GUEST BLOGGER: Merrilyn Astin Tarlton, Co-Publisher - Attorney at Work
Child development experts call it “impulse control.” A key measure of a child’s maturity, the traditional test for it involves marshmallows. A 4-year-old is offered two marshmallows if he can wait 15 minutes for them. If he can’t wait, he can have a marshmallow right away—but just one. At four, some choose two and work hard to get through the wait and others just want one and want it now.
Marketing professionals in some law firms say they feel they are working with 4-year-olds instead of forty-something lawyers. Apparently the need for instant and overwhelming results from each and every marketing tactic makes it nearly impossible to implement a thoughtful and well-planned marketing strategy.
“I gave a speech. But I didn’t get a single new client from it!”
“We advertised in the symphony program last year and it didn’t do anything for us.”
Even when expectations are managed at the outset, that need for immediate gratification kicks in with adrenaline immediately after the effort and seems to erase all understanding of the care – and, by the way, science - invested in a complex, layered and coordinated marketing plan.
Here’s the thing: If you are in business for the long haul – and we can only assume that four years of college, three years of law school, at least one long summer clerkship and the profound college loan debt that came with it all means you’re in it for the long haul – then that requires that you take the long view. And the long view says that, while there will be ups and downs along the way, you’ve got to stay the course to realize the actual results.
So what does it look like when a law firm stays the marketing course?
- Marketing activities are part of an overall plan, not just random targets of opportunity.
- The marketing plan flows routinely from the firm’s overall business strategy and represents a means to achieve future goals – growth, stability, diversification, profitability, etc.
- Marketing plans are based on good solid research and benefit from the guidance of trained marketing experts.
- Most particularly in a law firm, the marketing plan is not only tightly tuned to the firm’s goals and the nature of the market but anticipates success based on the unique nature of the firm’s internal culture.
- Marketing is seen as an investment, not as an extravagance.
- Like all effective business activities, marketing activities are assessed periodically over time at predetermined points.
- Decisions about tweaking or modifying the plan as it unfolds are made thoughtfully and not based on a single event – positive or negative.
What about extreme times, like the last couple of years? Slow and steady still wins the race. As the business goals of the firm change, so must the firm’s marketing program in support of it. If things become so dicey that “survival” is the firm’s primary business goal, marketing activities must be modified – and work harder - to support that.
Unfortunately, too often when the market takes a dip, a firm’s marketing budget is seen as target number one for belt tightening. When marketing is slashed because partner draws are threatened . . . it’s clear you’ve decided that you want one marshmallow and you want it now.
Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founding member and President of the Legal Marketing Association, President of the College of Law Practice Management and recipient of the LMA Lifetime Achievement Award. She consults with law firms and lawyers on issues of business strategy, innovation and leadership and is co-publisher of Attorney at Work.