Last week someone I know sent me an e-mail and asked if I was following the hashtagged conversation #MPF12. I guess it was a marketing convention in Miami. I wasn’t following it; didn’t know about it. But the thrust of this lawyer’s concern was as he watched the tweets he was appalled as what he was reading…from lawyers! We good naturedly went back and forth about legal marketing but it reminded me of how misunderstood true marketing is by most. So I am resurrecting this post about marketing I wrote a few years ago which ultimately got highlighted by the ABA Journal Online. I certainly would like to know your thoughts, as always.
“If a young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If the young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is — that’s advertising. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is — that’s public relations.”S.H. Simmons
In the past week or so the great debate in the legal profession – legal marketing – has reared its head, again. And it has brought out the zealots on both sides. Within the profession legal marketing is a hot button issue like abortion, gay rights and stem cell research. There are extremists on each side of the debate and the majority who reside somewhere in the middle.
The problem is everyone talks about marketing as if they know what it really is. The reality is most don’t but they have strong opinions, nonetheless. While the above is illustrative and done with humor, here are some definitions which might help enlighten and provide you some intelligent dialogue when someone starts the ‘great debate’:
The Philosophy Marketing and the Marketing Concept.
The marketing concept is a philosophy. It makes the customer, and the satisfaction of his or her needs, the focal point of all business activities.
Marketing is not only much broader than selling, it is not a specialized activity at all. It encompasses the entire business. It is the whole business seen from the point of view of the final result, that is, from the customer’s point of view. Concern and responsibility for marketing must therefore permeate all areas of the enterprise. Drucker.
This customer focused philosophy is known as the ‘marketing concept’. The marketing concept is a philosophy, not a system of marketing or an organizational structure. It is founded on the belief that profitable sales and satisfactory returns on investment can only be achieved by identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs and desires. Barwell.
The achievement of corporate goals through meeting and exceeding customer needs better than the competition. Jobber.
Implementation of the marketing concept [in the 1990's] requires attention to three basic elements of the marketing concept. These are: Customer orientation; An organization to implement a customer orientation; Long-range customer and societal welfare. Cohen.
Marketing consists of the strategies and tactics used to identify, create and maintain satisfying relationships with customers that result in value for both the customer and the marketer.
Therefore, it is fairly obvious that true marketing is all about the customer or (in the legal profession) the client and client-orientation is the cornerstone to client satisfaction which results in profitability (hopefully) for the lawyer. If done correctly it is positioned as a 100%/100% win for client and lawyer.
To say in any way shape or form that lawyers, new or old, should not market, shows a lack of understanding about what marketing is. It is my experience that those who claim lawyers ‘shouldn’t market…it’s not dignified’ are not really talking about marketing at all. We all market in everything we do intentionally or not. What they are talking about, in my opinion, is less the actual concept or philosophy of marketing and more the manner in which a marketing plan is ‘executed’.
Strategies and Tactics
Strategies are best explained as the direction the marketing effort takes over some period of time while tactics are actionable steps or decisions made in order to follow the strategies established.
And this is at the heart of the great debate.
When one lawyer says, “that type of marketing drags down the profession” they are passing judgment less on the marketing philosophy and more on the ‘tactics’ they find distasteful. But is it to the benefit or taste of that lawyer’s potential client? If the goal is ‘customer orientation’ and ‘an organization to implement a customer orientation; long-range customer and societal welfare’ we have to look through the eyes of the client.
Strategies and tactics that would appeal to me or make me feel repelled or ashamed in many ways are irrelevant unless I’m the client purported to be served. Is it geared towards the needs of the client and societal welfare and does it reach them in the manner they need to be reached? In order for the service provider to achieve these goals that’s what matters.
If your client is an urban immigrant who takes the bus and speaks poor English, distrusting of lawyers for a myriad of reasons and your goal is to reach and educate that consumer on legal services they require, what is the best strategy devised and the best tactics to implement to get the message across to help them? It clearly isn’t bar association lunches, public speaking engagements at the chamber or high-profile articles in a national law journal (unless you have also developed a secondary strategy to cultivate professional referrals or some other goal.)
In this regard, the legal profession is no different. If you, my potential client, don’t know I exist, how I can help you? If the lawyer can’t overcome identified barriers for a successful client/attorney relationship through relevant ‘tactics’ how can a potential client decide to utilize the lawyer’s services and by extension, how will the client’s legal needs be met?
I’m a purist. I believe in the marketing philosophy. I believe all solos, especially, need to understand why ‘marketing’ is not a dirty word in the legal profession. As stated above, “it is not a specialized activity at all.” It includes among other activities networking, social media, public speaking, educational seminars, pro bono work, joining bar associations, traditional advertising, appropriate pricing and packaging of legal services. It is not a ‘thing’…it is a philosophy.
Let’s take it a step further. Not every solo can nor wants to utilize every strategy or tactic. Not every activity is suitable for every lawyer’s personality or professional mission nor can every strategy or tactic achieve the goal of reaching the client they seek to serve. And many lawyers simply don’t know how to assess their skill sets appropriately, nor do they know how to cost-effectively and efficiently reach the clients they want to serve. If the message can’t be delivered, both the legal provider and the public are harmed.
Do some lawyers choose marketing strategies and tactics which make me cringe? Absolutely. But I am also not their targeted client. If their behavior is egregious, I’ll leave it to those who govern the profession to take proper action. If those governors overstep their bounds, I leave it to the lawyers to sue to protect their rights and in doing so protect all our rights.
So, before people disparage those who would teach lawyers to create a client-driven solo-practice and the strategies and tactics necessary to reach their client base, remember, everything you do is marketing whether intentional or not. If I were starting out today, I would seek the help of someone who is knowledgeable to devise a marketing strategy to reach my clients while I created a client-centered practice.
It would be executed in a manner which reflects my ethics and morality and taste and be within the professional guidelines governing such activities. But I would be out there marketing my ability to serve clients with legal needs. And so should you.