By Kate Harry Shipham | Principal | KHS People
With C-Suite contributions by:
There are three common themes emerging on the minds of marketing and business development professionals in mid-sized firms at this moment in time.
Most frequently, they share with me their concerns in relation to the current economic uncertainty. How might this impact their role and, specifically, their career development? Promised promotions and career advancements can be on hold or taken off the table entirely.
Secondly, they have questions on flexibility and firm’s attitudes to the newer working arrangements.
Lastly, we talk about the future of the marketing and business development function as a whole. Where is this function headed? It seems to be much busier, much more visible.
How can a marketing function adapt in economic uncertainty
Where marketers do best during these uncertain economic times is to be especially deliberate and purposeful. Their intentionality around what they do, and how they do it, becomes their sole goal and driver.
“It’s not the time to throw stuff at the wall and notice what sticks,” shares Bruns. “We look at our strategic goals and get more value out of what we do if that core focus and intention is unwavering.” It is these moments where Bruns and his team were able to re-shape the focus with the necessary intentionality to be adaptable, no matter what the economic outlook was projected to be.
This laser focus also allows firms to capitalize on the growth and momentum they had in 2022 and drive forward key initiatives for the firm.
“We are increasing our budget and investing more as we are anticipating more activity,” Lakhani shares. “Like many firms, we experienced a record year in 2022 and we are using that to propel us forward and re-invest in that success for 2023.”
Both Bruns and Lakhani work in firms which run a leaner model. Both note that this means they don’t have to make cut-throat decisions during these times. They can – and do - stay focused on their goals and double down on the intentionality around these goals.
Bruns also sees the benefit in how marketers, and particularly his team, can overlay their tried and trusted processes during these more uncertain times.
“My team and I are engineers in our processes, and these processes have stops and starts.” Bruns continues: “Our strength is figuring out how to get over any wall that comes up in our process.”
This versatility and adaptability are signature traits of marketing and business development professionals. Their day-to-day role is full of uncertainty and therefore the need to flex and adapt on the fly. Arguably, this is the perfect training ground to launch from in an uncertain market.
What is different so far from 2022 to 2023
There is more of a meeting of the minds with attorneys being at a good moment in time to be face to face with their clients. They are re-energized to be asking their clients directly about the effect of their work and their business challenges more generally.
Paoletta shares: “Our attorneys are motivated to be physically in front of their clients and to be constantly asking themselves what impact they can be having with each of them individually.”
She shares that there is a heightened level of motivation “to look specifically at revenue and focus on marketing activities that directly increase our revenue targets.” Getting buy-in now, thankfully, seems to be mostly behind us; attorneys are all in.
Paoletta sees this moment in time and shares: “In the short time I’ve been here so far, I can already see them leveraging what marketing is doing and I hope to keep them focused on this moment in time to keep client engagement moving in the right direction.”
Lakhani also sees something unique about this moment in time. He says that “clients are fully aligned with the active and creative engagement that attorneys are providing.”
He continues: “The timing is wonderful. Everyone feels like, for the first time in a while, they have their feet firmly under them within the firm.” Lakhani says he continues to see this positivity and fresh engagement and that is creating a shift in the local market.
This positivity and re-energization is being fully leveraged by marketers. Indeed, that is their jam. It allows them to prioritize and narrow their laundry list with a laser focus.
The future of flexible working arrangements
I remember working in law firms where if you were not in your office, the assumption was that you weren’t working. That ugly assumption hung over our heads.
The legal industry has undergone a massive shift in the last two-three years. The working styles and arrangements that seemed to be imbedded into our firm’s fabric were entirely undone. And guess what? It didn’t end badly.
Firms seem to be in two camps. Either, doubling down on their real estate to create refreshed work environments that will entice people back into the office for the majority of the time. Or, relinquishing real estate and rethinking their office footprint and layout to factor in less bodies in the office on a weekly basis.
“Space isn’t culture.” Bruns shares. “Culture is the experience you have when you go into the space.”
Bruns’s firm is using this time to rethink their office space and use. While they have been triggered to do so because their lease ends later this year, Bruns shares that it’s actually come at the perfect time given all of this. The informal three-time weekly check-ins that runs in Bruns’s leadership DNA (both pre- and post- Covid) doesn’t stop or start depending on where everyone is physically located, he shares.
So, for Bruns’s team, their new office will have a lot of collaboration space, lounge areas, and meeting rooms. Their firm surveyed their people – all of their people – and it was clear: not everyone wants to go into the office.
Like many new-era legal CMO’s, Bruns is pragmatic. He is listening to his team and adapting his leadership style to accommodate, and across multiple locations. He takes ownership of this new arrangement and changes to meet his team where they are.
Lakhani has a similar rationale. He owns this shift as a leader of the firm and applies tweaks or fixes where needed: “What works well is having a broader policy and then giving team managers discretion as to how to manage that policy. If there’s a fix that needs to be done, that’s on the leader.”
Lakhani’s leadership style is one of implicit trust. He can do this because he’s helped hire and build the right managers in the team. That type of connection is something special in legal marketing teams.
This moment in time is centered around listening to the marketer. Leaders are all ears and are – finally - adapting to each individual team member. This is not just the case for working arrangements, either. I see this across both working styles and hours.
