Law firms are turning to a new breed of marketer to help position their businesses in the new competitive culture but the professional marketer-law firm relationship is not without its problems.
Legal marketing is very attractive in cash terms, attracting candidates with a wealth of marketing experience. But law firms are still tending to shy away from candidates who lack experience of working in a partnership, multi-boss atmosphere.
The salaries may be high, but there is also some feeling that specialist marketing professionals are undervalued by firms. Paul Jaffa, formerly marketing director at Nicholson Graham & Jones and now working for a PR firm specialising in law firms, comments: “They pay highly because that's what they're used to doing to get good lawyers. It's peanuts compared to what they pay fee earners at partner level and it's just not seen as a big issue – if you look at human resources and IT people, they are often paid at the same level.”
While many marketers coming into the legal sector are well-used to answering to a whole host of bosses, having done so in accountancy firms, most see one of the major problems as not being on the board. One such person says: “It's crucial to be on the board and to have the authority as well as the accountability that goes with the job.”
Another director believes that non-board status is also a hindrance to the firm: “A lot of the business development decisions that are fed down are ones to which one could no doubt have contributed quite helpfully.”
Some predict that if firms want to attract the best marketing professionals they may have to face the fact that they may demand more than just money.
Recalling a former fast moving consumer goods (fmcg) marketer who lasted nine months at a top 10 law firm, despite a u100,000 salary, Jaffa points to another problem: “People get miserably unhappy, but keep at the job because it pays well and is high status.” Not a recipe for successful marketing.
“There's a terrible expectation peak and then a big disappointment problem. We [marketers] can't deliver what the partners think we're there for, but that's because we don't explain what we're there to do fully and carefully enough. The end result is often unhappiness on both sides.”
While Elizabeth Rantzen – a marketer with commercial experience at IBM, KPMG and Kingfisher recently poached from Denton Hall to be 2 Temple Gardens' first chambers director (The Lawyer 10 May 1999) – claims to have enjoyed a healthy mutual respect for those working close to her at Denton Hall, she adds that many lawyers have a problem seeing the whole concept of business development as anything other than “fluffy, airy-brained” notions.
“I think they find it hard to equate the intelligent contributor they see before them with the business development label they have in their minds,” she says.
There is also a fear that many marketers outside the law see the profession as a career cul-de-sac. Professional services marketing is not seen as important or as high-profile as other areas of marketing. Some argue that problems with getting out of legal marketing may be stopping people from coming in.
David Mackenzie, director of sales and marketing recruitment at Michael Page, argues that it is difficult for a legal marketer to go on into more “sexy” areas of marketing: “It's very difficult to get into fmcg – it is a very cliquey industry. So they are more likely to go into other professional services marketing.”
Jaffa believes that marketing people should be spending as much time getting the message across to an internal audience as they do getting it across outside.
“If marketing people are not spending more than 50 per cent of their time on internal marketing, ie telling everyone in the firm what they're doing, they should be fired,” he says.
Whether a highly experienced marketer from the commercial sector used to a position of power and a company looking to them for leadership would take kindly to being advised to spend half their time wooing the rest of the firm is unclear.
Firms will have to depend on more than high salaries to make the job of legal marketing attractive. They are now head-hunting to get the right sort of marketing chief. Elizabeth Rantzen being the most recent example.
It is not just chambers which are attracting marketing professionals. Clifford Chance has former Coopers & Lybrand partner Kevin Geery. Allen & Overy's marketing director, James Broomfield, is the talk of the town with his enormous staff and salary to go with it. Both men are management consultants, Broomfield with a Cranfield MBA. Eversheds took on Simon Slater last year as its “director of business development UK and international”, a job title intended to convey the exact nature of his job to everyone in the firm.
And while they are all extremely coy about their salaries, it is generally accepted that a successful marketing director at a large, well-respected firm will not be earning much less than u150,000 per year.
“It's no longer just girls who do brochures,” says David Mackenzie. “All the marketers coming through now are highly professional, highly qualified, commercially-minded people who are very credible and can hold their own in a law firm.”
He readily admits that he is “placing far more chaps now. Clients are very open in the briefs they give us in terms of gender. We're finding that most of the people we are placing are male.”
There are many women, however, in the highest levels of marketing. Rantzen is not alone in having wide industrial experience. The newest marketing director in the City, Beverley Landais at Baker & McKenzie, comes from a heavily commercial financial services background. Jenny Hardy at Wragge & Co is ex-KPMG. Georgina Stewart, marketing director at Freshfields since 1998, was marketing manager there for seven years before that.
There has been a big change in the type of people taking the top marketing jobs. At one time secretaries were promoted to become marketing staff.
“In those days only two or three firms even considered they might need some marketing input,” says Linda Phelan, director of marketing at DJ Freeman. “Of those around they were generally quite junior, female and a pretty face. They were expected to arrange golf matches, clay shoots and things like that.
“But now things have changed. Management consultants are being brought in, but mostly as external advisers.” Slaughter and May's long running flirtation with marketing, as The Lawyer reported on 26 April illustrates the shift.
Phelan's work at DJ Freeman is an example of a successful working partnership. While not a board member, she enjoys partner status at the firm, and reports to chief executive Jonathan Lewis. “There's a view in this firm that if you get professionals in, you should allow them to their jobs and give them the authority and responsibility that goes with that,” she says.
Phelan has just put in place a marketing programme where lawyers from the firm go and visit prospective clients at their own offices, and talk briefly about DJ Freeman's work.
“I don't think it's the marketers that have changed; it's the attitude of firms and how they are allowing marketers to become integrated into their business processes,” she argues.
Despite the fears, high salaries and virgin territory are attracting experienced commercial marketers into firms. This will undoubtedly change how firms view marketing and by implication how firms are seen outside.
The new breed of marketing professional may also be set to transform firms themselves as they demand more respect, more power and maybe even a seat on the board.