£477,000? Maybe we’re worth it

When it was reported in The Lawyer on Wednesday that marketing heads in top 60 law firms are paid up to £477,000, the comment boards lit up with fee-earners slamming such an apparent waste of money.

My personal favourite: “Wow! Amazing that such an easy job can be rewarded so well.” (30 July 2014).

Perhaps the first thing to point out is that £477,000 is very much the maximum rather than the norm – a marketing director top of equity if you will. But why, in an industry where £477,000 is not an unusual sum for partners to be taking home, does it seem outlandish to be paying the top marketer a similar chunk of wedge? The answer lies in the broken link between business development and revenue generation ie the apparent lack of return on investment.

Law firm marketing is less than 20 years old. Marketing departments started life inauspiciously with one or two former secretaries putting together events. In the hazy pre-2008 days when work walked through the door, nobody cared whether BD activity drove results and some lifelong ineffective behaviours became ingrained.

Today, business development is in transition. Professional and experienced marketers are working hard to wean firms from their bad habits and to starve life from the sacred cows. But easy it is not.

The truth is that in many ways law firm marketing heads have a different life to our peers in PLCs where marketing directors often sit on the board, hold share options (imagine marketing people with equity in the business) and decide for themselves how marketing budget is best used.

Our challenge is that we need to gain and maintain the buy in of partners – a group of intellectually sharp thinkers who play a big role in making our jobs so stimulating. But they are also a group who are alert to risk and for whom new and untested is out of the comfort zone. Often then, driving change can be a softly, softly process.

But I’ll let you into a secret. I couldn’t give the tiniest damn about the dry-as-Weetabix seminars and client briefings with a readership of two that the industry continues to hold out too often as client marketing. My interest lies in – whisper it – sales. Great business development drives great content, product development and pricing strategies that respond to real client needs and lead directly to sales. Imagine – no more Groundhog Day coffees with targets, having the same old conversations hoping they happen to have a transaction up their sleeves. Great BD arms partners to sell like superheroes. But trust me, it is not done by committee.

At Pinsent Masons the BD director and I are what is known as ‘partner equivalent’ and I feel we are treated as such and listened to. There is a desire in the business for greater BD focus on the bottom line and gradually the cultural change required is building.

The utopian vision I dream of in the small hours is of a BD function that is not perceived as a cost to the business but the major revenue driver. And we will get there. But in time that will require more closely linking BD staff’s objectives to revenue targets and the remuneration structures will need to reflect that. Maybe this seems a leap today but at major accountancy practices and management consultancies, BD staff often operate on some form of commission basis.

And if partners really want a marketing team to deliver to financial targets, they must be willing to share the spoils. Who knows – perhaps in the future £477k for a marketing head may seem cheap at twice the price.

Andy Peat, director of communications and business development strategy, Pinsent Masons