Firm Strategy Becomes Marketing/PR Mojo

08.01.02
By Deborah McMurray and Nicole Quigley
Published in Strategies: The Journal of Legal Marketing

Case Study

Once upon a time, there was a law firm called Snow & Snow LLP, a 250-lawyer firm in St. Louis. Its marketing program suffered from a managing partner change every two years—so the popular marketing director, fighting the inconsistencies inherent in biannual 180-degree leadership swings, quit and went to a well-known competitor for more money.

The End

Let’s take a look at what this smart MD, Siena Fresco, is doing at her new firm …

Jones & Jones

This is a 400 lawyer firm with dual headquarters in St. Louis and Chicago. Tom Jones & Harold Jones are a father/son team that started the firm four decades earlier—and both are still influencing the firm’s direction as often as they can. For years, the firm has represented major newspapers in three cities, plus companies that have anchored their respective business communities.

Two years ago, Jones & Jones hired a strategic planning consultant to help them update their partnership, leadership and compensation structures. The change was revolutionary. The Joneses went along with the consultant’s recommendations, as long as the change would secure the firm’s future in its two major markets.

The strategic plan also focused on ramping up and focusing the firm’s marketing program. Enter Siena Fresco.

The Big Dig

One month after arriving, Siena created a diagram that charted the firm’s growth, client and revenue goals (outlined in its strategic plan), and identified action plans to address them. The plans included market research on clients, their industries, legal and business trends; advertising in vertical publications—legal for hiring (American Lawyer, National Law Journal, Chicago Lawyer and St. Louis Lawyer) and real estate industry publications, Corporate Legal Times and CCM to target clients—creating a vertical REIT industry Web site; enhancing the design and usability of Jones & Jones’ current Web site; and a strategic public relations initiative to target both clients and lawyers.

Before Jones & Jones launched the marketing and PR initiative, Siena conducted what Scott Bedbury in his book, "a new brand world—8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century," calls a "Big Dig." A Big Dig is to "dig deeply into everything that has been written, felt, said or thought about . . ." your company, in this case, Jones & Jones. This research was essential for firm leaders to (a) understand their current position and (b) measure improvement when conducting future Big Digs. Measurement is critical for effective management of PR or any other initiative; this benchmarking served as the jumping off point for all the marketing initiatives.

The Big Dig included client interviews with the firm’s top 25 clients, online Web surveys with the next 75 clients, researching all print and electronic media where the firm name or lawyers have appeared, analyzing the firm’s historical charitable and civic involvement, client profitability and penetration, and so on.

With a more complete understanding of her firm’s current market position, Siena devised a strategy for growth and built in ways to gauge the firm’s success. If dissonant voices inside the firm attempted to distract her or derail her priorities, Siena could point to the ultimate piece de resistance: higher revenue, now better understood as a result of the Big Dig and benchmarking.

Lawyer Growth Goals




Plan
  • 10 mid-level lateral partners in St. Louis office—real estate, ERISA, litigation
  • 1 marquee partner in Chicago office
  • 12 1-3 year litigation and bankruptcy associates in Chicago
  • 5 mid-level associates in St. Louis—IP and tax

1.  Create a "recruitment wish list"--specific attorneys with leading practices and a complementary client base.

2.  Identify relationships among firm members with top legal practitioners and in-house counsel. 

3.  Host CLE events on IP, litigation and tax issues that highlight firm expertise and let lawyers network with potential recruits. Personally invite "wish list" attorneys to participate on those panels and help plan agenda.

4.  Seek media opportunities, including ranking lists and feature stories that highlight workplace culture and firm success.

