As economic uncertainty continues to cast a cloud and the threat of new competition from alternative business structures looms large, how might you achieve marketing efficiencies?
Note the reference to achieving efficiencies, rather than cost-savings. It is easy to achieve cost savings in marketing and many firms have done that by drastically reducing or stopping spending in recent times.
However doing no marketing carries its own risks as it creates an opportunity for your competitors to move ahead of you.
One way of improving efficiency is to consider outsourcing the marketing function. This is not just an option for large firms – in fact it offers many opportunities for smaller firms too, particularly during a period of growth.
Outsourcing is sometimes associated with the loss of or transfer of jobs to an external provider. However, in our experience there are a number of circumstances where outsourcing provides an ideal solution, without the loss of any jobs. For example:
a) The start-up, which needs a limited amount of support in the early stages.
b) The growing firm, which wishes to test-drive a dedicated marketing function without taking on the headache of employment responsibilities.
c) The firm with some low-level in-house marketing support that wishes to step up a gear, without the expense of a senior appointment.
d) The overseas firm, which needs on the ground support to deliver strategy and campaigns delivered by their home marketing team.
e) The regional marketing firm that finds it difficult to attract or retain marketing staff of sufficient calibre and is fed up of paying recruitment fees.
So, let us consider the advantages.
For your outsourced provider to be able to deliver on your marketing objectives, these will need to be well thought through, agreed and communicated.
Sometimes this can be done beforehand and provided to potential providers as part of the selection process. Alternatively, setting your strategy and developing your marketing plan might be the first objective for your chosen provider. Either way, one outcome of the process is a clear sense of direction.
Focus the mind
Have you noticed how a meeting with an external supplier can be treated more seriously than an internal meeting – particularly one, where the supplier is charging by the hour? In my experience, marketing decisions are more likely to be made and actions are more likely to be completed before the next meeting.
Internal marketing meetings rarely seem to have the same focus and there is the frequent excuse of being too busy with clients when actions are not progressed.
Making the financial commitment to engage an external provider to push forward your marketing also requires a commitment of time and energy from the management team to make things happen.
Focus on core competencies
With non-billable hours as a scarce commodity, they need to be spent wisely for maximum impact and focused on client-facing, relationship-building activities which will directly generate profitable new business.
Outsourcing any non-core business support activities to a specialist provider will free your business to focus on its core activity of providing legal advice. What is the opportunity cost of time spent by fee-earners on marketing activities that could be outsourced at a fraction of their charge out rate?
Access to expertise in depth
One of the challenges of appointing an in-house marketing manager is that of finding the right person with the appropriate mix of skills.
We often come across firms where the client database is a shambles as the secretarial team claim it is not their responsibility and the marketing manager appears to think that this sort of administrative task is beneath them. Only the very largest firms can justify employing someone to manage the client data.
Similarly, we see secretaries who have been promoted to a marketing position on the basis of good organisational skills when managing events. However, when it comes to drafting a press release, handling the media, drafting or proofing articles for the web site then different attributes are required. Client satisfaction research or a major tendering exercise fall back into the lap of the partners.
Successful marketing requires a wide range of competencies and small firms need someone who can put together a marketing strategy at the beginning of the year and is happy to execute it as the year goes on. One day they may need to draft an important tender, the next they may need to print the delegate badges for an event. We often joke that outsourcing covers everything from strategy to stuffing envelopes.
Continuity of service
Many law firms suffer from fairly frequent turnover of marketing staff. Few people decide on a career in marketing with the legal profession in mind and even fewer find it provides the career path that they desire and do not stay long.
Frequent staff turnover can result in lack of continuity for projects. Advertising, recruiting and inducting a new marketing executive is in itself a significant drain on resources which might be directed elsewhere.
Outsourcing your marketing function makes this someone else’s problem.
Access to efficient systems
Marketing (legal services) should be the core competence of your chosen provider and consequently they will have developed their own systems and procedures to ensure that each task is undertaken as efficiently as possible.
Just as you have templates and precedents for certain contracts, we have templates for marketing plans, budgets, sales pipelines, event management plans, tenders, directory entries etc. We have quality control processes for press releases, publications and web content. We have systems for updating databases, client satisfaction reviews and event follow up.
There is no need to re-invent the wheel, when you can buy into a tried and tested system.
We also keep up to date with developments in marketing tools and software, such as content management systems of web sites, cloud CRM systems and email marketing. Buying in external expertise means that you do not have to worry about selecting the right software as it will come as part of the service. Nor will you need to worry about supporting that technology.
If you are having problems with your provider, possibly due to dissatisfaction with your account manager or failure to meet certain targets, then it is important to give them an opportunity to improve the service (just as you would wish a client would afford you a second chance).
Depending on the size of the provider, then it may be relatively straight forward for them to change the team looking after you and solve the problem.
Compare this to having to manage the poor performance of an employed marketing manager.
Ease of exit
If you do find that you wish to discontinue the arrangement, then there should be a clear and straightforward notice period set out in your contract. It is likely to be much simpler than terminating the employment of marketing staff.
Making it work
One issue that often crops up when discussing outsourcing is that of location and the disadvantage of staff being based off-site. Any large firm with multiple offices is unlikely to have a marketing person in each office and they function with a matrix of responsibilities.
Of course there are advantages to having someone working in the same office, however pro-active marketers have to make time for marketing anyway and the right attitude of mind means that location is not really an obstacle.
For any firm wondering how to resource additional business development activities, the option of outsourcing is certainly worth exploring. It can provide you with an efficient and experienced marketing resource at a predictable, usually fixed, cost without any of the headaches of employment.
It may be that over time, an employee is the best option, but in the mean time outsourcing might be the ideal solution to help you take your marketing and business development activities up a gear.