entrenched. Thus, staff turnover and frustration have remained high. Firms now talking the CMO talk say they are finally ready for real client development strategists. “What I think firms are expecting out of marketing departments today are assistance with research, helping people learn about clients, learn about their clients’ businesses, strategic things like that,” says William Strickland, managing partner of McGuireWoods. But evolution is messy, and the industry is far from agreeing on standards. How much control should a marketing director have over his or her budget? To whom does the head of marketing report? What should the title be — CMO or marketing director or global head of communications? Firms are moving, or not, at their own pace through such issues. “Some firms throw around these terms, but they really don’t embrace the whole function,” says legal recruiter Sally Schmidt of Schmidt Marketing, Inc., who runs CMO searches for big firms. “There are some who look to hire [top legal professionals], but don’t give them full utility.” All of this uncertainty gets aired when a firm launches a search for a bigger, better marketing executive. When legal marketing experts hear about an open position, the first question isn’t “What’s the salary?” It’s “What’s the reporting structure?” says Bill Crooks, group manager of professional services recruiting at Priority Search International, who also runs CMO searches. “In some firms CMOs are still answering to the marketing committee, but I’m also seeing other firms … gain from senior leadership. [The head of marketing] will answer directly to a managing partner; from the candidate’s point of view, that seems to be the most desirable situation.” David Geyer agrees — and he should know about interviewing at firms. Once a marketer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, he made his first big splash in the legal world with Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison’s revolutionary advertising campaign. Once that had run its course — he left one year before Brobeck’s collapse — Geyer was recruited by Dechert, a stint that lasted only until Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe came calling two months later. (Dechert has since hired Nancy Lassersohn away from White & Case.) “If your primary interview is with the CEO, as opposed to the COO,” says Geyer, “your chances for long-range, long-term support are better than if it comes from the administrative side.” Long-term support matters more than short-term enthusiasm, because law firm marketers rarely have a chance to make an instant impact. Justifying a mid-six-figures salary means producing results within a reasonable time, and that can be difficult for even the best legal marketers to prove. Political considerations mean that marketing can never take sole credit for landing or keeping a big client. Results aren’t just hard to prove; they’re hard to pay for. Estimates of law firm marketing budgets vary, as do the means of reckoning what falls within that budget. But the average is 1.5 percent to 3 percent of a firm’s annual revenue, or barely $30 million for a billion-dollar firm (and there aren’t many of them). Big Four accounting firms can expect overall marketing budgets that total several hundred million dollars, roughly 3.5 percent, a slightly bigger slice of a much larger pie. “The biggest accounting firms, they’re all over 100,000 [in staff], in more than 100 countries, and that does affect how marketing people think and act,” says David Read, the new managing director for marketing and client development at O’Melveny & Myers. Read was the global director of marketing and communications at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu until May, when he decided that law firms presented a fresh challenge. Discovering how to work with such small budgets — and with so many partners — is key to the marketers’ learning curve in the legal business. “It’s quite a difference, understanding a partnership, how it functions, and how decisions are made,” says Cherie Olland, Jones Day’s director of business development and communications. “You need to learn how to navigate those waters … having a two-tiered client base, with internal clients and the clients of the firm.” Firms unwilling to work through such an adjustment period find themselves having to bid for the very few legal marketers who have substantial experience. Only a handful of individuals have worked with major law firms for more than five years, and for them, the current hiring boomlet is a chance to switch places — or, at the least, to deal with a lot of phone calls. (One top pro with no intention of moving says she sometimes gets three separate headhunter calls within a week.) Once one firm offers a big salary, others follow suit. It was news when Sidley Austin Brown & Wood paid $325,000 to hire Al Romanoski as CMO three years ago, but he soon left for the now-defunct Altheimer & Gray. (Romanoski is now a consultant.) With this much potential job mobility, marketers are in a position to angle for more authority. “As the recognized value of all this has increased in law firms, so has the status of the marketing director or CMO,” says Barbara Sessions, CMO at Winston & Strawn. She’s one of the few marketing heads who is also a lawyer and has become a nonequity partner at her firm. Sessions adds that, despite her autonomy, she still prefers to make decisions with many partners’ input; sometimes independence matters less than her knowledge that the firm has “great respect and confidence in the marketing staff.” Success for law firm marketers inevitably boils down to that confidence. For all major firms to evolve to that point, it will take a lot more effort than simply upping salaries another notch or two.

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