 

Clients






 

Plan

  • Expand representation of top 25 clients in tax, bankruptcy and litigation by 15%
  • Obtain more national REIT clients—at least 3 new clients
  • Upgrade client base by reassigning bottom 20% of clients to solo practitioners and small firms
  • Target major corporations with HQ outside MO and IL, but with significant operations here
  • Target major foreign-based multinationals with significant operations in MO and IL
  1. Schedule needs assessment interviews with top 25 clients.
  2. Identify REIT industry conferences for speaking.
  3. Schedule REIT custom publishing article in The Daily Deal.
  4. Plan and moderate a round table discussion with REIT industry executives—4 clients and 4 non-clients.
  5. Identify relationships with major corporations and seek introductions.
  6. Write relevant articles in business journals about multinationals doing business in MO and IL
  7. Plan and moderate a round table discussion with multinational corporate counsel.
  8. Sponsor Martindale-Hubbell’s Counsel to Counsel forums in Chicago and St. Louis.

 

Revenue
Rev


PLAN
  • Increase gross revenue from top 25 clients by 15%
  • Increase gross revenue from next 75 clients by 25%
  1. Identify industry trends and key problems that will require targeted legal spending by our top clients.
  2. Pursue media coverage of the firm’s solution to these problems in key legal and industry publications that our clients read.
  3. Measure profitability of the old business and the new business.
  4. Set attainable business development goals for each partner and begin a culture of marketing that is well-managed and measured.
  5. Start associate marketing and communications training.
  6. Conduct comprehensive lawyer sales training that teaches lawyers to turn "short list" appearances into firm clients and to grow existing clients.
  7. Broadcast lawyer and firm successes internally and externally.

Siena Was Lucky

Before Siena was hired, Jones & Jones had done a lot of soul-searching. The strategic planning process was both gut-wrenching and enlightening. Firm leaders finally admitted that this 40-year old firm was being run virtually the same as it was run decades earlier—decisions weren’t made without full partnership votes (which meant nothing got done), less productive partners were making the same money as more committed lawyers; and client revenue wasn’t declining, but profits were.

Their decision to hire Siena is reflective of the far-reaching pledge that Jones & Jones was ready to make. So, the stage for change was set for her and the leadership’s commitment to employ sound management principles was rock solid.

Such an unwavering commitment is necessary for any firm to achieve its top-to-bottom strategic goals. Firms must face the stark-naked truth of what they’ve done poorly (or not done at all) before they can take the systematic steps required to improve the organization.

The Strategic Plan

Jones & Jones’ strategic plan accomplished the heavy-lifting that Siena needed. It outlined goals in major areas, and the goals were specific and measurable. The plan didn’t read, "Grow our bankruptcy client base;" rather, it said, "expand representation of top 25 clients in tax, bankruptcy and litigation by 15%."

This kind of specificity is required for the successful launch of marketing and PR plans. Without it, it’s easy to make excuses for not meeting expectations and no one is held accountable. If, at the end of one year, the increase in these areas is only 7% for example, firm leaders and Siena can (a) analyze why it didn’t grow as much, (b) adjust their expectations and (c) alter their action plans.

Reach Out and Touch the People You Want to Touch 

In creating a strategic marketing plan and having the senior lawyers’ trust to implement it, Siena was able to achieve the ultimate purpose of any marketing initiative—reach the right buyers and grow top line revenue. With these end goals in mind, she was able to recruit talent aggressively, identify opportunities for better and more profitable business, and present the firm as the right choice for business leaders needing legal services. She designed a marketing strategy that used current market conditions as its launch point and ultimately positioned the firm to meaningfully interact with buyers.

Sometimes the politics and culture of a firm blur its marketing focus. Therefore, specific results were Siena’s best ammunition to combat the dissenters that threatened the program.

Siena left Snow & Snow because she had no consistent support at the highest levels. She is succeeding at Jones & Jones because both the leaders and lawyers were ready for change. And Siena is smart enough to know that focused goals and specific results will pave the way for the growth and future of her marketing program.

The Snows simply can’t keep up with the Joneses.

Deborah McMurray is a strategic marketing consultant to the legal industry. She can be reached at 214.351.9690 or mcmurray@contentpilot.net.

Nicole Quigley, senior account executive at Levick Strategic Communications, has executed strategic public relations initiatives and crisis communications campaigns for many of the nation’s top law firms. She has been published in Legal Times, Marketing for Lawyers and Washington Business Journal regarding legal public relations and crisis management. She can be reached at 202.973.1328 or nquigley@levick.com

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