Making your marketing budget go further

I recently attended the annual International Bar Association conference in Washington DC. Among the working sessions and great networking opportunities there were some fascinating insights on offer into the global legal market – and how to make it work for your business. I was lucky enough as co-chair of the business development working group to chair two panel discussions and I thought you might be interested to read the follow up from ‘Standing Out – Making the Most of A Marketing Budget.’

As we all know, one of the major factors in successfully generating ROI from marketing is the budget. It can be both a restriction on – and a launch pad for – your marketing strategy. Use your resources in the right way and you can boost profile, lead generation and online engagement. Make a few poor budgeting decisions and you can be left with a lot of bills and very little to show for them. This is why this particular panel was especially interesting, as it brought together some expert brains to offer unique insight into how to really make a marketing budget work. So, what did we learn?

Social media is a key tool

Across the board, opinion seemed to be that social media is incredibly important as part of marketing strategy for the legal sector. This is something I’ve written both blogs and whitepapers on, as platforms such as Twitter and Facebook cost nothing to use (only advertising is paid for) and yet give you access to an audience of billions. According to Alison Swenton Arjoon, Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at Covington & Burling “social media is one of the most cost-effective methods of marketing. It captures insights into what your clients are saying about you and helps you stay engaged with your clients relatively easily and at a low cost.”

Holly Gavaghan from Keating Chambers reinforced the key nature of social media to the modern legal business. Keating Chambers has its own Twitter account, which the chambers uses to share and re-use content they have generated to ensure that they get full value and circulation from it. With respect to professionals using social media on a personal basis, Holly made the point that “individuals can use Twitter accounts to create authenticity but need to be aware that whatever they tweet will be in the public domain. It is a fine line between showing personality and oversharing. Done well though it can help create the right kind of profile for an individual.”

Ben Rigby, editor of CDR magazine, stressed the importance of considered engagement with social media, linked to the firm’s other media outputs, and the importance of close liaison with media and marketing professionals to ensure that consistent links were built up with social, national, legal and sectoral media. Building good media relations was important, provided the ground rules were clear – social media being a part of that process rather than an optional adjunct.

John Ffooks, Head of Francophone Africa at pan-African firm Bowmans, added “don’t forget graduate recruitment – the millennials won’t give you a second look if you haven’t got a decent online presence focused at their recruitment level.”

Using tools to gain efficiencies

It was a theme of the panel that making use of tools and technologies to gain a competitive advantage has become important. The group defined the fundamentals as an effective customer relationship management (CRM) system and a comprehensive experience database and Michael Mellor, Head of Marketing at Pryor Cashman LLP also highlighted additional tools, such as “those that help manage contacts, help in marketing automation and content funnels and those that can help you schedule social media posts and identify trends with your audiences.”

Given all the apps, software and solutions that are being introduced to make work processes more effective and efficient, if you haven’t yet looked into these performance-enhancing tools, now is the time.

Marketing is an investment, not an expense

While, in many ways, the panel was preaching to the converted with this one, it was important to hear those in the industry agree that marketing has become an essential budget component. Alison Swenton Arjoon said, “marketing is not an expense; it’s an investment. Your marketing budget is an essential investment in growing your business,” a sentiment that we share wholeheartedly here at MD Communications. However, there is no sense in simply throwing money at the problem without spending some time working on strategy, either internally or with the professionals. Michael Mellor had some advice here, “undertake planning early on to identify the top three things each practice or person wants to be known for, and drive that through everything you do.”

One issue for marketers is often where to direct the resources that you do have to make the most of them. Social media is an obvious option but there are so many others to choose from, whether it’s sponsorship of an event or spending put on directories consultants to improve chances of being ranked in the big books. All these must be considered in the light of a marketing strategy and those central three things that Michael Mellor suggested firms identify that they want to be known for. Alison Swenton Arjoon also added here that “it’s about being smarter about what work we take in and prioritising initiatives. Even when a client asks us to sponsor an ad or pitch on work, it’s important to think critically around whether these opportunities make sense.”

Awards and rankings

Here at MD Communications we have a lot of experience helping firms (successfully) through the awards and rankings processes and procedures. Of course these may not be a valuable investment for every firm but they do have tremendous value in establishing credibility, niche expertise and acting as a sort of reference for interested clients. As Holly Gavaghan highlighted, they are also “useful in motivating a team and individuals, particularly more junior lawyers who feel they’re achieving recognition in an industry that is not always the best at acknowledging and rewarding success.”

So, how do you best approach these industry accolades and recognition? Alison Swenton Arjoon’s advice is, “figure out which ones make sense and devote an appropriate amount of time to putting them together. Understand what matters in terms of getting ranked as a firm and for individuals. Ask your clients how directories factor into their hiring decisions.”

John Ffooks added “I would just stress the value of rankings and awards for those of us in faraway locations which people easily forget. It is another non-partisan tool to get yourself remembered on a regular basis.”

The market is changing

All the panel members were very much aware of how much the legal sector is experiencing significant change and how marketing specialists need to be responsive to this. Michael Mellor highlighted how “the sales cycle is changing, with buyers having access to information and doing loads more research to find attorneys before talking to you. Nearly 70% of corporate counsel use LinkedIn before making a purchase decision, so make sure your social footprint is up to date.” He also made the point that potential clients will check lawyer bios (80% of lawyer website traffic is to bios) and stressed how important it was for individual lawyers to have a strong, detailed and convincing bio.

However, Holly Gavaghan also made the point that this investment in digital and content, such as brochures, has to be balanced with some face-to-face time, “get out and meet people. People buy people so don’t hide behind marketing brochures.” After all, while we all know brochures are a valuable marketing tool, the chances of them being read and acted on are vastly increased when backed up with a personal interaction.

My time at the IBA was incredibly useful this year – it was a real forum for forward-thinking ideas and I heard some fantastic insights into how the legal profession can evolve and grow. If you’re looking for help with marketing strategyreputation managementdirectories and awards or social media, we’re a highly experienced team with a true legal sector focus and the benefit of fantastic international connections and experiences, such as the IBA. Get in touch if you’d like to know more about how we might be able to help you.

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