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Firms embrace merits of marketing

1 September 02

A survey of marketing initiatives in different firms indicates that some at least are taking the subject more seriously

by Roger Mackenzie

Has marketing in law firms come of age?

News that Boyds have become the first firm in Scotland to appoint their non-legally qualified marketing director as managing director suggests that it might just be the case.

Martin Street, 39, will have responsibility for driving the firm’s overall business strategy and overseeing all internal operations across finance, IT, personnel and marketing.

Street sees his new role as the natural progression from the title of marketing director he assumed in April of last year.

“As one of our senior lawyers said, I was never pure marketing. Yes, marketing was, and will continue to be, part of my role, but my background and the way I have been trained is that marketing runs through everything in a business, not just bolted on to the side. If you view it just as an add-on it will never be as effective as when you view it as part of the whole business.”

Street is aware that the profession will be watching his progress – and that many may see a non-lawyer running a legal firm as, at the very least, something of an anathema.

“Managing a business requires a different skill set, a different understanding to being a lawyer. Both are equally valid, but it’s about getting the right person in the right job, not just about who has been at the firm the longest.

“I’m sure others will be interested to see how it works out and there’s bound to be raised eyebrows and cynics might say it will never work. The proof of the pudding will be in how I make it succeed and ultimately that boils down to profitability”.

Street came to prominence earlier in the year as the driving force behind the relaunched Boyds corporate identity.

For marketing directors, revisiting the corporate logo is perhaps the clearest way of making their mark.

In Street’s case, the previous Boyds logo was “confused and inconsistent in its approach”.

“It’s basic marketing philosophy to keep it simple. Our old material had too many logos, and it was parochial. We wanted to emphasise our commercial side rather than our Scottishness.

“It’s very important as a law firm to have a distinctive brand. There are many firms offering similar types of service.

“Fundamental to this greater brand awareness is the realisation that a firm’s image no longer revolves around individuals. Instead there is now a collective responsibility for all lawyers to deliver services in a particular corporate style.

“This type of marketing activity only works if it genuinely drives fundamental changes to the development of the firm across the board and is consistently delivered by everyone in the firm thereafter.

“Equally, the role of the marketing director is not to impose a brand but to identify and build on a firm’s existing strengths and values, adapting the approach as these evolve in future”.

It’s a theme echoed by other marketing directors who have gone through the process of overhauling a firm’s identity.

Most recently, Shepherd & Wedderburn have become Shepherd+ Wedderburn, with a corresponding change of visual identity across their corporate material.

Marketing director David Wallace said their new identity was designed to set the firm apart through its brand values.

“Brand differentiation is a key strategic initiative rather than a cosmetic retouch. We have an exceptionally loyal client base but, as experience has shown in consumer markets, businesses are increasingly looking to strong brands to facilitate purchasing decisions, not least because there is less risk involved in choosing a trusted brand. The legal world is not immune to this trend. Marketing in law firms is growing up and our new corporate identity will enable us to communicate our messages more clearly.

“We needed to help partners and others develop business by providing them with the appropriate marketing communications tools.

“It’s important that all the materials we use convey the right image at all times and are differentiated from other firms’ materials”.

When Morton Fraser revisited their brand image, it was to coincide with a move to modern offices, consolidating the business into one environment and under one name.

Marketing director Debbie Entwistle said their rebranding exercise was designed to reflect that.

“There’s no point in rebranding just for the sake of it. There has to be a real purpose and then the message will be strong and accepted.

“Firms can’t rebrand on an external basis only, you have to believe in what you are doing internally”.

As a comparatively new phenomenon, the in-house marketing function in many firms has progressed to sophisticated levels fairly quickly to the extent that it is now more akin to business development in scope.

“A key aspect to the success in marketing in law firms is understanding that partners have a pivotal role to play. You can’t simply analyse the company, work out a campaign and convince one or two people as you would in a commercial company. The key in devising a marketing strategy for a law firm is to have patience. You need to put all the bricks in place, involve every person in the firm and keep coming back with alternative until you find a way that everyone is comfortable with,” said Debbie Entwistle.

For Martin Street, a more mature understanding of the central role of marketing in legal firms is now evident UK wide.

“Simply because of the competitive nature of your marketplace, the realisation is ‘ignore marketing at your peril’."

Key to any marketing strategy is that it is based on client research. Research undertaken by Street and Boyds suggests that technical expertise while important is taken as read, and that effective, value for money and quickness of response are regarded as more important criteria for choosing a law firm.

Debbie Entwistle also places research as central to the proper foundation of any marketing campaign.

“The perceptions of the outside world don’t always match how you think your firm is perceived. In our case we carried out internal research as well as client and media research and that offered a valuable insight into what other people were thinking”.

But do lawyers always understand what marketing is? All too often it seems to be viewed as organising corporate golf days and taking a table at a charity dinner.

“People often perceive marketing to be advertising when in fact it’s just part of the marketing mix which includes everything from PR, brand recognition, sponsorship, hosting receptions and newsletters to the way the reception looks and the staff react to client,” said Debbie Entwistle.

“In legal services marketing, there is even a crossover into an HR role. The marketing director can be involved in training when it comes to implementing change”.

As Simon Haslam writes in this edition of The Journal, all fee-earners are in a sense now legal marketers in their own right. That’s an approach Debbie Entwistle encourages.

“It’s taken as read that people in law firms are well qualified technicians when it comes to interpreting and applying the law. But whereas in the past work came to the solicitor, now from an early stage you really have to think about how you can get your name known. That’s where marketing can help. Work might be passed to you in a firm if people are aware of your route of personal development, but you also have to do a lot for yourself, by writing articles, assisting with seminars, and joining or creating networking groups.

“It’s about being focused and not just letting it happen to you. It’s the same for firms. People will have a perception, so why not drive it forward to your advantage. While work will come, you can direct the sort of work you want to do”.

But what of the small to medium sized firms that can’t afford dedicated marketing personnel or to engage the services of expensive consultancies? Can marketing for them ever be more than ad hoc and sporadic?

“Marketing isn’t just about money. People that have large budgets have different problems from companies working with a limited budget,” said Martin Street.

“If you are a small firm, you have to get everything out of it. Ask advice of other people. Find out how your clients, staff and other lawyers perceive you. You might be surprised what people’s perceptions are. Decide internally how you want to be perceived to get the best out of your marketplace. Agree a budget and stick to it and keep monitoring what you’re doing”.

Debbie Entwistle offers similar advice.

“You have to take a close look at what type of firm you are, consider what services you provide. Make a list of your top ten clients and assess what that says about your firm.

“The next time you’re in a situation when you can have a chat after a meeting, ask your client how they perceive your firm and if there’s any services they think your firm should be offering but don’t”.