By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis, Senior Practice Advisors

“Why take the time to have a marketing retreat? Aren’t there more important things to do… like actually marketing?” This is the sentiment expressed to us by partners who dislike setting aside a chunk of good, billable time to focus on discussing client development. Usually one of their partners has come to us with the idea of having a marketing retreat and they want us to help convince the reluctant one it’s a good idea. Sometimes we’re successful in this effort, and sometimes we’re not. When we’re not, the resistant ones show up clutching files in one hand and their cell phone in the other, ready to dash out the door at the first remotely legitimate interruption.

But at least they show up. Because, for the most part, once they’re in the room exposed to new ideas for client development and hearing how small shifts in their marketing strategies can make a huge difference – they’re sold on the idea. By being forced to step off their treadmill for a few hours, they begin to understand that taking time to focus their scattershot marketing efforts can lead to the kind of results that they want for their firm. Granted, there are always a group of curmudgeons (young or old) who never see the value in planning and don’t understand strategic marketing, but fortunately for them, others do and are willing to invest the time.

Many of the top-producing attorneys we work with meet regularly with their partners to check the relevancy of their goals, inspire and challenge each other. A tax attorney we work with in the Chicago area, for example, heads up a rapidly growing tax assessment firm. In spite of a crushing schedule, he stops once a year, gathers up his team and talks about which marketing strategies worked and which didn’t in the previous year. For the first time, his firm had hired a marketing director and charged her with not only re-energizing all of their marketing efforts, but cultivating new hotel and condominium business.

Determined to look back before he stepped forward, our client wanted to see if this new approach was working. His analysis showed in no uncertain terms that his investment in a marketing director and the focus on new business was indeed paying off. His business from hotels and condominiums showed record highs and he was able to attribute over $150,000 worth of new business to the efforts of the marketing director in conjunction with his own.

Beyond looking at these results he also decided to analyze all marketing efforts made the year prior. He made a list of all their different client development activities and scored each category on, one) whether or not it deepened his relationships with his referral sources, and two) whether or not it directly brought in new business. His categories included the following: what he calls ‘lunches with lawyers’ (he receives a great many referrals from his colleagues); small gifts given over the holidays; activities such as outings done with various property management companies; educational seminars directed at decision makers within targeted groups; staffing a trade show booth at an industry conference and sending out his annual newsletter.

After scoring each of these efforts, he discovered face-to-face activities garnered him the most direct business, with the exception of the trade show booth which produced no real results. The response to his newsletter, which he spends a great deal of time on, offered the biggest surprise as it stimulated substantial interest (he received over 100 calls responding to what he had written – an extraordinary result and not one easily duplicated by other law firms). Given this, in the coming year he will up the number of issues that he produces, in order to have one such piece in front of his referral sources per quarter, and he’ll schedule more one-on-one activities for himself and his marketing director.

Because he held a marketing retreat, he was able to make informed decisions on the strategies he’ll carry forward and the ones best left as interesting experiments. Consequently, he will move into the coming year armed with accurate data and specifically targeted goals.

Like this attorney, the legal landscape in which you live is not static. Change is ever present: referral sources dry up, die or move away; you are joined by a new partner; legislation changes the services you provide; you take on a newsworthy case or you decide to launch a new practice area. These are just a few of the many changes that can occur over the course of a year in your career.

Fortunately, changes like these are fodder for the creative marketer. Often what appears to be stressful or dramatic change can be spun in a positive way. Depending on what’s happened in your year, you may need to adjust your marketing goals to compensate for a reduction in referral sources; to feature a change in the services you offer or to publicize a new partner.

For most firms, the annual marketing retreat is a chance to:

  • review last year’s or year-to-date marketing results
  • focus on marketing successes and acknowledge team members
  • educate other partners or team members on marketing strategies
  • establish next year’s marketing targets: important for capacity planning and budgeting [it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where you want to go]
  • establish accountability systems or quarterly checkpoints for your goals
  • assess the cost effectiveness of using the Yellow Pages or other advertising vehicles

If your firm conducts seminars and workshops as part of its marketing plan or works strategically with other organizations, the annual marketing retreat is a good time to establish dates for upcoming events such as co-sponsored seminars or signature events.

Who Should Attend?

Senior partners should be the first on the roster to attend any meetings about marketing. If there are associates who are being trained to market themselves, they should also attend. If the firm has a marketing director or assistant, they should not only attend, but set up the meeting for the participants. A gathering like this is even useful for those staff members who are often in a position to cultivate more business than they realize. Whatever group is selected to attend, the retreat facilitator and firm management should place on the agenda exercises and discussions which allow for the team to contribute their ideas on client development. The more contributions seem to come from the team – the greater their buy-in will be.

Regardless of the size of your firm, an annual retreat in which marketing objectives are discussed and established helps keep the focus on the most important strategies for growing the firm. The marketing retreat is a time to assess your client mix, your firm’s image, new opportunities for business, and determine who will carry out each of the responsibilities. Taking the opportunity to examine and retool your marketing efforts at least once a year will significantly accelerate your firm’s growth.

Keep in mind that in an uncertain economy it is even more important to try to forecast trends and project results. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when all is said and done – even if you don’t achieve all of your objectives, it’s the mental exercise of planning that makes all the difference.

Learn more about our law firm retreats.

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