In today's AMLaw Daily, reporter Zach Lowe posits the question,"How Essential is a CMO?" While his article doesn't attempt to answer the question, here are my two bits:
In many companies, the CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) is responsible for all things marketing, public relations and business development. S/He is the key strategist and implementation leader, and part of the executive team rounded out by other C-level folks in finance, accounting, IT, etc.. The CMO reports to the CEO, who typically reports to a board of directors, representing shareholders or owners.
In law firms, the role of CMO is often muted, in part because of the relatively young profession of legal marketing and in part of the unique and inefficient management structure of law firms. In most cases, the owners or shareholders of law firms serve on its board of directors, serve in the role of CEO, are the firm's key sales people, and craft or approve the firm's policy, strategy and budget for marketing and business development. The CMO plays the role of internal brand and strategy consultant, traffic cop, team leader, vendor manager, coach and occasional change agent - all within a structure that makes decision making difficult, at best.
So, how essential is a CMO?
Regardless of what you call it - CMO, Marketing Director, Chief Business Development Officer - law firms need leaders who can:
- Brand - help their firm and lawyers communicate the character, personality and value of its people and services. Marketers get this. Clients get this. This doesn't mean expensive ad buys, but it does mean paying attention to basic rules of communication. Creativity helps. CMOs lead the efforts to assure a consistent and accurate brand.
- Train and direct staff - Llawyers are best utilized when they are working for clients, not when they are writing a proposal or seminar ad copy. Firms can increase profits by leveraging marketing, communications and other tasks by letting marketing professionals do it. This is not rocket science, but firms do need marketing staff that understand the legal issues, the business issues of their clients, and the applicable rules of professional conduct. They also need staff that have the emotional intelligence and people skills to work with lawyers. CMOs train and direct staff to effectively and efficiently conduct marketing projects, allowing lawyers to do what they do best.
- Motivate and engage - Let's face it - working for lawyers is no walk in the park. A successful law firm marketer will see increased revenue and profitability for the firm, but because marketers are rarely partners or shareholders, rarely do they share in the financial success. Granted, some CMOs have been well compensated of late, but many front-line marketing staff are compensated below what they would make in other industries. How do you motivate a marketing manager to help a millionaire litigator to make another $500,000 this year, when she is making $60,000? CMOs find ways to make work meaningful for their staff. They motivate and engage them to work hard to fulfill a mission that may not include financial reward.
- Spark Change - In some ways, the legal profession is slow to change, but many of the practice management changes over the past 20 years have been driven by marketers: client satisfaction surveys, CRM, seminar (content-based) marketing, advertising, branding, business development training and coaching, web and e-marketing. I'll be the first to admit that not all of these changes have been effectively implemented industry-wide. CMOs borrow, steal and innovate to help their firms be recognized as thought leaders in their field and effect cultural change to make business development more effective.
- Coach Lawyers - Many CMOs come from other industries or professions, bringing insights, processes and models that help lawyers and law firms achieve their business development, marketing and management goals. CMOs help lawyers, often one-on-one, find their path to balancing billable work, business development, personal brand/reputation development, management responsibilities and their personal lives. Sometimes CMOs do this themselves; often they do it in partnership with their top staff. Frequently it is done over a cup of coffee or bottle of beer.
So, how essential is a CMO? Can you run a marketing/business development function without a competent leader? Can you effect lasting change without a C-level champion? Can you expect law firms to be managed like a business without a chief marketing officer being responsible for all things marketing and business development?