From the Preface by Bruce W. Marcus
Professional Services Marketing 3.0?
This from someone who has written, spoken, railed against jargon and gimmicks?
Well, yes, because in this rapidly changing economic environment, intensely competitive landscape, and highly charged computer age, it’s the best way to define significant evolution from one distinct period to the next. As you’ll see in the following pages, that’s exactly what’s happened – and is happening — in law and accounting firm marketing. And in firm practices, business models, and structure as well.
The first stage of course – Professional Services Marketing 1.0 — was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, which, in 1977, struck down the long standing and traditional Codes of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibited what we now call frank marketing, or any form of promotion or commercialization. In one stroke, it wiped out the many generations of practice development achieved almost solely by social contact. The word compete was considered an obscenity. But competition, and all that it entails, turned out to be at the heart of Bates. The ability to compete, using as a foundation traditional techniques of marketing, ultimately and significantly altered the nature of the legal and accounting firm practices. It began a course of evolution that brought us to the modern firms we see today. In other words, it brought meaningful change beyond the decision itself.
Marketing 2.0 is the period – we’re still in it – in which the techniques of professional services marketing have been somewhat refined, and in which marketing has begun to evolve into a common practice now accepted by most once-reluctant lawyers and accountants. These techniques were not originally in the arsenal of most accounting or law firms, and for most lawyers, accountants, and their marketers the new techniques had to be learned. What was hardest to learn, it seems, was that the traditional practices and techniques used in product marketing had little currency in professional services marketing – and new techniques, predicated on the distinctive qualities of professional services, had to be developed. The professionals, to whom anything in their practices other than law or accounting was anathema, long fought against accepting the professionalism of the new marketing practitioners. “Marketing?” they would say in those early days, “Yeah, we’ve got a girl down the hall who does that.” There are still, unfortunately, those who have yet to accept marketing as integral to practice management. Professional services marketers, in those early days, had to spend an inordinate amount of their time selling marketing to the firm’s lawyers or accountants. Marketing was defined by the professionals in those days by its mythology. “Public relations? That’s free advertising, isn’t it?” No, it isn’t.
If there’s one thing that has inhibited innovation and growth in professional services marketing in the decades since Bates, it’s the disconnect between marketers and the professionals they serve. While too many marketers are content to accept that disconnect, and practice their craft virtually by rote, others fight back – and sometimes win.
But that negative attitude seems to be changing, at least because since Bates, and the days of the lawyers and accountants who consistently spoke and thought of marketing as some kind of alien practices that they want no part of, are dwindling. A new generation of professionals has grown into positions of authority in the firms. These are lawyers and accountants who understand that marketing is as integral to a practice as are law and accounting libraries and cash flow management. This new breed of professionals understands that the environment in which they practice is tempered by competition, and that fighting competition isn’t accomplished casually. There are the innovative lawyers and accountants, like Jay Shepherd and his firm, Shepherd Law Group, Patrick Lamb and his firm, Valorem, Christopher Marston’s Exemplar Law Partners, and Mark Harris’s Axiom Legal, for example, who rebuild or start law firms in the context of this new economic era. There are Christian Payne’s remarkably innovate innovative CPA firm and the contemporary firm Seiler LLP in California.
(In a work like this, incidentally, the question sometimes arises about whether the book is for lawyers or for accountants. In fact, it’s for both, as have been all my books addressing professional services marketing. I have long known that the basic tenets of professional services marketing apply almost equally to all professional services. The particular grist for the marketing mills of lawyers or accountants may offer specifics unique to each profession, but the basic principles apply equally to both.
An interesting characteristic about professional services marketing is that it can only be done with the full participation of the lawyers or the accountants. Not true, though, in product marketing. The professionals must supply the grist for the marketing mills. The auto and cereal companies don’t have to rely on the people on the line to market. The problem with that is that when every marketing idea is a hard sell within a law or accounting firm, when every partner has something to say and says it, a lot of marketing ideas don’t get into play. The lawyers and accountants had trouble understanding that they must be as conversant in marketing practice as the marketing professionals, and that marketing professionals must be substantially conversant in professional firm management That’s what Marketing 2.0 has been like, and is only now beginning to change. And here we begin to see the beginning of a new era – Professional Services Marketing 3.0.
But evolution often has a life of its own, and what should be is often what will be. With new generations of professionals moving into positions of authority – professionals not totally imbued with, nor inhibited by, the traditions of their elders. What is emerging, then, is Marketing 3.0. It is the next stage of the evolution, and while its seeds are in the past three decades since Bates, it portends substantial change for both the marketers and the professionals. This, I might add, is not conjecture, but demonstrable fact.
