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Legal Practice Management

30th Marketing Partner Forum: Competing on a modest marketing budget

Alexandra DeFelice  Director of Marketing and Business Development / Payne & Fears

· 6 minute read

Alexandra DeFelice  Director of Marketing and Business Development / Payne & Fears

· 6 minute read

At this week's Marketing Partner Forum, one panel discussed how smaller law firms could pull success out of even the most modest marketing budgets

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — When it comes to legal marketing spend, bigger isn’t always better. Small to midsize law firms are capable of outmaneuvering other law firm competitors through shrewd and creative means despite their modest budgets.

A panel discussion this week at the 30th Annual Marketing Partner Forum hosted by Thomson Reuters Institute, Heralds of Means: Competing on a Modest Marketing Budget, offered attendees some actionable steps firms can take to do more with less. First, the good news is that this is easily achievable if a law firm’s marketing partners and their marketing departments are able to shift the way they think about their marketing dollars, leverage their in-house resources, and utilize technology to drive growth.

While the panelists tried not talking about the pandemic, they admitted that there was no way to avoid it, since its impact on firms and their clients drastically changed the way many law firms — and their marketing departments — conduct business. “Everyone focused on technology [to work from home],” said panelist Chris Fritsch, President & Client Success Consultant at CLIENTSFirst Consulting. “It took a lot of technology to push us into digital-first, and now firms have learned how to use technology to develop business.”

The pandemic also forced firms to get back to the fundamentals of their business: client connections. Firms doubled down on the number of webinars, client alerts, podcasts, and other virtual communication mechanisms during the past few years. “It was really client service disguised as marketing because our clients needed a lot of help at that time,” said panelist Amy Patton, Marketing and Business Development Committee Co-Chair and partner at Payne & Fears. “At first our clients were just reaching out to their trusted person, even if it wasn’t related to their specific area of law.”

Panelist Tara A. Archer-Glasgow, Co-Chair of the Marketing & Business Development Committee and partner at Higgs & Johnson, agreed. Her firm “focused on making personal connections through tragic times,” Archer-Glasgow said. “We still managed to pivot and utilize other mechanisms to make that client contact,” such as offering private seminars to clients on topics relevant to them in addition to the public webinars the firm promoted to a larger audience. “The travel expenses went down, but the client service was still being provided and needs met.”

When and how to invest

An audience member asked the panelists what size a firm should be before it invests resources into marketing personnel, which led to a discussion on the benefits of outsourcing for smaller firms.

As panelists explained, outsourcing is a valuable and accessible way for smaller law firms to access talent on less than full-time terms. Often a smaller firm cannot afford to hire a full-time marketing manager and may not even need that amount of work done. However, if the firm outsources the job to a marketing consultant for 10 to 15 hours a week, or even to test the waters prior to making the investment, they may get the right fit for less cost.

The problem is that different consultants exist for various aspects of marketing, so who in the firm is going to manage all of those people?

Ideally, “you need a point person in the firm to manage those relationships and they need the resources, time, and support to do that,” said panel moderator Maggie T. Watkins, Chief Executive Officer of Maggie T. Watkins Consulting. Without such oversight and guidance, a consultant “may come in with a plan that would then sit on a shelf because there is nobody to help implement it,” Watkins added.

For firms just starting to dip a toe in this area, one of the outside consultant’s roles can be to coordinate other outside service providers. For example, Archer-Glasgow described how Higgs & Johnson hired a mid-level person in-house who manages outside consultants.

What can be done now?

The panelists also provided concrete and practical examples of actions they have done under the heading of doing more with less, many of which are easy for smaller firms to implement immediately.

“A much unheralded part of the business development role is to make things more efficient to increase profitability,” said panelist Jason M. Mulgrew, Chief Business Development & Strategy Officer at Kleinberg, Kaplan, Wolff & Cohen. Mulgrew said his firm devised a robust conference preparation and follow-up system in which the marketing team has the attorney’s bio, Vcard, practice group one-page flyer, and email template ready to go. The attorney then sends the marketing team photos of all the business cards collected each day. The marketing team sends an introductory email to each new contact on the attorney’s behalf the next day. Six months after a recent conference, one attorney already received two referrals from that process, Mulgrew added.

Train your attorneys to start using LinkedIn in different and more strategic ways, Fritsch suggested. “I never thought about connecting with everyone who went to a webinar,” yet, she said she has seen results from implementing that practice. And another thing: “Don’t call them webinars,” she added. “Call them master classes. Your attendance will go up exponentially.”

Another good way to leverage a topic for presentation to clients is by breaking it into parts or serialization. Mulgrew said his prior firm set up 30 webinars over nine months about all facets of mergers and acquisitions. He was able to see who attended how many sessions and gauge interest level. And Fritsch described how CLIENTSFirst created Circle of Law, a document that highlights roughly two dozen different actions a firm can take with a single piece of content, from blogs to podcasts to Twitter posts to short videos.

It’s also crucial to share content within your firm, panelists explained. For example, Payne & Fears created a central database for all PowerPoint presentations and encouraged its attorneys to use what they and their marketing team had created with their own clients and referral sources. “Along with the small firm culture often comes a proprietary attitude that what I created is mine,” Patton said. “We’ve worked on this mindset shift over a period of years. Materials now are readily available for everyone’s use.”

When the firm sends out client alerts, for example, even if Patton is not the author, she sends individual emails to clients who will be interested in or impacted by the legal development. It makes good use of the work product and demonstrates to the clients that they are top of mind. “It takes 10 minutes to send about 20 emails, and I end up with paid work the same day,” she said.

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