A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Firms reveal their business development and marketing successes… and failures

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Partner, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Link to research page

Sneak peek of the ALPMA & Julian Midwinter & Associates 'Taking the Pulse' business development and marketing at law firms benchmarking study findings

One of my favourite things with research is drawing insights from open-ended responses.  And with the inaugural ALPMA/JMA 'Taking the Pulse' benchmarking study of marketing and business development at law firms, receiving 151 completed responses from law firms in Australia, New Zealand and even Fiji, we have an excellent sample size for analysis.  

Whilst hard data is great (and necessary with benchmarking), it’s the many qualitative top-of-mind comments that help colour the picture of the state of business development and marketing in law firms. 

We were very interested (and no doubt you will be too) in commentary firms offered on their most successful and least successful business development and marketing initiatives.  So read on for a sneak peek in advance of the formal report on results.  

Most unsuccessful initiatives

Advertising – hasn't worked for many

Many firms nominated advertising as their least successful activity.  Interestingly, nearly 40% of firms identified advertising as one of the five activities on which they spent most money.  

Firms’ unsuccessful advertising spanned all media: radio, print (newspapers and magazines), online and social media, and outdoor placements (including bus signage).  Firms stated these campaigns weren’t effective in generating new instructions, and that results of advertising were difficult to measure.

Of the tiny handful of firms that stated advertising had worked for them, Yellow Pages was considered a fruitful exercise, and one respondent noted local radio advertising had been their most successful initiative.

Overall, when it comes to a lack of success with advertising, we concur with one participant’s comment that advertising can be “impersonal, scattergun”.

JMA’s stance is that advertising can work if targeted correctly to reach the right market.  Good advertising sends exactly the right messages to the right audience at times you choose, to change attitudes and/or buying behaviour.  

But as the comments bear out, it’s incredibly hard to do well.  

As John Wanamaker said, "half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." 

Sponsorships – money pit!

Just under a quarter of firms identified sponsorships (either business or sporting and socially-orientated) in their top five business development and marketing dollar investments.  

A similar number of firms expect to continue investing in sponsorships in future despite, as with advertising, being cited among their least successful initiatives.  

Respondents identified the lack of measurable return-on-investment and decision-making applied to sponsorship opportunities as problematic.  

What’s going on then?

In some cases, we suspect sponsorship is a “legacy issue” - one commenter noted their firm invested in “sponsorship of the same industry events just because’ we've done it every year”.

However, one firm stated “high profile sponsorship of sports and business awards” had been their firm’s most successful initiative.

Our view is that, like advertising, it’s more about choosing the right firm sponsorship opportunity to reach relevant targets, rather than sponsorship itself being the problem.

When it comes to evaluating sponsorship opportunities key questions to ask include: “Does this sponsorship help us build stronger relationships with our ‘ideal’ clients and/or reinforce our firm’s strategic positioning?”.  

If your answers are no, it’s time for a re-think.

Most successful initiatives

On a more positive note, different firms are finding a wide variety of marketing and business development activities do 'work' for them.  

It was hard to discern from the commentary a single initiative that trumped all others as a clear-cut success.  However, at a higher, more strategic level, it was apparent that whatever the activity, some approaches were clear winners.

Winning approach: Emphasis on existing clients

Many firms reported their greatest success was achieved through concentrating on existing clients through excellent service and expansion of relationships.  As one firm revealed, their success stemmed from “having a clear client focus”.

A huge variety of successful client-focused tactics were employed, including training lawyers in client service, client events and thank you gifts, education seminars, client satisfaction surveys, and employing a director of client relations.  

However, it’s far easier to leverage and grow existing client relationships than it is to develop business with those who don’t already know you.

The bigger challenge of course is winning fresh business with new clients.

Winning approach: Clear focus and careful targeting key

The other strong success theme to emerge from the research commentary were the benefits of clearly focused and carefully targeted effort.  

Another wide array of successful initiatives were nominated by firms, and in each, commenters were clear that their efforts were deliberate and targeted.  Approaches included targeting referees through seminars, targeted landing pages for websites and targeted face to face meetings.

As one respondent said, their greatest success had come from “selectively marketing [the] firm’s many points of difference.  Not run of the mill campaigns”.

Again, it seemed to be not so much that any one activity was the 'right' one, but that a focused or targeted approach applied to a well-chosen activity made the difference between success and failure.

Want more than a peek at the results?

If you’re eager for more analysis, commentary, and details on the research outcomes,  download full research findings for free!

You can also register for the webinar "The Path to Developing an Effective Marketing & Business Development Program at Your Firm" on Tuesday November 11 at 1pm AEDT, where Julian Midwinter & Associates and ALPMA will step you through the key take-outs of the research and discuss effective business development and marketing activities.  

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley
Amy Burton-Bradley is a Partner with Julian Midwinter & Associates. Before making the move to consulting Amy worked in-house for two Australian law firms in rewarding but sometimes frustrating business development and marketing roles.  

Julian Midwinter & Associates has helped Australian and New Zealand lawyers attract, win, grow and retain desirable clients for 20 years through winning tenders and proposals, upskilling and coaching, and implementing achievable strategy.




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