Having only recently left the ranks of law firm CMOs, I still approach the fourth quarter of the fiscal year with a mix of emotions: apprehension, excitement and exhaustion. For those who lead the marketing function at law firms, this is planning and budgeting season. It is also the time of year when our clients – the firm’s partners – are scrambling to meet their goals. Following a languid summer of vacations, golf outings, client events and only a few high-pressure new business proposals, you find yourself rushing from meeting to meeting, proposing new approaches to grow practice areas, crunching numbers, conferring with practice group leaders, coaching partners, and writing and re-writing marketing plans. This crush of activity comes on top of all the normal work: the partner retreat, rankings submissions and an onslaught of new business proposals. Keeping the trains running with an eye to the future, all the while diligently watching expenses, is the artful aspect of being a CMO.
As I meet with CMOs, I hear about renewed pressure to keep costs down while continuing to produce the same results. How do you make marketing magic with fewer resources than you had the year before? Here’s how.
Refine: Take a look at the projects you set out to do that got started but not finished or that never got off the drawing board. Ask yourself, “Will this project drive short- or long-term revenues? Is there a partner who is willing to champion it for the next budget year?” If the answers are “no,” don’t try to resurrect it for next year. Take it out of the budget and off the plates of your already-busy marketing staff. Sometimes less is more.
Repurpose: Many of us are discovering the joys of social media – it’s free and its platforms give us new ways to distribute our subject-matter expertise. Did one of your lawyers give a speech or participate in a panel on a hot topic? After you publicized his or her participation in the event on your website, what did you do with the thought leadership? Did it become a white paper, a series of blog entries, a client alert, the subject of a background interview with the media? Did you discover unusually high attendance at a CLE or client seminar? You might consider making it a repeat event. It’s kind of like the proverbial tree in the forest. If you only use the material once, will anyone notice, now that there are so many ways to distribute content?
Renegotiate: No one likes to reopen a contract or agreement that has been functioning well, but pressure to keep expenses down might require that you turn to the vendors with whom you work regularly to ask if they can make you look like a hero with your firm. Take this opportunity to revisit the contract and scope of work to make sure they are meeting the business imperatives of the firm.
Outsource: While outsourcing, to some of you, might seem like an exercise in hiding the penny under a different cup, I have found, over the years, that it is often the best solution to a myriad of problems. Hiring, developing and managing staff is an ongoing challenge for all law firm marketing departments. Hire the wrong person, or not have the time to properly train someone properly, and the department cannot meet the needs of highly demanding partners. It is an expensive mistake from a reputation perspective, as well as a drain on resources.
How do you staff an important project that has a fixed duration if you already have your staff going full force on other work? That is why outsourcing makes sense – lower head count, access to high-caliber professionals with a narrow focus on specific projects or activities. Hiring consultants or contract employees is not without precedence in most firms. For instance, most law firms already outsource the development of their websites to firms that specialize in Web technology and design. A surprising number of consulting firms and consultants can act as “virtual” employees while freeing your staff to do what they do best.