Even in a compromised economy, the only bad marketing is no marketing. Only slightly better than no marketing is aimless marketing, with no strategic plan—particularly when resources are thin and competition is fierce. We know that when law firms set goals, determine priorities and develop written plans, they consistently outperform those that do not. But it still seems that some (okay, many) aren’t undertaking marketing and business development activities in a systematic manner.
Operating without a strategic marketing plan is like constructing a building without a blueprint. You can do it, but chances are you won’t like the outcome. With a blueprint, the builder knows whether it will be a shed or a cathedral. Likewise, with a well-defined marketing strategy, you can move forward confidently knowing what kind of future you’re building—and how and why the dollars are being spent. There isn’t a law firm I know that doesn’t like to know a little something about the potential for return on investment.
It’s Time to Get Strategic!
A strategic marketing plan allows you to explore and understand the direction you want to go, determine the actions necessary to get there and realize the potential consequences of those actions. If you wish to deviate from the plan, obviously you can, but you do so consciously and with rationale. And, bottom line, it’s much cheaper to do all this on paper ahead of time than in midstream execution. Essentially, your plan becomes a template for effective and quick decision-making for both high-level issues and routine details.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that every detail and every person moves in the same direction, that the marketing budget transforms from an expense into an investment—and that every dollar spent yields more than a dollar’s worth of value.
Creating the Plan
No, the Planning Fairy does not arrive and place the plan before you—although I know some wish it did! And strategic planning is a process, not an isolated activity. Through the process, you explore and fill the gaps between:
- Where you stand today and where you want to be
- What you and your colleagues think is important and what clients actually want
- Areas of disagreement within the firm and a unified commitment to a strategic direction
Individual plans are created for the firm as a whole, for each practice or industry group and for each individual attorney. All should fit together as a unified whole, complementing and supporting each other. Each plan must be specific, measurable and aligned with the firm’s overall vision, taking the following into account:
- Client retention
- Cross-selling services to existing clients
- New business generation
- Developing new referral sources
- Providing internal resources and programs to improve client relations and business development
- Enhancing firm, attorney and practice capabilities, reputation and image
While specific tactics will vary from firm to firm, certain elements are universal. Whether you have a full-time marketing professional on staff, or rely on part-time help or a consultant, the strategic marketing plan should:
- Identify what is unique about the firm, its offerings and its position in relationship to other firms in your market
- Establish firmwide marketing goals (aligned to the firm’s business goals, of course) and identify tactics to help achieve those goals
- Define your desired client base and appropriate methods for reaching them, which may include advertising, media relations, networking in trade, legal or community settings, public speaking, direct mail, website, social media, newsletters, etc.
- Provide budget reviews and suggestions for financial resource allocation or re-allocation
- Recommend modifications to key messaging, consistency of identity, appearance and image, and effectiveness of collateral materials
On the tail end of the recession’s whiplash, there isn’t a better time than now to put a strategic plan in place that guides use of your firm’s limited resources and insulates your future. Your strategic marketing plan may easily be the difference between holding ground and gaining ground. It should not be optional.
Kim Proxmire is a senior strategist for Greenfield/Belser with a background of in-house and entrepreneurial law firm marketing and brand development. With 22 years of experience in firm management and as a legal marketing and brand strategy consultant, Kim brings knowledge of developing and managing strategic-level marketing and business development programs to small and mid-sized law firms. Prior to consulting, she was an in-house Director of Marketing for several Midwestern law firms and corporations, including Anheuser-Busch.
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