Hiring a Marketing Director for Small or Midsized Firms

Volume 40 Number 3


About the Author

Mary E. Vandenack is a founding and managing partner at Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC in Omaha, Neb.

Law Practice Magazine | May/June 2014 | The Marketing IssueMost small and midsized law firms have similar marketing goals, at least in some respects, as large firms. Firms want to satisfy current clients, develop more work from those clients, seek additional clients and foster a consistent, recognized brand. What most big firms have that smaller firms do not are chief marketing officers and IT directors who develop and implement marketing plans.

Many smaller firms decide against hiring anyone to specifically engage in marketing and instead spread the duties among busy lawyers and staff who can only manage to focus on marketing between client deadlines. The result is often piecemeal marketing and a lack of coordination that frustrates those making the efforts.

All law firms should have a marketing plan. For a smaller firm, a marketing plan may actually be more essential than for a larger one. A marketing plan should consider, coordinate and incorporate individual marketing plans for each attorney and practice area, as well as any additional marketing plans based on the entire firm.

A marketing plan should cover firm branding. Because many legal consumers hire a lawyer rather than a firm, branding should consider each lawyer in the firm. To build the individual lawyers into a “firm brand,” the plan should emphasize the commonalities of the individual lawyers. For example, perhaps the firm’s lawyers all focus on being available and providing excellent client service, with each lawyer sharing a similar definition of that service. Firm materials and external communications should be coordinated to reflect the firm brand in a consistent fashion.

Other important features of a modern marketing plan are website development and social media management. Websites should be content-driven and regularly updated. They should be designed with the target audience in mind. The appropriate social media for a particular firm should be well considered. Most law firms should use LinkedIn for marketing purposes, but the value of other social media platforms varies widely based on firm services and audience.

Additional aspects of a marketing plan include database development and creation of materials that reflect firm skills and expertise. Databases should accumulate readily accessible details regarding current clients and should contain information on referral sources and prospective clients. Materials should include articles, white papers, summaries of firm successes and other materials that reflect the firm’s capabilities.

The very best marketing plan will fail if it isn’t implemented. A small firm might gather up its attorneys and hash out a marketing plan only to revisit it a year later and note that nothing has happened because no one chose to lead its implementation. A firm can resolve this by assigning someone specifically dedicated to implementing the plan.

Smaller firms often underestimate the volume of work that can be shifted to a marketing director and decide not to hire such a person. A small firm might also hesitate at the cost of hiring a full-time marketing person. For firms that decide against a marketing director, the continuing challenge is that no one person has ultimate responsibility for marketing, so it likely happens haphazardly, without coordination.

There are alternatives to hiring a full-time marketing director. Many excellent candidates are seeking part-time work. Or professional marketing firms can provide someone to coordinate marketing development and implementation on a part-time basis. Nonetheless, most firms ultimately discover that effective marketing involves having a responsible person dedicated to that specific task within the firm.

If a law firm doesn’t already have a marketing plan, the marketing director can work with the firm’s lawyers to develop one. After development, the marketing director is responsible for implementing it. Implementing the plan may include:

  • Developing consistent firm materials, including brochures, business cards, folders and presentation materials.
  • Developing and updating the website. Updates may include announcements, posting alerts, adding articles, etc.
  • Reviewing and analyzing website statistics.
  • Writing and disseminating press releases.
  • Handling external communications, including alerts, cards and firm mailings.
  • Organizing videos for lawyer profiles.
  • Developing substantive video presentations.
  • Facilitating all aspects of webinars.
  • Gathering competitive intelligence by monitoring other law firm marketing strategies.
  • Overseeing attorney participation in bar associations, trade associations and community activities.
  • Coordinating marketing events such as fundraisers, open houses and trade shows.
  • Creating and maintaining firm blogs.
  • Coaching and supporting attorneys in marketing efforts.
  • Developing a firm database to organize information about current clients, potential clients and referral sources.
  • Managing the use of social media for the firm.
  • Public relations.

The right person for a small law firm needn’t necessarily have a marketing degree. A firm should consider its key marketing goals. Skills that are important for most firms include an excellent command of language, a comfort level with the technical aspects of websites and blogs, and good interpersonal communication skills. Hiring someone who has an understanding of the legal business, particularly the practice areas of the firm, is helpful. Consider both nonpracticing lawyers and paralegals.

The most important aspect of ensuring the marketing director’s success is providing regular access to firm leadership. The director who isn’t provided ample communication opportunities with the firm’s lawyers will not be able to implement the firm goals. Regular marketing meetings are most likely to achieve success. The

firm must define the roles and responsibilities of the director. If the position is newly created, the role will evolve. However, initial expectations should be established. The firm should discuss how to determine the success of the marketing director’s efforts so that it can effectively evaluate them. Success should be measured relative to the specific roles assigned to the director.

Finally, the firm and director should review and update the marketing plan annually, and all of the firm’s attorneys should be included, if possible.


