As Business Development and Marketing professionals, we hype the value of tracking Big Data and the importance of monitoring ROI. Our attorneys track their own efficiency through their time entries for billable work, with an emphasis on only using the time necessary to accomplish a task. So, in an age of investing more in fewer activities to maximize results, it only makes sense that we would ultimately combine the concepts, and begin streamlining the processes taking place within our legal marketing departments. By defining our marketing operations, we ultimately optimize our workflow and productivity – even if we are serving on a marketing team of one.

During the breakout session, “Managing the Business of Marketing” at the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference, panelists expressed that a robust and effective operational foundation in a marketing department can significantly propel its strategic activities.

As such, one of the current trends in legal marketing at large law firms, as noted by moderator Jennifer Scalzi, President of J. Johnson Executive Search, is the addition of Marketing Operations professionals. These managers are brought on board to analyze and streamline processes so that the Marketing Department can operate at its highest potential.

So where do we begin? For those of us at small or medium-sized firms with minimal staffing, we may even wonder if it’s necessary to look at our operations. That is, until you consider how many times you’ve been slammed with projects and still asked to take on one more thing.

“It is within almost anyone’s power, no matter the size of the operation, to have those conversations,” said panelist Gordon Braun-Woodbury, Executive Director of Marketing Operations at KPMG Canada.

Start with clarity, said Braun-Woodbury. Be clear with attorneys on what the Marketing Department will and will not do. Engage in explicit conversations about workload and time, and prepare your partners to be told no, by setting advance expectations for the firm’s marketing and business development priorities. It’s also important to set standards, said Braun-Woodbury. Establish a baseline so that marketing operations are understood throughout the firm.

“What I found more than anything, and it sounds kind of obvious and basic,” said panelist Rebecca Minihane, Director of Marketing Operations at Latham & Watkins. “It’s listening to people.”

Look for weak signals in your current system, and evaluate the processes in place as business develops in new ways. Then, she goes on to say, take it further and be proactive in your listening: conduct focus groups of key stakeholders, and encourage constructive feedback on what works and what doesn’t work. Minihane discovered, as an example, that the newsletter production process at Latham & Watkins had become a very cumbersome process. Ultimately, after dissecting each part of the process, she was able to streamline the work and rebuild the protocol.

For firms with offices across several markets, panelist Erika Steinberg, the newly promoted Director of Marketing Operations at Sidley Austin, suggested that marketers start by looking first at areas where you really need to provide a standard level of service for clients. One of her first operations tasks was to put together a resource for her Marketing Department, to provide consistent information for a high level of user experience with each of their offices. To Steinberg, her role in “Operations” is defined as a Chief of Staff position, focusing on process, efficiency, and consistency with human elements in mind.

“Document your processes,” said Steinberg. “It is far more complex than anybody thinks.”

Look at what you’re doing most often to discover inefficiencies and inconsistencies. Minihane agrees, adding that while the idea of tracking might seem overwhelming, marketing operations provides an opportunity to constantly improve and enhance systems and processes.

You may find, as noted by Braun-Woodbury, that some systems can be standardized, and others possibly outsourced. But be ready.

“There is a dark side to all of this,” said Gordon Braun-Woodbury, Executive Director of Marketing Operations at KPMG Canada. “Resistance to change.”

Learn more from the panelists, including details on their use of CRM and advice for marketers at smaller firms, in this video shared by a third-party. All information contained in this blog was shared at “Managing the Business of Marketing”, a panel presentation at the Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference in Austin, Texas in April 2016.