Professional Services Marketing 3.0 brings us the lawyer and accountant who is now completely conversant with the role of marketing in the practice, the techniques of marketing, and the role of the professional marketer. Where, under 2.0, it was the professional versus the marketer, we now begin to see the professional/marketer – in a new partnership.
What we see, also, are new kinds of firms, with new configurations, developed to improve productivity and client service. We see new attitudes by the professionals, and new professional-marketer relationships. It’s a new step in the evolutionary process.
That’s what this book is about – how to learn to swim to shore in a churning and turbulent sea of evolution and change. How to recognize and participate profitably in the incoming tide. How to use your own resources to survive and thrive when your competitors are drowning in a sea of despair. How to find and sow the seeds of opportunity in the midst of crisis. How to survive as the future unfolds.
Truth told, for all that we do know, there’s still a lot of mystery about professional services marketing that we don’t fathom. There’s a lot of talking and writing until you get to actually selling a service – a lot of arrows shot into the air in the hope that some will land where you want them. A lot of energy, effort, and yes, money expended, in the attempt to persuade prospective clients to choose your firm rather than another – when that need for your services arises. My fond hope is that the contents of the following pages will help demystify the process.
What’s different about this book is that it isn’t an A to Z primer. Rather, it’s a selection of my writings on professional services marketing since 1980 and before. In other words, from start to now, to a possible — possible – future. It draws heavily from my experience as a professional services marketer by including a selection of my writing from both The Marcus Letter and other publications – material of universal substance that will stand the practitioners in good stead under most conditions in both the present and the future. Some of the articles appeared, either as reprints or originally, in such publications (both online and in hard copy) as Rain Today, Law Firm Partnership and Benefits Report, Of Counsel, and Law Journal Newsletter’s Legal Tech Newsletter.
It’s in two sections – Section One addresses the anatomy of professional services marketing – its roots and evolutionary movement. These are the underlying elements that best define the nature and practice of contemporary professional services marketing. It describes, as well, the dynamic that drives the evolution from Marketing 1.0 to Marketing 3.0.
In Section Two are the timeless basics – the mechanics of marketing — those practices that I first defined in 1980 and subsequently, and that continue to be the practices underlying the marketing process. These chapters are also the embellishments – the refinements of the basic practices, as dictated by experience (both mine, and that of others) and evolution, and that lead to the future.
If there is any coherent theme, it’s that professional services marketing is indeed an evolutionary process – starting from Bates as a base, and still evolving, and those factors that portend the future. In other words, adventures in the evolving anatomy of professional services marketing.
As for the future, I’m against prognostication, simply because it’s impossible to do with sufficient accuracy to make it worth the effort. (See Chapter 5) Most change — as I’ve written before and in the following pages – is not an event, it’s a process that is constantly assaulted by random and unpredictable events. Yes, there’s the occasional innovator, but it’s most likely to be someone who has the ability to see and respond rapidly to changing conditions in the marketplace. It’s a dramatic evolution from the past three decades since Bates. Usually it’s propelled by external forces, such as the economy, changing client needs, and technology. You can prepare for change to a degree by watching trends, and by understanding that it happens due to external forces. But unless you’re a gambler, don’t bet too heavily on any prediction you make for the future of your firm.
At the same time, you can extrapolate a great deal from the past and make reasonable assumptions about how the past may dictate the future. Sometimes. Not always. That’s why this book draws heavily on articles I’ve written and speeches I’ve given that defined the marketing process in terms of those verities of the past that are possibly to be the verities of the future. This is simply because they have been proven to be not only workable, and ultimately to be the foundations of contemporary marketing – but also because they are likely to be as important to marketing now and in the future as they were decades ago. Some practices are immutable, not likely to change, nor should they. Some, particularly those driven by new technology, will and should change. Some changes are as complex and unpredictable as was the advent of the social media. An example is some of the stuff in the article I wrote in 1980 for The Virginia Accountant, which is included as Chapter 9 in the following pages. Much has changed in the interim, but they are, for the most part, embellishments. The basic verities still preside.
To understand the foundation for professional services marketing, its anatomy – as compared to that of product management and marketing – must be understood. It’s at the core of professional services marketing.
