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Five Ways to Lose Your Marketing Director

It is interesting that almost 30 years after marketing entered the professional realm, we still haven’t figured out how to hire and keep marketing people. Here are the most common mistakes I have seen in working with accounting and law firms who have in-house marketers (forgive the feminine pronoun, which is not meant to exclude the many wonderful male marketers out there):

Hiring someone before creating a job description. That usually means the person with the best smile and peppiest personality gets the job. While smiling and peppiness are great attributes in almost anyone, they are not enough to handle the rough seas in which professional service marketers must swim.

A better way: Write a job description after consulting with people who understand professional services marketing. Do your research, interview extensively, and choose for the long term.

Hiring someone at the wrong time. Just as everyone is a genius when the stock market is trending up, partners think they don’t need business development when they are flush with cash. It is only when the pipeline sputters that you get worried and hire a marketing person to create a quick turn-around.

A better way: Hire when things are going well in your firm, not when they are sliding. It usually takes a couple of years before many partners even begin to understand the marketing function’s purpose. Think ahead. I have yet to meet a marketing person who has saved a firm from itself.

Letting the new marketer sink or swim on her own. Marketing directors must have the consistent support of your highest ranking firm members, particularly the managing partner, or they will, without doubt, fail. When the honeymoon with the marketer is over, the discipline and focus need to kick in. Senior members of your firm must continue to support the marketing effort after the marketer has made her first mistake, had her first bad idea (or series of bad ideas) and had her first argument with a partner. If you have hired well, your relationship with the marketing professional will sustain the inevitable bumps and bruises. But, like your relationship with clients, the relationship of senior professionals to marketers must be nurtured.

A better way: Managing partners should hold regular weekly meetings with their marketing professional. Review workload, find out which partners are using or misusing marketing resources and why, and take a read on your marketer’s pressure. If you sense something is wrong, ask her. She will tell you.

Overwhelming the marketer with non-business development tasks. This happens all the time. Marketing becomes the basket into which nonbillable tasks tumble. Buying gifts for employees, planning and producing internal parties, and decorating the office at holiday time often fall to the marketer, usually because the partners don’t know who else to turn to.

A better way: use your administrative/secretarial staff more effectively. Broaden your perspective about what they can do; you will be surprised at the creativity waiting to be tapped at the administrative level. Using a marketer as an administrative assistant decreases her value to your firm.

Expecting too little of the marketer. Partners sometimes think they really do know everything when it comes to their firms. Some of you believe that, because you are dealing with a marketer who is not a member of your profession, she probably doesn’t have much of value to offer beyond the marketing basics. What a mistake! If you have hired well, you have someone on your team who can see your firm with the valuable perspective of an educated, informed outsider.

A better way: include your marketer in executive committee and other top-level meetings. Let her know what is happening internally so she can help you deal with the ramifications externally. Tell her what you are thinking about firm strategy, resources, and tactics and ask her what she thinks. Rather than seeing her as another part of your overhead, look at her as a trusted advisor. If you have hired well, she will not fail you.

© Melinda Guillemette 2009