This article was sponsored content by KHS People written for the Legal Marketing Association Midwest region. Publish date March 3, 2022.
With C-Suite contributions by:
The year 2022 for the legal marketing industry is, once again, very different. It has unparalleled challenges which are exacerbated by the unrelenting workload.
There are big challenges facing our industry. I talk about two of these challenges below: fatigue and the management of people. I talk about the issue at hand and what solutions we can deploy against the backdrop of yet another unique and unprecedented year for legal marketers.
Importantly, I ask for input from C-suite legal marketing leaders to share their comments. I thank Christie Cáceres, Murray Coffey, Julie Cole, Lee Garfinkle, Lisa Olney and Bob Robertson for their time and insights in contributing to this article. Your practical and innovative takeaways are invaluable to us all - my sincere thanks.
Issue 1: Industry Fatigue
I see three main reasons for our current industry fatigue:
1) Unrelenting workload.
The workload and expectations of marketers has increased exponentially. This is a positive move for the legal marketing industry overall. What must now follow this move is the appropriate amount of time and bandwidth to complete it.
Without any outlet, or a properly staffed and structured team, it is only a matter of short time until fatigue sets in. Without a proactive and visible plan to deal with that fatigue, it turns to burnout, lower morale, and ultimately, disengagement from the industry.
Cáceres shares: “CMOs can create awareness early and often before burnout happens. Creating cross-functional teams to work on projects that keep it interesting and fresh; many of us have experienced “SWAT” teams during COVID that required quick assembly and execution. Amidst the chaos, some of those projects really intrigued people and kept the creative juices flowing.”
Another CMO, who asked to remain anonymous, shared that their team is entirely overwhelmed because of the workload. Without the end in sight, this quickly impacts their ability to do the work and use their relied upon judgment and subject matter expertise. Even after several hires to try to combat these issues, this team’s capacity reached 100% again very quickly. The same problem then starts over.
2) Clear priorities and expectations.
Legal marketing roles are at greater risk of a lack of clear prioritization of tasks and responsibilities due to their constant evolving nature and far-reaching scope. Most Job Descriptions I see include an extensive list, including nearly every task or duty thinkable, ranging from tactical to strategic. Setting clear priorities helps to manage everyone’s expectation.
This doubles as an effective upward management tool. Marketers and partners need to clearly communicate their priorities and expectations on timing in year one, year two, and so on. Without this ranking of tasks by nature of importance, marketers end up being busy on everything with little big impact. Marketers can show partners their project map so it can be easily seen what is being done and by when.
Robertson shares: “What has (and continues) to plague marketing and business development roles in a number of law firms is a lack of clear focus and prioritization. The absence of both prevents having meaningful benchmarks to aspire to and be measured against. This results in roles that are mostly responsive and generally rudderless, exacerbating burn-out, dissatisfaction and fatigue.”
3) Boundaries matter.
Our current working life is our actual life. There is no work / life balance; we work from home and we live at our work. Small daily breaks we never thought about – commutes, lunch breaks, coffee breaks – gave us perspective and a fresh mind. Now, for many of us, that small break is used to answer emails or pick up a child from school.
It is critical for our team leaders to lead by example and put in place protocols for busy periods and encourage check out times where needed. When legal marketing professionals don’t have this type of support from the top, they leave the firm. Worst case scenario, they leave the industry altogether.
Cole says that her corporate experience enables her to approach some of these issues from a different angle. For example, she used contractors to augment staff in a prior role and is introducing that approach to be more nimble. She believes being clinical and quantifying workload increases for leaders helps them understand because you are speaking their language when you show hours.
Issue 2: People management
Why is this important?
Developing the non-technical skills of marketers, including people management, is not something law firms are set up to do (and in my view, rightly so, given their focus). So, given this, it is on our leaders to actively manage this issue. What makes this task even trickier? Even people managers need people management training.
Olney says it best: “Promoting someone who has excellent technical skills but no experience managing others and expecting them to “figure it out” may work occasionally, but it’s rare. And the consequences can be devastating, because ineffective managers can slow down or demoralize a whole team.”
Olney further adds that tying this essential skill into the responsibilities of team leaders is a critical piece to getting this right: “Leaders have a responsibility to not only model good people management themselves, but to make training around this crucial area part of the skills building for their department. Junior marketers can be trained on how to effectively communicate, and later how to handle difficult conversations with colleagues and internal clients. Training on how to be a contributing member of a team project can transition into how to lead one, and then how to formally manage those involved. We should ensure the building blocks to become a manager are in place and demonstrate through our actions and by who we choose to promote the value we place in these skills.”
Lee suggests that we should normalize how difficult this training can be: “It’s not uncommon for a new manager, particularly someone that now needs to manage former peers, to struggle a bit in the beginning. It’s important for them to recognize their role has changed and motivating, challenging, and helping your team members grow is one of their new top priorities.”
An added layer to this already notoriously tougher learned skill is the virtual nature we all pivoted to overnight and its impact on this issue. On this, Lee shares: “There have been few things during my career that have been as challenging as supporting people during the pandemic. It required diligent and consistent focus on how team members were doing, addressing their concerns, and making sure they know you are there for them. It’s critical that the team knows you have their backs, and you are thinking about their growth even though you’re not physically together.”
Why do firms struggle to add experienced people managers into their marketing teams?
It is a combination of three things:
Law firms don’t typically focus on this, nor do they nurture this. In my view, people managers within marketing who have a track record of success in managing others should enter a different and higher salary range. Firms only reward technical skill, not management skill. In marketing, we hire for both technical and soft skills.
On this point, Coffey shares: “Not only do firms not nurture it, they attribute almost no value to it. I think many firms have endemic people management problems because the person at the top of a given department has never been compensated for their management skills and do not know how to identify people with good or promising people management skills. The opposite of a virtuous cycle. And in most law firms the HR function is focused on, and rewards, risk management.”
Olney also adds that what does seem to get attention quickly is when marketing department leaders see behavior, communication styles, or work product that is not at the level it needs to be for our internal clients, the attorneys. She says we must “bring the same level of vigilance to what’s happening within our teams, because that’s ultimately what has the most impact on the team’s cohesiveness and ability to provide solid work product and strategic guidance to the attorneys.”
Next up? One of our biggest challenges yet…
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 14 years and prior to that was an attorney. She loves what she does, and is always open to continuing the discussion: email@example.com