Marketing Directors in Action

To provide insight about the role of marketing directors in smaller firms, Law Practice asked Mary Vandenack to interview two such directors, Heather Slipkevych of Lavelle Law Ltd., a 19-attorney firm based in Palatine, Ill., and Christine Vandenack of Parsonage Vandenack William LLC, a seven-lawyer firm in Omaha, Neb. They tell us what they do daily, what sort of marketing efforts they coordinate and how that furthers their respective firm’s goals.


Law Practice (LP): Does your firm have a marketing plan? If so, what is included?


Heather Slipkevych (HS): Our marketing plan directly reflects our firm’s long-standing mission statement: “We believe that if we provide exceptional legal services that continually exceed the expectations of our client, and do so at rates that provide real value, we will have a client for life.” Our overall goal is to establish new clients and referral sources by developing meaningful relationships and connections with business professionals and organizations in our community. Our firm is incredibly mindful of new legislation that is put in place or changes in society that will impact our clients, business partners and friends. We make every effort to keep our community well-informed through articles, podcasts and seminar-style presentations.


Christine Vandenack (CV): Our plan begins by determining what practice areas we want to focus on and what qualities our firm and attorneys have that set us apart. These two areas are used as the basis for our website development, blog posts, social media, print advertising and marketing materials. We give particular attention to developing a firm brand that incorporates the commonalities of our various attorneys.


LP: Who is responsible for implementing marketing efforts?


HS: As marketing director, I primarily handle the implementation and development of our marketing efforts. The unique aspect of handling marketing for a midsized firm like ours is that each attorney is closely involved in his or her individual marketing efforts and those of the respective practice group. I oversee their individual efforts and supplement them with print pieces or informational handouts. Similarly, I spearhead the development of unique marketing campaigns to target a wide range of audiences, depending on the legal matter at hand.


CV: I am the marketing coordinator and thus responsible for implementation. However, I work closely with the managing partners to ensure implementation comports with established goals.


LP: What are your duties as marketing director?


HS: Generally, I oversee, implement and manage the firm’s marketing efforts. I regularly handle the updating and management of our website and social media pages. I also oversee our direct mail marketing program. When events and seminars arise, I coordinate the attendance of our attorneys and develop events our firm hosts, such as business-to-business marketing events or educational seminars. I also manage firm sponsorships and memberships, as well as ordering and distributing marketing supplies and literature for various marketing campaigns. In addition, I oversee each individual attorney’s various efforts and assist in developing new campaigns. I also coordinate charitable events that our firm sponsors, such as our annual food drive event.


CV: I facilitate the marketing efforts of the firm, including website development and maintenance; database development, presentation support, blog and social media maintenance; and development and coordination of advertisements, mailings, alerts and marketing materials.


LP: What are the keys to success of marketing in a firm of your size?


HS: The biggest keys are consistency, follow-through and execution. Our efforts would not be successful without the dedication of our attorneys, who commit themselves to our mission statement and provide exceptional legal services at affordable rates. When it comes to our referrals and the connections we have with business professionals in our area, our main goal is to develop and maintain a strong relationship with these individuals. Without continued engagement with these individuals, we compromise the level of comfort and trust that drives a solid reciprocal referral relationship. Referrals are the highest form of gratitude in our business, and we’re proud that Lavelle Law is a trusted business and partner within our community.


CV: The key is identifying the firm brand and being consistent in projecting that brand on our website, our blogs and in our marketing materials. Regularly involving the attorneys in those efforts is a necessity.


LP: What types of marketing do you engage in and why?


HS: We engage in a variety of marketing tactics. We send direct mailers to potential divorce, criminal, tax and litigation clients on a weekly basis, using public records lists. We also maintain a strong online presence by regularly updating our website and our various social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and BlogTalkRadio, where we host a weekly podcast show, Chicago’s Legal Latte. In the podcasts, our attorneys answer a variety of pressing legal questions that are on the minds of our listeners. Our attorneys will often host educational seminars for our contacts and author articles that are posted to our website and regularly emailed to clients. Every year our firm hosts an annual food drive that supports two local food pantries. We also value our community and strive to have an active presence in local park districts and not-for-profit organizations. Our attorneys have authored books and appeared on local television news broadcasts as legal correspondents. We also have attorneys who regularly conduct on-campus interviews and serve as adjunct professors at local law schools.


CV: We maintain a firm website, three blogs, send e-alerts and mail newsletters to existing clients to maintain contact and serve the business community. Our managing attorneys are focused on streamlining the legal process by leveraging technology, and we use our website to draw new clients to the firm and engage existing clients. Our website contains practice area information and attorney profiles. It provides access to client documents and contains intake forms to facilitate clients providing information to us. We post legal articles and information that provide up-to-date information. We have enlightening videos that give clients subjects to think about before consulting an attorney. We provide links to our blogs. We also provide news and announcements that give clients an idea of the events, articles and seminars in which our attorneys are participating. The blogs demonstrate the firm’s knowledge in our main practice areas. We also use social media posts to drive traffic to our blogs and our website. We use local print advertising to get our name and brand out to the local business community. Finally, we sponsor local events to show community support and involvement, and to help get our name out to a specific demographic that could benefit from our services.