When They Won’t Let the Marketers Do Their Job

Lawyers, as we all know, are trained as babies to be trusting, transparent, and tender. I added that last one only because I needed a “t” word. OK, so they’re not trained to be any of that; they are trained instead to be wary, careful, even cynical. Trust 401 is not a recommended course for lawyers. Trusting means letting your guard down, opening yourself up to an unexpected sucker punch. This attitude probably serves well in the courtroom or in difficult negotiations. These are situations where everyone in the room has their own clients’ interests at heart, and they’re going to protect those interests at all costs. Good. That’s why these guys get the big bucks.

But back in the office, there’s another client they need to take care of. Lawyers and law firms all have a client whom they rarely treat like one, and that’s themselves. If they’re going to grow their business, they need to pay attention to, nurture, and care for their practice – and their firm’s. They hire marketers and business development pros to help them do this, but the defensive posture taken to protect clients is sometimes taken toward the very people they have hired to do the important business of marketing and business development. The phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” comes to mind.

I once worked at a firm that, because of this defensive approach, simply would not let its marketers do their job. Whenever the executive director would remind me to lock my door or turn documents face-down on my desk, I would politely remind him that my office held no secrets. The job of marketing is to communicate to the world, not to make sure nothing leaks out. I’d tell him that all the secrets were in his office, not mine.

While many firms make it mandatory that their marketing and business development folks become intimately familiar with who their clients are, their revenue from each, and plans to grow that revenue using the many tools and programs that the marketing and biz dev pros can recommend and help implement, this firm put a wall around that information. They’re afraid that it will get into the wrong hands. Not only do they withhold the critical information that marketing needs to do its job, they often keep it from the attorneys themselves.

True, marketers – and lawyers, too – come and go. They leave firms and go to other firms, just as people do in any business. But if you don’t trust them when you have them, you tie their hands. How can a marketer recommend a top client appreciation program, for example, if he or she doesn’t know who the top clients are, and all the other information marketing depends on? How can he or she help you deflect potential negative PR if you keep secret the fact that there’s a potential issue? If you assume everyone is somehow going to find a way to use your information to do you harm someday, you also prevent them from doing you good today.

Clearly, I’m talking above about a fairly extreme case. How unusual it is I really don’t know. But when law firm marketers find themselves in such a situation, they have two choices: they can simply give up (hard to swallow) or try to engender change. I’m not talking about the age-old issue of convincing managing partners and executive committees that they’re not wasting their money on marketing. There are metrics that can be quite convincing. I’m not even talking about getting the proverbial “seat at the table.” It’s much more basic. I’m talking about simple trust – trusting us to view the family jewels and then return them safely to the family jewel box, giving us access to the information we need to help them.

In “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost wrote: “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out.” If walling in information results in walling out clients, maybe a little more trust – even if it’s a bit counter-intuitive for some lawyers – might go a long way.

To use a phrase I find extremely curious, “I’m just sayin’.”

All thoughts and dialogue on this are most welcome! What do you think? Any similar experiences?

About Peter Feldman

I'm a marketing and communications pro with more than 25 years experience helping professional service businesses get the right message to the right people in the right way. I’m also an adjunct professor of English.

Posted on July 27, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I am not at liberty to reveal my comment at this time. I will let you know what I think only after someone else has leaked the information. 😉

  2. Consider the information leaked. Reveal away!

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