Demands on lawyers' time were great enough before the onslaught of online marketing. Now, these demands can seem overpowering. Blogging? Check. Webinars? Check. Video production? Check. Content production? Check. Social media posting? Check. Podcast? Check. What was that other thing you were supposed to be doing? Oh yes, being an attorney. That was it.
As important as marketing and business development are, being a good attorney comes first. Always. Tending to client needs comes first. Without good client service, marketing, referrals and new client intake will languish.
If you find that you are stretched so thin that the most important aspect of your practice — actually practicing — is suffering, you may need the services of a professional marketing company.
Certainly, there are plenty of online marketing companies from which to choose. Some focus on large firms, some on small. Some will focus on niche practice areas while others work with firms offering a diverse suite of services. Some will be able to give you specifics about tactics and growth strategies while others will offer platitudes about awareness and engagement. How do you uncover which company will best meet your requirements?
Here are five questions you can ask that will help you learn a company's strengths, weaknesses and ability to form a long-term working relationship with your firm.
1. How do you manage communication?
The methods a marketing company employs to work with clients are often as important as the tangible services the company provides. Your marketing team is your voice. The individuals working on your campaigns need to be able to understand you in order to achieve your firm's goals and effectively convey your message to a wider audience.
You should be in regular contact with your marketing company. Ideally, your relationship will be collaborative, with your team providing status updates and suggestions and you providing feedback. Your marketing company will need a process for developing timelines, organizing ideas, creating deliverables and measuring results. It should have systems in place for keeping you informed of progress in all of these areas. If communication is flowing smoothly, your team will be able to spend more time on actual work.
Since communication styles can vary significantly, you should establish some ground rules up front. Do you prefer to speak by phone or communicate through email? Will you expect frequent updates, or do you prefer to stay on the sidelines? It is important to understand your own communication comfort zone and to determine whether the company can meet your expectations in this area.
Hopefully, your relationship with your marketing company will be sustained long-term. You will need to be able to engage in effective communication throughout the relationship. Breakdowns can be both costly and frustrating.
2. Who will we be working with?
You should know who will be managing your account and performing the work. Some agencies will outsource work overseas, some will use a mix of employees and freelance workers and others will manage all work in-house. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these scenarios, and your firm may prefer one arrangement over another.
The level of experience each team member has marketing for your areas of practice and for firms of your size is important. You need to be confident in each team member's ability to handle the work and fit with the culture and style of your firm.
3. What can we expect from the process?
Work with a marketing company can take a number of forms, from a total branding remake to a series of PPC campaigns. Each task your marketing company undertakes should have an established process. And you should know that your marketing company can properly articulate this system.
You should know, for example, how it will handle client onboarding. How will the members of your team be assigned, and how will you get to know these individuals? How will they manage and assess current campaigns while re-evaluating and creating new goals?
From a technical standpoint, you will need to understand what items the new company needs to get started, and how it manages timelines and deliverables. You should know what expectations the marketing company has of you, for example how it handles approvals, ongoing campaign management and feedback.
Also consider how proactive your team will be as work moves forward. Is the company able to anticipate needed changes, and will it offer recommendations — even if it thinks you may disagree? Will the company contact you when strategies need to be re-evaluated?
Ask how the firm performs research and how it handles idea generation, writing and scheduling. Your content must be original and your website must be built for conversion; good marketing companies will have answers as to how they will achieve these goals.
4. How do you monitor progress? Can you change course if needed?
Your marketing company will have access to a lot of data. And that data will need to be audited regularly. Tracking is key to your success. At a minimum, your team should be willing to share performance metrics. If you cannot access this information, chances are the company is not doing much work for you.
However, the company's ability to make data available is the bare minimum. You should also understand which key performance indicators your company is tracking and why. A marketing company certainly has the ability to throw a lot of numbers at you. Can it adequately explain what those numbers mean? Can it articulate why it is monitoring certain statistics and how the data translate into campaign successes or failures?
Marketers need to be able to present results in ways that are meaningful to your firm. If the company is focused on your growth, it will be monitoring traffic, lead generation and conversions. It will be able to discuss not only the raw data but how that data affects your bottom line. Your team should be able to share how various tactics work to produce clients and revenue.
5. What makes a good client good? (And a bad client bad?)
Your discussions with a potential marketing company are similar to a job interview. You are trying to uncover whether there is a good organizational fit between your firm and your new team upon which you can build a solid working relationship. Ask what qualities make the best clients so easy to work with and what makes the worst clients so difficult. This may give you some unexpected but valuable insight into both the way the company works and what it expects from its clients.
It is worth the effort to thoroughly vet a potential new marketing company. Your interview should answer questions that go beyond years of experience and pricing. You are looking for a company that will fit with your firm's culture and goals, and one that can articulate both a broad vision for your progress and specific means of achieving it.