05/18/2010 // San Francisco, CA, USA // Rene Perras Lawyer Marketing // Wendy Tice-Wallner
By Wendy Tice-Wallner
May 3, 2010
As professional service firms start bidding adieu to the recession, sparks of enthusiasm will be directed at marketing and client development initiatives. Web developers, marketing and public relations consultants will point out the importance of updating websites, refreshing marketing materials and kindling relationships with the media. Firms with capable marketing and client relations departments are positioned to move quickly on initiatives which may have been put on the back burner to contain expenses. But what if one of your cost-containment methodologies was to significantly downsize or eliminate in-house support? Or, what if your firm has never housed a marketing or PR professional?
Marketing dollars can be the most squandered of investments — and the smaller the firm, the more likely the “squander.” But simply hiring a company to overhaul your website, in and of itself, is unlikely to accomplish the desired goal. Much like a restaurant creating an outstanding meal, a firm needs a recipe, quality ingredients and a capable kitchen staff to achieve palatable results. Otherwise, the meal will fail to make its mark, leaving the unsatisfied customer with little to remember but the sting of the bill.
I recently asked a website developer to articulate the major stumbling blocks in working with a professional service firm. Here is what he had to say:
• What’s My Line? Some firms seek website design or redesign without having a marketing strategy. A web developer shouldn’t have to tell you what it is you want to tell others about your firm — in fact, he or she can’t. Marketing consultants can help convert your strategy and plan to a saleable message, but only you know what it is you have to sell.
• Don’t Step on My Line … In articulating the firm’s strengths and focus, practice and industry groups can become territorial, impeding the delivery of information that potential clients deem essential to making an informed decision about whether to hire you. Strong leadership of the marketing process is essential to delivering a solid, focused message.
• Isn’t that Your Line? Web developers and site managers need quality content to populate your website. Yet firms often find it difficult to generate content or deliver content in a unified voice. While outside writers can be effective in making sure that content is user-friendly, there is no substitute for the time and energy that firm leaders must invest in generating useable content.
• Towing the Line. Firms make big investments in their websites, and then fail to update them or utilize the many enhancements created by the developer to ensure that messages get out to clients and potential clients on a timely basis.
So before you start spending money on fixing your website or hiring public relations or marketing support to get exposure for your firm, consider the following preparatory steps.
DURING THE FIRST 90 DAYS
1. Task a small group of market-savvy partners or enthusiastic, firm-minded partners with creating a realistic marketing plan for the firm. Try to include a worthy associate, as well as an administrator and potential content manager (the firm librarian). The group should understand the firm’s key offerings, strengths and weaknesses, and the profile of desirable and undesirable clients and potential clients.
2. The group should gather the information needed from the firm’s partners and databases to enable the group to capably communicate information about the firm, its professionals, its expertise and its marketing plan.
3. Have the group determine what content should be developed to support the marketing initiative, the website and other external firm communications.
4. Reduce the plan to writing, with established goals and priorities covering an 18-month period.
5. Meet with outside support vendors to hone the plan, establish time frames for completion and determine costs.
6. Set a firm calendar for deadlines on approved projects.
7. Make sure that firm leadership supports the plan and the recommended investments. As website overhauls can cost up to a $100,000 in technical, graphic design and marketing support, any disconnect between the work of the group and the direction set by firm leadership can be costly and scuttle success.
8. Launch the plan.
BEYOND THE LAUNCH
The foundational work performed in the first 90 days should create clearer roles for the group and provide insight into the effective use of non-lawyer and outside consulting time in advancing marketing initiatives. One of the advantages of including lower-level partners and associates in the planning process is that it creates a group of up-and-coming partners who understand the costs and benefits of effective marketing. Ninety percent of professionals in professional service firms have no real interest in marketing. Those that have an interest need to be empowered and educated in the power of marketing and ways to make marketing dollars create the maximum return on the firm’s investment.
Make sure that the firm is gathering information that allows it to track the success of the plan and make any necessary adjustments to its priorities and investment scheme. Outside vendors are more than happy to help with tracking website hits and other data that can be useful in determining whether you are reaching your target audience.
Finally, make sure that beyond assisting in the execution of the plan, the firm is kept apprised of the progress being made and the results achieved under the plan. There are two benchmarks of success: landing quality clients and providing a robust platform for enterprising professionals to succeed in their careers.
Wendy Tice-Wallner is president of The Tice-Wallner Group, which provides strategic assistance to small to midsize professional service firms seeking to build a platform for growth and visibility.
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