Marketing: it's an effort, not a strategy

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Published on 1/19/09

Marketers have frequently complained that they are not given a "seat at the table" of law-firm management.

Some months ago, the Legal Marketing Association, in Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing, tried to address this perceived lack of respect by stating the organization's new definition of marketing: "Marketing is the activity, set of institutions and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large."

That's a pretty broad statement, lacking simplicity and directness and perhaps suggesting why marketers are perceived as they are. It also illustrates a major reason why too many lawyers are reluctant to undertake marketing initiatives: They can seem so vague and so broad that it's hard to know where to begin, or which marketing efforts are the most productive to pursue.

An alternative, shorter definition may be useful to describe the function of marketing. It is every activity throughout the day that enables one to persuade another as to the value of his/her idea/service and the availability to serve the client when the client is in need. It's a concept so basic that even lawyers - and their marketers - can get it.

Take the example of an associate who is frustrated because she had been working hard at several client development efforts that suddenly and unexpectedly fell through. The best response to this marketing dilemma is not to fret over it. When you do, minutes seem like hours, hours become days, and it's easy to get into a funk. The more rational and effective response comes from our marketing definition and can be summed up simply: Don't "strategize," do something.

The key to business development success is building relationships with potential clients. Relationship development is a marathon, not a sprint, and it starts with getting into the public eye. There are many ways to do this: for example, by attending lunch or bar association functions, "blawging" (either individually or on behalf of the firm), and contributing to client news updates. Writing articles in trade or legal publications is another key strategy.

In all this work, the associate should keep the visibility purpose foremost and avoid getting lost in the message. There is no one tactic that will cover the waterfront of opportunities to communicate with your marketplace. It becomes a question of each lawyer's creativity and time availability.

Social networking Internet sites are becoming part of lawyers' marketing efforts, but personal contact at meetings, on the phone and through hand-written notes will remain effective outreach tools. Personal contact is the differentiating factor that gets a lawyer noticed. And differentiation is often the way to get attention. Getting attention is a cornerstone of marketing. And marketing is the basis of educating your public that you exist and that you can assist them.

The beauty of marketing is that the young lawyer can, at review time, make a convincing argument: "This is what I've done to promote myself and promote the firm."

If you are down 800 billable hours, you can't sit around and mope for 400 of them. Go on the offensive: Demonstrate the number of articles and blog posts and presentations you've done and show how many people you've reached. If you make the effort, eventually there are members of your audience who will become your clients. It truly is a numbers game.

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