The Talent

May 27, 2009 5:30 AM


Posted by Drew Combs

With Citigroup marketing executive Jeanne Sdroulas joining Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe as chief marketing officer earlier this month, Orrick's effort to fill the CMO position, which had been open since December, came to an end. (Sdroulas replaced John Hodder, who left to take the top marketing job at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.)

But the search continues for several other law firms. Those with vacancies in top marketing positions include: Morrison & Foerster (Susan Klein started in April 2008 and left late last year); Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman (Liz Pava started in June 2006 and left last August); Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy (Bob Gero joined the firm in June 2005 and left the firm last December); and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (Brian Lambert was hired in February 2008 and was gone from the firm sometime by the end of the year). Just last week, Duane Morris CMO Edward Schechter announced his departure from the firm after a comparatively long eight-year tenure. Add yet another job opening to the list.

Given the demands placed on top legal marketing executives from varying, and sometimes competing, sources these jobs are naturally subject to a certain amount of volatility and turnover, according to industry observers (we spoke with recruiters, law firm marketers, and lawyers).

These factors are also why courtships between firms and applicants for the positions can be drawn out over several months. "It's ideal for firms to be patient and recruit the right person because these positions work closely with firm management," says Patrick Bustamante, who last month joined Kansas City-based Stinson Morrison Hecker as CMO after working as director of communications at Heller Ehrman. "They have to understand the firm's culture and business priorities," he says.

But industry watchers also say instability in the legal market, changing priorities, and a desire to keep expenses down also are factors in some of the vacancies. "A chief marketing officer is a big-ticket item," says Jennifer Johnson, a recruiter at Wisnik Career Enterprises, Inc., a placement firm specializing in legal marketing positions. "It is a high dollar amount for a firm to pay out to a nonfee earner when it may be letting go of lawyers." According to industry sources, annual salaries for a firm's top marketing officers usually range from $250,000 to $400,000; marketing directors or officers at the top 20 firms of The Am Law 100 can command $450,000 and higher.

Keith Wetmore, the chair of Morrison & Foerster, among the firms looking for a chief marketing officer, declines to talk about specific personnel issues but says his firm remains committed to the position. The firm has been without a CMO since Susan Klein left late last year. Sonnenschein's CMO also departed late last year after a relatively short tenure that didn't reach a year. Brian Lambert was resident in the firm's Charlotte office, which is no more; he joined Sonnenschein from Wachovia Corporation, where he was head of business development for the bank's Treasury Services Division. According to a firm spokesperson, the firm plans to fill the CMO position and is actively searching for one.

Wetmore contends the value of marketing and business development has increased as a result of the economic downturn and related developments. "There has never been a time when we have been more engaged in pushing our ideas out there," he says. "We have put out hundreds of client alerts on things that are happening in the markets and with regulations."  There has been another notable change, he says: "less swag."

Jennifer Manton, the chief marketing officer at Loeb & Loeb, concurs that while the legal industry may be facing an overall decline in demand, marketing departments have been quite busy. "Lawyers are out pounding the pavement," she says, "so marketing departments are strapped to get product out the door." The product includes conducting market and client research, and preparing RFPs and practice plans.

While general branding campaigns may be less of a focus right now, marketing initiatives such as business development training still remain popular, law firm marketing executives say. "The value of a new Web site or brochure can't be measured in dollars," says Heather Milligan, the director of marketing at Los Angeles-based Barger & Wolen, "but business coaching and training for attorneys can be more clearly converted into money."

In addition to new priorities and less swag, marketing departments at law firms are making due with less people. As law firms have made lawyer and staff cuts in response to falling revenue, marketing personnel also have faced cuts. At Orrick, Sdroulas will oversee a downsized department--in March, Orrick laid-off 100 lawyers and 200 staff members, some of which were in the firm's 50-person marketing and business development teams.

But even as the legal industry faces major challenges and contraction, at times the churn of marketing executives can appear rather ordinary. Allan Whitescarver, previously of Orrick, joined Paul Hasting as director of public relations earlier this month. Whitescarver says even with all the changes in the legal industry, marketing professionals "can still have a positive impact on driving revenue."

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I'm a high tech CMO who has taken a company public as a 16b officer post SarbOx - am not a 'legal expert' but am an expert at what it takes to be a great CMO as I am a student of the game. I'd also consider the following in selecting a CMO:

1. CMOs connect the customer experience back to the organization to drive revenue. Now is the time in these economic times to strengthen existing client relationships and question - is your firm in the best position to recover when the economy recovers?

2. A great CMO will drive top line growth by analyzing new market opportunities that may not have previously existed or may not have been thought about. This is why great companies find outside leadership - to think differently.

3. A CMO is an investment with ROI, not an expense, that a CEO should expect to get an ROI on--this article talks about the expense only aspect with focus on salary. What about bullets 1+2 above, how is new revenue driven?

4. The more automated the sales and marketing process is within a firm, the more successful a company is top line and bottom line wise (see SiriusDecisions research 2009). If your firm is not automated or committed to automate, your investment in a CMO will be diluted, your ROI will be significantly more challenging, and everyone is wasting valuable time/energy. This leads to my next statement...

5. In ANY industry, the average tenure of CMOs is 24 months and improving (google it!) Tenure lengthening correlates to firms investing in the sales and marketing automation; now tangible ROI can be visibly seen for the first time in a marketing function that was previously 'fuzzy' at best.

Law firms acceptance of the CMO position has entirely to do with the organization's culture and the firm's desire, willingness and ability to grasp the concept that everyone is in sales--including lawyers--and that others may, in fact, know better how the marketplace operates, how the customer buys, and that it isn't about how smart they are or where they went to school, but how well they can solve the business problems the organization faces and how well they build and maintain relationships.

Unfortunately, as we have observed with law firms' marketing investments over the past 20 years, some firms seem to fervently hope that their marketing investments will obviate the need for everyone in the organization to do any selling or take personal responsibility for results, as both Carol and Jon suggest. As my colleague Mike O’Horo says, "if you can't sell, all the getting found (marketing) in the world is just wasted opportunity."

I highly doubt any of these professionals left their posts based on matters of competency, but rather I suspect both parties suffered a lack of clarity of expectations during the courtship.

Note to self: in law firms, expectations can sometimes change without notifying you [CMO].

It's dangerous ground to depend on what transpired in the interviews, the job description or written objectives. Factions in the firm may have separate sets of expectations that don’t match those of the firm management. Finding them doesn't take long, in my experience. Dealing with competing priorities of partners is determined by the politics of the organization; best left for another discussion.

Experienced CMOs contemplating a move to the legal world for the first time would do well to read the Maister article on lawyers and law firms. Lest they conclude they've entered a parallel universe, CMO newbies should recognize that their notions of leadership, strategy, change, management, planning, speed, decision-making, execution, teamwork, risk taking, and accountability are about to be challenged. "I'm Not In Kansas Anymore" would make a suitable new CMO office wall hanging.

"I'm not in Kansas anymore" is a good start at understanding the challenges facing a modern law firm CMO. Comparing the skills needed to succeed in a law firm to those necessary in a similary titled corporate role can be akin to comparing apples to snowboarding. That's not to say a law firm CMO position is not a desirable role to aspire to -- but it does require an adjustment to expectations. Law firm leaders and marketers share responsibility for creating these challenges, and for working out how to overcome them. It's a topic worth debating. Law firms need, now more than ever, a clear strategy to find, win and keep clients in today's climate, and a good CMO can help guide the way.

Here's one elephant in the room: why are law firm marketing staff overwhelmingly women while partners are overwhelmingly male? And what does that say about what BigLaw partners really thin about marketing?

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