Is the heart of law firm marketing about to undergo intensive surgery, or is there enough of a marketing pulse to keep the business development beat alive and the lifeblood of firms pumping?
In September 2014, the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) and Julian Midwinter and Associates joined forces to evaluate the effectiveness of current law firm marketing techniques in the first in-depth Australasian research study of its kind, Taking the pulse: Benchmarking business development and marketing at Australasian law firms.
Collecting data over a 23-day period from over 151 practitioners representing 149 individual firms, the study surveyed senior management or specialist management personnel to examine their firm’s marketing strategies and determine the areas that required improvement.
What became clear from the results was that firms are facing a range of business development obstacles such as lack of time, money and resources, increased competition, changing market forces and people-resourcing issues such as training, lawyer engagement and generational change.
We chatted with ALPMA’s president, Andrew Barnes, to discuss the research findings and identify new benchmarks and barriers for firms wanting to revitalise their marketing initiatives.
Marketing disconnect: Aspiration versus action
A disconnect between aspiration and action may be one reason that firms are slow to implement a top-shelf marketing program.
With 45 per cent of firms responding that their business development and marketing functions were ‘underdeveloped’, Barnes believes there are a number of significant challenges ahead for Australian firms, which can be met by taking clear action and investing in training.
“Historically, firms and lawyers did not have to engage much in business development as they nurtured longstanding relationships that were built on reputation,” he says. “Now that the marketplace has become more competitive and generally disrupted, especially for firms with an international influence, and as boutiques and startups have entered the market, the need for strong marketing and business development strategies has assumed more importance.”
With 56.3 per cent of survey respondents saying their firm fails to provide marketing and business development skills training, it seems the need and desire for marketing exists but the requisite skills or impetus does not.
So why aren’t lawyers being given the tools to market themselves? And how does Barnes think can they acquire those skills?
“It is difficult to turn someone into a business development person overnight. There does need to be some momentum behind it,” says Barnes, who agrees that lawyers often resist engaging in marketing endeavours.
ALPMA has observed that firms achieving success in this area are taking their lawyers out of the office to undertake business development training, and are employing a serious and sustained strategy to ensure their lawyers connect with their loyal client base and target market.
Digital strategy: To tweet or not to tweet?
The survey results showed a somewhat mixed response when it came to the benefits of web, digital and social media for marketing purposes.
In the midst of these mixed reviews, Andrew believes the usefulness of social media platforms depends on the size and type of your practice, as well as your target market.
“The digital strategy has to be aligned with your target market and client base. There are some progressive entrepreneurs and nimble commercial players who are doing well in this space, and social media works well for the smaller, tech-savvy and disruptive end of the market. However, if your practice is focused on aged care and estate planning for senior citizens, then clearly the use of social media as a marketing tool may be limited.”
Overall plan: A global vision
As we have all heard many times before, when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
According to the study, 48.3 per cent of firms do not employ a firm-wide, overarching strategic marketing and business development plan – a statistic Barnes would like to see improve.
“If your business development strategy for the firm and your business development sub-strategies (i.e. for practice groups) do not align, then you should revisit those strategies and examine your overall approach to ensure the two are talking to one another.”
Show me the money: Budgets, revenue and expectations
The study found that 60.7 per cent of firms don’t expect their marketing budget to change, but will firms simply have to review their figures?
“To be better at business development, you don’t necessarily need to spend more money, but you should be smarter about how you spend the allocated marketing funds. Just because you spent it last year in a particular area doesn’t mean that you should spend it this year.”
The key benchmarks for firms are to develop an overall marketing strategy, align it with your firm strategy, engage your existing clients, train your lawyers and play to your strengths, ensuring a strong practice heartbeat and market presence into the next decade.
Interview with Andrew Barnes, ALPMA, Thursday 6 November 2014.
Taking the pulse: Benchmarking business development and marketing at Australasian law firms