There is, primarily, the difference between the structures of professional firms and those of manufacturing companies. Manufacturers have management flexibility not traditionally available to professional firms. Lawyers and accountants are constrained by the limits of partnership and the Canons of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct that inhibit more than they allow in dealing with the public.
Manufacturers can generally acquire and allocate capital more freely and creatively than professional firms, which have limited access to capital beyond revenues and partner contributions. Too often, every partner has a say in how capital is used, and is often constrained by realizing that every penny spent comes out of his or her pocket. There is, of course, debt, but that can be an unreliable option. Obviously, ways must be found to acquire capital and use it more effectively, as well as to raise capital from external sources without jeopardizing the basic tenets of professionalism. It can be done, and at this writing, some firms are seriously considering it, particularly in Great Britain.
Manufacturing companies are usually run by managers who have either been specifically trained in management techniques, or who have acquired management skills as they moved up the corporate ladder. Lawyers are trained in law and accountants are trained in accounting. Even those professionals with MBAs have little management experience until they rise to the top of the partnership. Inherent in the training of management is the enhanced understanding of customer needs, and serving those needs – an understanding that often seems inimical to professionals.
Manufacturers know that at the core of their businesses (according to the legendary consultant, Peter Drucker) are the customers, and therefore that marketing – making and keeping new customers – is at the core of their existence. Many lawyers and accountants have yet, for the most part, to grasp this concept, and to know that marketing is integral to their success. Professionals too frequently see marketing as ancillary to the practice. Necessity now requires that activities be measured in terms of the needs of our times – of the economy, of technology, of the changing demands of the clientele, and certainly of competition.
Manufacturers can change virtually on a moment’s notice to adapt to competition, to changing public needs and tastes, or to technological advances. Professionals, bound by traditions and the rules of each profession’s practices and professional societies, as well as an inflated sense of their own value, tend to equate change with devil worship – or at least as a threat to the integrity of the practice. Considering these distractions, and the ways in which they inhibit professional firms, think of what marvelous opportunities exist for the venturesome lawyer and the imaginative accountants – often by overcoming traditional obstacles. The future, I believe, lies in recognizing these differences, and understanding that much in this venue must be made more relevant to the needs of the current and emerging economic, social and technical environment. In other words, the practices of law and accounting can’t continue to function in the new competitive environment as they have for so many generations.
Let me here reiterate another basic point about this book. When I talk about process or technique, none of it’s academic theory. Everything I write or otherwise advocate is something I’ve tested and done, and know from firsthand experience actually works.
The first book I wrote on professional services marketing, in the early 1980s, was called Competing for Clients. It led to the hard copy newsletter, The Marcus Report, which then became The Marcus Letter, which then became www.marcusletter.com. I know that much of what I did in those early days – I had an accounting firm marketing client prior to Bates, so I guess that makes me a pioneer – had never been done before by lawyers or accountants. Some of it was adapted from product marketing, because we learned early on that professional services marketing was very different from product marketing, and there were no predecessors to teach us how to deal with those differences. Until we got it right, we made mistakes, and ideas and techniques had to be either adapted or rejected, but we learned. And what we learned always wound up in writing. These ideas and concepts were honed in work I did for many accounting and law firms, both large and small. Not in a vacuum, though. I know some very smart people.
I’ve always had help from good friends whose major assets, for me, were that they were smarter than I am. Long list, but readers and other marketing professionals will know most of them. Gerry Riskin, Patrick McKenna, Larry Smith, Bruce MacEwen, Janet Stanton, Sally Schmidt, Silvia Coulter, Suzanne Lowe, Louise Rothery, Michelle Golden, Jordon Furlong, Ron Baker, Jay Shepherd, Gale Crosley, ALM’s Wendy Kaplan Stavinhoa and Steve Salkin, Richard Levick, Peter Horowitz, Silvia Hodges, Jean Caragher, Accounting Today’s excellent editor, Bill Carlino, and Ken Wright stand out, among many others. My friend and publisher, Rick Telberg, was the best trade book editor I ever knew, and knows more about the accounting profession than most accountants. David Maister, a fellow pioneer and an insightful consultant to the professions, has on many occasions been the wind beneath my wings. His one-firm firm concept is a goal for every firm to aspire to. Richard Chaplin, founder and CEO of England and Europe’s Practice Management International LLP, and publisher of PM, Professional Marketing magazine, and its brilliant editor, Nadia Cristina, are long time friends and hosts , as well as publisher of many of my articles. Mine own accountant, Karen Giammattei, has been a valuable resource. I owe a lot to my first real mentor, Dick Weiner, who, when he hired me at Ruder & Finn in 1959, taught me how to think like a marketer and how to listen to clients, and whose strongest virtue as a teacher, in addition to his uncanny imaginative and lightning mind, may have been his patience with my youthful enthusiasm. Mike Giglio, a master of project management, helped me put it into perspective. And without the technical help of my good friend (and former Microsoft tech support genius), Brett Schuhmacher, I’d still be writing by pen and ink. David Urbanik, Chief Operating Officer of Halloran & Sage, LLP , who inspired the concept of Marketing 3.0 by virtue of being a prime example of the new marketing-oriented law firm professional, triggers my thinking about the whole subject of professional services marketing. And as I write this, my former boss at Ruder and Finn, Bill Ruder, has just passed away. A unique and powerful innovator in the public relations field, I learned a great deal about selling and client relations from him. He was both brilliant and warm. And more than most, he helped bring maturity to the public relations field.
