As economic uncertainty continues to cast a cloud and the threat of new competition from alternative business structures looms large, how might you achieve marketing efficiencies?

Note the reference to achieving efficiencies, rather than cost-savings. It is easy to achieve cost savings in marketing and many firms have done that by drastically reducing or stopping spending in recent times.

However doing no marketing carries its own risks as it creates an opportunity for your competitors to move ahead of you.

One way of improving efficiency is to consider outsourcing the marketing function. This is not just an option for large firms – in fact it offers many opportunities for smaller firms too, particularly during a period of growth.

Outsourcing is sometimes associated with the loss of or transfer of jobs to an external provider. However, in our experience there are a number of circumstances where outsourcing provides an ideal solution, without the loss of any jobs. For example:

a) The start-up, which needs a limited amount of support in the early stages.
b) The growing firm, which wishes to test-drive a dedicated marketing function without taking on the headache of employment responsibilities.
c) The firm with some low-level in-house marketing support that wishes to step up a gear, without the expense of a senior appointment.
d) The overseas firm, which needs on the ground support to deliver strategy and campaigns delivered by their home marketing team.
e) The regional marketing firm that finds it difficult to attract or retain marketing staff of sufficient calibre and is fed up of paying recruitment fees.

So, let us consider the advantages.

Clear direction

For your outsourced provider to be able to deliver on your marketing objectives, these will need to be well thought through, agreed and communicated.

Sometimes this can be done beforehand and provided to potential providers as part of the selection process. Alternatively, setting your strategy and developing your marketing plan might be the first objective for your chosen provider. Either way, one outcome of the process is a clear sense of direction.

Focus the mind

Have you noticed how a meeting with an external supplier can be treated more seriously than an internal meeting – particularly one, where the supplier is charging by the hour? In my experience, marketing decisions are more likely to be made and actions are more likely to be completed before the next meeting.

Internal marketing meetings rarely seem to have the same focus and there is the frequent excuse of being too busy with clients when actions are not progressed.

Making the financial commitment to engage an external provider to push forward your marketing also requires a commitment of time and energy from the management team to make things happen.

Focus on core competencies

With non-billable hours as a scarce commodity, they need to be spent wisely for maximum impact and focused on client-facing, relationship-building activities which will directly generate profitable new business.

Outsourcing any non-core business support activities to a specialist provider will free your business to focus on its core activity of providing legal advice. What is the opportunity cost of time spent by fee-earners on marketing activities that could be outsourced at a fraction of their charge out rate?

Access to expertise in depth

One of the challenges of appointing an in-house marketing manager is that of finding the right person with the appropriate mix of skills.

We often come across firms where the client database is a shambles as the secretarial team claim it is not their responsibility and the marketing manager appears to think that this sort of administrative task is beneath them. Only the very largest firms can justify employing someone to manage the client data.

Similarly, we see secretaries who have been promoted to a marketing position on the basis of good organisational skills when managing events. However, when it comes to drafting a press release, handling the media, drafting or proofing articles for the web site then different attributes are required. Client satisfaction research or a major tendering exercise fall back into the lap of the partners.

Successful marketing requires a wide range of competencies and small firms need someone who can put together a marketing strategy at the beginning of the year and is happy to execute it as the year goes on. One day they may need to draft an important tender, the next they may need to print the delegate badges for an event. We often joke that outsourcing covers everything from strategy to stuffing envelopes.

Continuity of service

Many law firms suffer from fairly frequent turnover of marketing staff. Few people decide on a career in marketing with the legal profession in mind and even fewer find it provides the career path that they desire and do not stay long.

Frequent staff turnover can result in lack of continuity for projects. Advertising, recruiting and inducting a new marketing executive is in itself a significant drain on resources which might be directed elsewhere.

Outsourcing your marketing function makes this someone else’s problem.