The market for marketing

With legal marketing becoming ever more important to those who use it, the law firm marketing department's remit is getting wider. It now covers a vast array of functions, including, as Mark Chester, director of marketing at Nabarro Nathanson, says: "Pure marketing, press and PR, strategy, internet and intranet, all aspects of internal and external communications, supporting the work of the business development directors, event organisation and corporate hospitality, database, print and production of all marketing literature, advertising, research and analysis, and an information centre [for internal and external requests]." With such a wide set of tasks, marketing departments are growing, with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer having the largest marketing department out of the firms surveyed, with 60 staff.

Despite globalisation and the need for local marketing in varying jurisdictions, the central marketing function is usually in London. However, SJ Berwin's head of marketing Mark King says that many firms are now evolving their overseas marketing so that staff can carry out localised marketing. But many still use the central office as a benchmarking tool to maintain consistency, making sure that corporate identity is adhered to. Linklaters & Alliance was among the first to develop the practice group model, whereby marketing staff work with each area and guide partners in the promotion of their specific departments. Eversheds' director of business development Simon Slater says: "There will be major changes as firms develop their European businesses. Firms like Linklaters will be among the first to have a team that's not based in London. It's almost inevitable, but it won't happen quite yet."

Slater foresees a greater emphasis on client-facing marketing. "There should be an increased focus on actual client relationship development and improvement of service to clients as a way of improving business, and away from things like corporate hospitality and mass direct marketing that law firms used to think was the way to market themselves. You can't beat good old client relationships and service delivery." He adds that it is important to focus heavily on the sort of clients and work a firm wants to have rather than accepting any old sort of work.

Despite being one of the original advocates of marketing chiefs getting partner status, Slater does not have the voting power of an equity partner, as Law Society rules bar equity partner status to non-lawyers. But Slater expects this barrier to go in the next couple of years. He says: "The first law firm that's able to widen its stakeholding basis will steal a march on the rest of the competition." He says that other professions, such as accountancy, have done this and are going from strength to strength.

It is apparent from the longevity of marketing appointments and the high profile of marketers, that legal marketing is no longer perceived as the poisoned chalice it once was.

King, who for many years was an account director at Saatchi and Saatchi, is a good example of a successful careerist who has spotted a good opportunity in the legal world. "Legal marketing is making huge strides. Its credibility as a professional discipline is getting higher and higher," he says. "There's so much more competition and firms are playing the field now. Partners are increasingly recognising the support and real value that marketing professionals can add." He says that previously, marketing "was based around the holy trinity: the party, the press release and the brochure", but progress since then has been rapid.

At Hammond Suddards Edge it is a similar story. The recently appointed director of marketing Nick Wood was previously a BBC journalist and PR chief, while Matt Baldwin, national head of PR, was at one time a journalist on the Sunday People. He then worked as a PR consultant advising major corporations such as Anheuser Busch and Monsanto before spending three years as press officer at Wilde Sapte.

Mark Chester is another high flyer who has "gone over" from the noble art to the black art – as some would see it. Having worked as a journalist for The Times and the Financial Times for seven years, PR is, of course, very important to him. "PR is a two-edged sword. Used well it can be of great benefit to a firm, done badly it can cause irreparable damage," he says. Although he is now director of marketing, Chester is in charge of PR and still plays an active part. "PR is crucially important to the firm," he says.

The subsuming of the PR function into the marketing department is almost universal among the surveyed firms. Of those that have dedicated PR people, which is virtually all of them, all say that the head of PR is answerable to the head of marketing. Those who outsource their PR function to an agency, as is becoming more and more fashionable, generally have their marketing head overseeing this function.

At some firms PR has become so important that they have persuaded their external agency to come in-house, such as at Wragge & Co. Marketing director Jenny Hardy explains that Liz Whitaker of Professional Communications used to act as the firm's PR consultant, but joined the firm in April as director of PR. Hardy says: "Whitaker, myself and the two other marketing directors hold weekly joint meetings with senior partner John Crabtree and each of us has access to him on an individual basis on special projects."

The survey clearly highlights how far law firms have come in their recognition of the importance of marketing. On average, about 2 per cent of every law firm's overall budget is spent on marketing and many departments have been recruiting heavily in the past 18 months. The next step could be to try to change the Law Society rules to allow marketing professionals to become stakeholders in the firms they are employed to promote. But don't hold your breath.