Not every firm has marketing people. While many firms – typically the larger and global firms - have had significantly sized marketing teams for years, by contrast, smaller firms have not necessarily had this need. Until now.
Smaller firms, whether they have had a certain amount of success on their own, or, whether they might be newly formed and contemplating their marketing efforts, are now starting to re-think marketing for their firm.
As a partner in a law or accounting firm, consistent revenue growth year on year is now not a given. And for most firms, it’s a challenge. This is because you need to work at differentiation and showing value, and more specifically, being solutions-focused to your clients. And all of this against the backdrop of a competitive and often slow-to-respond market.
This is where marketing and business development comes in. These people are solely focused on helping you achieve your revenue targets, growth goals, and differentiation and value to clients. They can also help you achieve the elite status of business-solutions advisor.
But where do you start? And why does it seem hard to take the plunge to hire your first-time marketer?
It’s hard because there’s no precedent, no comparisons, and no history on a marketing function or person in your firm. You don’t have the benefit of hindsight of seeing the function work effortlessly and from learning from prior mis-steps (they do happen, frequently). So, the stakes are higher for hiring your first-time marketer. After that, and down the road when you look to build out a marketing function and team after your first-time hire, the challenge is much less so. You will have learnt, seen and feel more educated as to what marketing is, what it can do for your firm, and how it has actually impacted your firm’s bottom line.
Given these factors at play, there are several key things to get right in order to make the first-time marketer for your firm work and be effective in both the short and long term. Below are my top three tips to start you off along the right path:
Do you have consistent and confirmed expectations?
The most important thing you can get right when hiring a first-time marketer for your firm is knowing exactly what it is you need, and ensuring all key stakeholders are aligned on this. Unless you and your partners can agree on the specific expectations for this role, it is - in my experience - unlikely to be a long-term success. This takes some time at the outset, but it is well worth the end result.
For example, ask yourself and your fellow partners these initial questions and see what answers you all have:
What will be the seniority of the position?
Because you are hiring your first marketing role, this single person must be at the right level of seniority. In a larger team, a combination of ‘doers’ and ‘strategists’ will often form an effective team. But in a single person team, you need to find the right balance in just one person.
There is often a correlation between experience and preference for acting as a doer versus a strategist. Less experienced recruits may tend towards being a ‘yes person’ or an administrative function (creating perception problems around what marketing can actually do). Similarly, there are also risks in hiring someone with too much horsepower who pushes the partners too far too fast (creating problems around getting the right pace and buy-in for the role). Of course, every candidate is unique and firms should not use ‘years of experience’ as a direct proxy for ability or working style.
In thinking about the seniority, also take into account who this person will mostly work with: key partners or even clients, and also what barriers may be in place for this person. In setting your new marketer up for success, they need to know both the good things and the challenging things about the role to have the best chance at getting all the elements right. Think about the challenges you as a partner have; you’re better equipped to deal with them once there’s transparency in place.
And at the risk of laboring this point, this is all particularly important because this person will be (probably for a while) your sole marketing function. This person will shape what marketing is at your firm and will literally go down in your firm’s history as to what marketing is and does for your firm. Over the years, I’ve seen firms really struggle with shifting a (wrong) perception of marketing once its in place. Getting it right at the start is essential.
What are the reporting lines and budget:
Carefully consider who this new marketer reports to. Marketers will prefer to report into a key partner, typically an office managing partner or the firm partner. Reporting into the firm leadership as a whole is another option, but, if this happens, who is the single person with the ultimate authority and responsibility on this role?
You will also have to consider what budget needs to be set aside for this person. Of course, a more junior person is less expensive than a senior person, but cost shouldn’t be your main driver. More often than not, you get what you pay for. Additionally, educate yourself on what a marketer will cost at your firm. Their salaries are structured differently to your administrative employees’ salaries. We advise firms on this constantly. And as you might expect, it is different based on size of firm, type of firm, remit of role, geography, and seniority of position.
Closely tied to the issues of reporting lines and budget is how your new marketer will show their worth and value: their return on your investment. Bring your new marketer in on this conversation so you’re both in it together. For example, ask them to create a bi-annual report to show what they’ve worked on and how that has contributed to the revenue of your firm. The more senior the person, the easier this is to show. Get them to tie their efforts into the overarching goals of the firm and how that fits with the trajectory you both discussed at the outset.
It might seem hard to embark on a first-time marketing role because it is an unknown to you. But most firms who haven’t had a dedicated marketing function are now taking the plunge. Keep your firm, your partners, and your market position as it should be and let us help you embark on this challenge together. This is literally all that we do. In our experience, firms that follow the above steps commence their search from a stronger foundation and have greater success with their new marketing function.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for nine years and prior to that was an attorney.