Friday, August 1, 2008

Marketing Priorities in a Down Economy

Figuring out new ways to deliver value to clients is exactly what the marketing department should do. That’s true not only when the economy is soft, though it is certainly more of a priority when times are tough.

Besides clients, another important audience for your marketing department in tough times is your managing partner and CFO. Believe me, they will be delighted if, rather than proposing a higher budget for 2009 filled with all sorts of new initiatives, you propose a flat or even smaller budget but still deliver great value. In the process, you can weed out a number of low-value sacred cows that have burrowed into your budget over the years and refocus your department on things that enable your lawyers to add value for clients. You will probably improve your staff’s job satisfaction as well.

The tool for this is zero-based budgeting, which simply means that instead of using last year’s budget as a starting point, you start with a blank piece of paper. Everything has to earn its way into the budget on its own merits after a fresh analysis of costs and benefits.

If you enlist the CFO and managing partner up front and explain how this process will add value for the firm, you will likely be able to enlist them to help you fight the political battles that always accompany change.

Zero-based budgeting is a great way to wring out of the budget all kinds of random, scattershot, one-off activities that provide nothing more than a little general visibility to a poorly targeted audience and enable some lawyers to feel like they have “done their marketing,” despite not having actually talked to a client, prospect or referral source. In my first year at Davis Wright, we cut the general sponsorship budget by one-third, reduced our spending on directories and eliminated most of the advertising budget. That freed up funds to support three very substantial and targeted business development initiatives, to pay for a comprehensive positioning program and new Web site and to hire some senior staff in critical positions—all within a flat budget.

So as you approach the 2009 budget cycle, take nothing for granted. Start from zero and build a budget based on particular needs and opportunities, not on history. You will likely deliver a lot more value in 2009 while spending less. That is a result that works well in any economic environment.

This post comes courtesy of Mark Usellis, of Legal Business Development blog. Reproduced from Strategies - The Journal of Legal Marketing with permission from the Legal Marketing Association. |

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