I know it’s traditional for authors to thank wives in a book. But my wife, Mana, specifically and actively encouraged me during the task of writing this and many other books. For the many years of our marriage, and the many books and articles I’ve written and continue to write, she has personified the wisdom and intelligence that fuels an author’s efforts. She is one very smart lady. She reads my stuff and guards me against saying foolish things. For this, I thank her profusely.
My first job in the professions in 1951 was for the accounting firm that was then called Peat, Marwick, Mitchell. It was a revelation to a young man, fresh out of the World War II Army Air Force, with a background in the theater and a degree in economics and philosophy. I had worked my way through college after the war as a clerk in the business reference division of the Brooklyn Public Library. Peat Marwick had just merged with another accounting firm, and I was retained in 1951 to integrate the libraries and serve as the librarian. The firm, back then, and the profession, were run pretty much as they had been when Mr. Peat met Mr. Marwick somewhere around the turn of the 20th century.
Among the many things I learned in that job, in addition to the a lot about the accounting profession, were the Cannons of Ethics and the Code of Professional Conduct that prohibited frank marketing (as opposed to what might be called social contact practice development) as we know it today. Because part of my Air Force work after the Japanese surrender entailed a measure of public relations, I suggested to the accountants that because educating clients was a normal responsibility, doing so on a planned basis might be a good way to enhance practice development. To a limited degree, the accountants accepted this, and a few other ideas, such as the judicious use of articles in client trade journals. And there went virtue.
Subsequently, working with accounting and law firms of all sizes gave me not only similar insights into those professions, but gave me to understand the differences in marketing techniques – slight as they were — between law and accounting firms. The similarities, however, are not only in marketing techniques, but it in the professionals’ attitudes toward marketing generally.
I mention this because most of this book is about where we were then, where we went afterwards, where we are now, and where we may be going next. Or more accurately, what kind of future we may be entering now.
It’s also about what hasn’t changed in professional service marketing that should have. Thus, included is the article I wrote on accounting firm marketing in 1980 (Chapter One) that’s as accurate and effective today as it was then – despite the vast changes that have taken place in the professions, in the economy, in business, since then. As the noted scientist, Stephen Jay Gould, reminded us, evolution can be a slow process.
Some of the marketing practices I wrote about in the 1970s and 1980s are still relevant today – some because they’re still useful, (like public relations, which hasn’t changed much in decades, except for the ingenuity of some of those who practice it). Some are relevant but not as useful as they could be (like advertising) because the message hasn’t penetrated to Madison Avenue. There’s also the fact that new people keep coming into the field as beginners, and have much to learn about basics.
Set forth in the following pages are ideas and suggestions for a rational approach to finding and seizing opportunities for growth in a time when others are retrenching.
These proposals and ideas are not, as they say in the pharmaceutical industry, for everyone. They are not for the hidebound, the tradition bound, nor the unimaginative professional who thinks that the long-standing traditions of professional practice will revive and save the day. They require boldness, vision, and management skills. Then they work.
I once got into an argument with a partner in one of the then-Big Eight accounting firms about an ad we were doing. Finally, in exasperation, he said to me, ”Look – I have a degree in finance and accounting and an MBA. I had to pass a tough test to get my CPA, and served a decade-long apprenticeship to become a partner. And I say we do it my way.”
To which I replied, “What we do in marketing isn’t exactly nuclear physics. But we have our training, our skills, and our experience. And I say we must do it my way.” And we did.
In many firms today, that story is anachronistic. And that’s the future of law and accounting firm marketing. Read on to see why.
Bruce W. Marcus