A Street Smart Guide to Marketing Consultants
Reprinted from the “Shelton Shares” Column in Attorney at Law Magazine
I recently spoke with an AmLaw partner who hired a marketing consultant to help him to help him with IAM (Individual Attorney Marketing) to grow his personal client base. The consultant outlined a strategy that focused primarily on social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Adwords etc. This would require substantial investments of both time and capital. Since he’d already paid a retainer, he tried some of what was suggested but quickly realized he’d wasted his money.
While these social platforms may enhance SEO and brand for firms, they’re just not effective for individual high-end attorneys. He got so frustrated he didn’t bother getting the last hour he paid for.
A Lawyer is Not a Pet Shop
Since he still had credit on his retainer, I told him I wanted him to call the consultant and ask them one question:
“How would your strategy be different if I were opening a pet shop?”
The so-called “expert” couldn’t come up with an answer. A lawyer and a pet shop. As I was taught in kindergarten: “These two things are not alike.”
Now let me make clear that social media and content marketing are indeed, the wave of the future. Anyone saying otherwise is simply not paying attention. However, executives seeking counsel to handle an IPO, aren’t looking for their next attorney on Facebook or Instagram.
Whether traditional or cyber-specialists, there are marketing consultants who can offer advice that will bring in clients or build your “book of business.” There are also those who offer generic templates, academic theory and jargon that are useless.
How to Vet out the Amateurs and Identify the Pros
No. 1: Look for a Niche.
In the case above, the marketing agent’s niche was “Anyone Who Will Pay Me.” This would be the equivalent of letting a personal injury attorney file your software patent application. While the PI attorney may be skillful in their space, their specialized knowledge isn’t applicable to your patent needs.
The idiosyncrasies of legal marketing are complex. You want someone with both legal expertise and ideally a solid grasp of your practice area(s)
No. 2: Experts Know How to Play to Your Strengths.
The first thing an expert does is assess the client and analyze factors such as market position etc. to determine strengths and weaknesses. Pay close attention to see if what you receive plays to you or your firm’s strengths. If not, it’s time to discontinue the relationship and find a consultant who will.
No. 3: Do Your Due Diligence.
If a consultant claims expertise in law firm or IAM, there are simple questions which will verify this. How much time have they spent working in a law firm as a Marketing Director or CMO? Are the clients they’ve worked with, doing work that is comparable in rate structure, target clients etc. as yours?
Once you’ve asked a few vetting questions, Google them and see what you find out about their experience, results and the online presence they have created for themselves.
No. 4: Ask for References.
Let’s start with the basics: Solid references who will verify the acumen and results achieved, are worth more than the best websites or slickest sales pitches. References should be a must with one possible exception: Newbies.
I have a soft spot for Newbies because everyone starts somewhere and as in most professions, this is a “chicken & egg” dilemma. Additionally, some of the best consultants I’ve personally hired have been brilliant, young entrepreneurs who just needed a break.
However, if you have the luxury of trying out an unknown, use some Street Smarts. Remember: they need you more than you need them. Negotiate aggressively. Make minimal commitments on your part and include contingencies that work in your favor. Also “dangle the carrot” and make a glowing testimonial and potential referrals, a component of your transaction.
No. 5: Beware of the “Extractors.”
It will come as no surprise to attorneys that just as in their profession, there are consultant who focus on trying to extract the maximum number of hours vs. providing the greatest value.
Ask a consultant for specifics about the number of hours anticipated, how success will be measured and within what timetable etc. Their answers will often tell you what you need to know, in order to qualify or disqualify them from further talks.
No. 6: Ask for Alternative Fee Arrangements.
Rather than the billable hour, see whether there are ways to structure some or all of the fees based on results. This can be tricky and you have to be careful about ethics guidelines but there are ways to pay reduced rates and contingency payouts for any professional service. I’ve even heard of lawyers doing such things…
No. 7: Ask for a Guarantee.
No marketing consultant can guarantee results. This is because the client will often resist change or fail to act. But consultants can still offer certain guarantees.
I recommend asking for a “30 Minute Guarantee.” This states during the first 30 minutes of consultation, they agree to refund your entire retainer if you don’t feel the consultant is both qualified and a “good match” for your specific needs. This is basically a guarantee against those who would give you “Pet Shop Consulting.”
Another benefit is that this may provide evidence as to the level of confidence they have in what they are offering.
No. 8: Competition Produces Better Results.
If a consultant does well in the pitch process, give them a shot but first shop them. Moreover, let them know you’re shopping them. Rates, deals and more can change, the moment a vendor knows they’re going against a competitor.
No. 9: Go with Your Gut.
When all is said and done, go with your gut feeling. If it’s a new consulting firm but your gut (and the payment arrangements) tell you they will help you to get clients in the door, give them a shot. Just remember to minimize your financial and time commitments accordingly.
On the other hand, if the most experienced and branded pro in the business gives you a visceral reaction for some reason, don’t sign the check. There are few comments that express regret like “I should have gone with my gut.”
The Street Smart Rule of Three
Like all professions, legal (or other niche) marketing consultants can be categorized into one of three groups:
The Best. They may be the brilliant, new up-and-comers or they may be seasoned pros with a proven track record. The one thing they will definitely bring to the table is clearly defined strategies that make sense to you. You will know on an instinctual level that they can help you or your firm.
The Worst. They make big promises but offer no advance insight or summation of what they will provide. They want all the money up front with no guarantees or even specifics about what they will provide. Their counsel would be as helpful to a pet shop owner as an attorney.
Those In Between. They may not be the worst but they’re not the best for your specific needs. They may be pretty good on a generic level or for another field but they’re not exactly what you need.
If you’re going to pay a marketing consultant for their expertise, make sure they fall into the first category.
Frederick Shelton is the CEO of Shelton & Steele and provides Rainmaking & Legal-Specific AI Consulting to lawyers and law firms. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org