tree against a night sky lit by the aurora

Law firms that have formal marketing plans (and every firm should have one) usually do a very good job of describing the what in marketing plans. However, many of those plans do not consider the questions of Why?  and How? These omissions make it much more difficult to manage the marketing plan to successful results.

The what questions are usually fairly obvious:

  • What marketing and business development activities are we going to conduct?
  • Who is going to be responsible for ensuring that those actions are completed?
  • How much is it going to cost?

FOQ - frequently overlooked questions

These three questions are a good start, but they are not enough.

In our firm's experience and observations, we find that few law firms adequately document their thinking about the specific results that they hope to achieve from their marketing and business development efforts, other than "more clients" and "more fees." This is the Why? question. Why are we making these investments?

Law firm marketing plans also usually fail to describe how each action will lead to a successful result.

In some instances, the reason for these omissions is that the partners have never seriously considered the issue of expectations beyond "more fees" and "more clients." In some firms, partners have abdicated their responsibilities for marketing and business development: "That's why we hired a marketing director." In still other cases, the people who are managing the marketing process (such as the marketing partner, managing partner, and marketing staff) assume that the answers to these questions are so obvious that they need not be documented. Even in well-managed firms with good internal communications, this assumption is almost always wrong.

great in January -- not so good in February -- worthless by September

Even an attractively formatted, detailed document describing what the firm is going to do, which looks great in January, can soon produce additional distractions and disappointments that partners and marketing staff alike simply do not need. Failing to address Why? and Howcan result in:

  • weak partner buy-in and support for the plan

Marketing staff assemble the tools for the firm's marketing and business development efforts. The partners, however, are the ones who must pick up those tools and use them to build the results that the firm needs. Partners should review marketing plans with what I like to call "friendly skepticism." They want to know -- or, at least, should want to know -- how the time and money that they are spending will result in more profits in their pockets at the end of the year.

A good marketing plan is more than a blueprint. It should also be a persuasive document that clearly and specifially alligns marketing and business development actions with the strategic objectives of the firm.

  • misplaced priorities

Law firms waste vast amounts of money each year on marketing actions that produce little or no return on the investment.

A marketing plan that sets out a miniature business case for each investment is the best way to ensure that your partner's money is not wasted on advertising in irrelevant media, paid publications in magazines that none of your target clients read, or obscure rankings directories that are unknown to your client base and referring lawyers in other firms. It also helps you target, with greater accuracy and better results, your investments in conferences and business and professional associations.

  • restricted ability to detect problems and make adjustments during the year

Law firm marketing today can be described as the art of hitting a moving, shape-shifting target in the fog.

A marketing plan that includes specific, measurable expectations enables a firm to detect earlier when things are not going as planned, and to make mid-year adjustments. It also provides a foundation for better-informed decisions about the priorities for next year's plan.

As you review your firm's marketing plan for 2015 (or, as I have recommended in a recent article, 2015-2016), two of the best things that you can do to contribute to your firm's ability actually to implement it are to ask Why? and How? These two exercises in intellectual discipline will greatly improve the probability of successful results.

Norman Clark