The CMO role post-pandemic
The legal CMO at this moment in time is not one that stays within their lane. Their remit is broad and their visibility is high.
Lakhani shares two pieces in particular that have changed in his CMO role.
First, he shares that he has taken a wide role within the firm: “Internal messaging has grown, including elements such as how to write on social justice issues. I have been leading and writing this internal messaging and helping our firm leaders on this piece, which I really enjoy. It helps me, it helps our team, and it helps our firm articulate our culture.”
Secondly, Lakhani shares that there is a “people management art” which has had to be perfected: “I am a mentor and advisor for the firm, not just my team. I realized I had the capability to be a motivating force across the whole firm over the last few years.”
It certainly helps that Lakhani has been a constant within Porter Hedges for over ten years. His longevity and investment in the firm reflects his values: “It has been a hugely challenging time for law firm leaders, particularly helping people stay engaged, and so I could see that natural extension for myself and the firm more broadly. It is a tremendous responsibility to engage in this way and be a boarder leader at the firm. I took on mentorship and guidance opportunities where I saw I could be influential.”
Paoletta notes a similar experience. She shares that the breadth of the CMO role has changed to incorporate a wider leadership role within the firm that is very visible to its C-suite peers.
“I have always been very much a leader of the firm,” Paoletta shares. “I have marketing objectives and goals, and I support those, and they roll up to a higher goal within the firm.”
Paoletta’s CMO roles have long included “coaching, succession planning, marketing-to-HR liaison and advisor, leadership development, and new-leader recruitment.” Having different professional service industries in her background has set her up well for this moment in time.
“Marketing’s involvement is at a higher level than I’ve ever seen it”, she shares. “My background across different industries and professional services lanes allows me to flex my financial muscles and my complementary sector experience. I use that to make this firm achieve what we have planned together.”
The future of marketing and business development in firms, judging by this moment in time, will produce a business professional whose title will miss the mark if it remains as “marketing”.
Further, for the opportunistic junior and mid-level marketer, they are seeing firsthand how their career could continue to morph over time into being a prominent leader of the firm - and industry. What an exhilarating time to be a legal marketer.
Each year will pose a different challenge, a different threat, or a different opportunity to the legal marketer. Indeed, each quarter may shift what you thought you had understood and mastered from last quarter.
What is for certain, however, is that the change, when embraced and harnessed with the right amount of optimism and brain power, will keep marketers forging ahead in our law firms. They are the future of our firms. Watch out.
Title and level of seniority are not always the starting points of a search right now.
I am seeing a trend of firms who want to find the right person who is culturally aligned first and foremost. Only then do they start to slot that person into their marketing team hierarchy. In this market, approaching a search with this level of flexibility is an advantage.
Typically, the way law firms would add new business development and marketing professionals into their teams would be to start with title, salary, city (or cities). This is then followed by a technical skills alignment, followed by a cultural skills alignment. Lastly, almost as an afterthought, benefits would get pushed into the mix, and an offer was delivered and signed.
Now, some firms are turning this on their head. They are starting with conversations around what type of cultural environment the prospective candidate works best in. This includes everything from work philosophies, to leadership, to diversity, to management styles up and down, and to career path projections within the firm. This is closely followed by an open dialogue on benefits and preferred working arrangements. Salary expectations will naturally evolve from this dialogue, too.
Secondly, there is a technical skills alignment. Lastly, there is mutual agreement on what level this role should be, and therefore effort is put in to fine-tuning the accompanying salary.
This is a hugely different way to approach hiring a new business development and marketing professional.
And I love it.
I have clients who can consider a Manager or Senior Manager, or a Senior Manager or Director, for an open role within their teams. I even had one client who could offer a Specialist, Manager or Senior Manager title for their opening; and this was in a volatile market where the narrative on salary had been overstated significantly.
This is true flexibility. This is firms thinking on their feet to adapt to a market that was relatively very small pre-Covid, let alone post-Covid.
If there is any flexibility – and I mean any – consider this approach.
In my experience, firms get one or two years out of a good technical skills match. Firms will typically get three, four, five-plus years out of a strong cultural alignment.
You will have likely seen the recent news that the unemployment rate in the US is at record lows. The current unemployment rate is 3.7%. To give you some quick context, five years ago at this time, it was 7.3%. Post-financial crisis it was almost at 10%.
Regardless of your view on whether these low unemployment rates are a positive or a negative on the economy, this tight market certainly affects our pocket of the world. It is much harder for firms to find enough quality BD and marketing professionals.
Below I share some insights for both firms and candidates on how to deal with recruiting good quality BD and marketing professionals in this tight market. Both perspectives are equally important, and different insights apply whether you’re recruiting or being recruited.
Whether you are recruiting, or being recruited, there are different factors to take into account in this tight market. Deploying a few easy and quick methods to adapt to this market is key. And, importantly, if you as a firm or a candidate need help with these factors in this market, your search professional knows how to handle these issues on your behalf to still generate a successful search or career discussion.
Kate Harry Shipham is the Principal of KHS People LLC, an executive search firm for BD and marketing people in professional services firms. Kate has done search and recruiting for 12 years and prior to that was an attorney. She loves what she does, and is always open to continuing the discussion: email@example.com