When starting in a new firm, the key starting point is that which should apply to all new jobs:
Inventory your situation and identify your resources.
In a professional service firm, a huge part of this is to know, "Who is each player and what is his or her game?"
To start this, make an effort to understand the business in general and to gain a sense of the talents of each of the individuals with whom you now work. Here's how.
Schedule a 15-30 minute interview meeting with each practitioner in your firm—from new grads to seasoned senior partners.
Scheduling will probably be a hassle and it will take a lot of time to conduct all these meetings if you have a large firm. But it is worth it. When I was in-house, I had six offices and 180 attorneys, so it took about two months with meetings 2-3 days a week (I did still have to get other work done, too, after all). I still say it is well worth it!
For many of your interviewees, this will be their first one-on-one conversation with you and an important first impression for you both. You'll begin to develop relationships that are crucial to your success in the firm.
You will learn more about your firm's profession than you might imagine and you'll be able to speak the firm's language much more quickly.
You will identify who is experienced at what. This is invaluable for proposals and internal referrals (until you establish an experience database to go on your Intranet, that is...). And you'll gain a good understanding of each person's personality type.
Meet in their offices if at all possible so you can take a visual inventory noting personal interests, family, client memorabilia, clutter versus extreme organization, etc. These insights can help you find common ground for your developing relationship.
The purpose for the meetings should be described as 'brief information gathering so you can better understand the practice nuances of each person.' Believe me, they all have them and they'll be eager to share and flattered you care.
Continue reading for Meeting Scheduling, Prep, and what to do During and After the meetings...
Some Comments on Respecting Meeting Time
(pertains to all meetings, actually...)
As mentioned, you are probably creating a first impression. Part of making a positive impression is to convey a respect for others' time.
Be on time. Be sure to set a clear expectation of meeting time and honor that time.
Be clear when setting the appointments that you are meeting several people back to back so it is important to start and conclude on time.
Request that, since the time together is quite brief, it should be uninterrupted by calls or visitors, unless a dire emergency. Once in the meeting, keep close track of the time and end on time, even if you need to politely cut him or her off. Offer to meet at another time in order to continue the conversation.
If the person seems pressed or distracted when you arrive, ask if it is still a good time or if they would like to reschedule.
If your interviewee is unready at the start time of the meeting, don't start late. Instead, reschedule. Here are a few reasons to do so:
1. You sell yourself short on important time together or are forced to push your other appointments back—neither are acceptable! (a good amount of padding is to leave 15 minutes free between appointments)
2. "Time" is considered precious in firms. It is what most professions (wrongly) believe they sell (they actually sell intellectual property and a means to peace of mind). Aside from that, it is important to everybody and must be respected.
3. Despite time being so valued, some people are rather inconsiderate of time by showing up late for appointments, etc. While tardiness isn't usually malicious, be mindful that it can also be a power play (passive-aggressive behavior to frustrate, disrupt or sabotage) that puts you at a disadvantage by eliminating your control of the meeting. Either way, be "understanding" but insist on rescheduling.
4. Begin by always treating your professionals way you want to be treated.
5. Establish trust. If you show respect for their time from the start, they will trust you and trust that the things you ask them to do will not be wasteful of their precious time.
Preparing for the Meeting
Read their existing bios right before you meet. They'll be impressed that you've done homework on them and paid attention. (Just as you will want them to research their prospects. Remember, these people are your clients.)
After you've done a few interviews, you'll know more about what kinds of questions to ask related to their key practice area. I recommend meeting with non-partners/associates first because you'll be more comfortable asking them to define key terms they toss at you (e.g. 'can you explain what a 1934 Act filing is?') and they'll be more patient about answering.
Information you gather during the meetings can be very useful if bios need to be updated or created. Be sure to take copious notes.
A starting question that works well is: "What aspect of your practice do you most enjoy?" (and "least enjoy" if you have time for the long answers...) Asking these questions will successfully spark conversation but, be cautious or you'll be at risk of going over 15 minutes!
If you receive very brief answers, try follow-on questions such as:
- Tell me more about that...
- For what sort of business would you do that? or
- Under what circumstances would a client benefit most from that?
- and then there's the trusty, "What else?"
In the Meetings
In some of these meetings, you'll no doubt be asked about your role in the firm or "what does marketing do." Sometimes these questions are asked with skepticism and outright disdain. If so, do not take it personally!
Thank them for the opportunity to discuss your role, but keep your response brief—you're there to talk about them.
Talk for a minute if you like about what your general capabilities are. (Don't feel like you need to justify your existence at this question.) Do be careful about projecting too much about what you might do for the firm because, unless your firm already has a very specific marketing plan, you wouldn't want to create expectations about accomplishing something that the firm might not be prepared to do.
That creates a no-win situation for you because the person may think you either don't follow through on what you say or that you lack the influence to accomplish things.
Instead of laying out your wish list, explain that you were brought in to determine what the best initiatives for the firm to undertake are, and that you are still in a period of observation and idea collection.
To this, they'll probably have some ideas to share so acknowledge their contribution saying "thanks for the idea, I'll make a note so we can consider it when we develop the firm's marketing plans." Don't position yourself as order-taking at this point!
And—fair warning—for as many professionals as you have, there will be at least that number of differing marketing ideas and differing opinions about your role in the firm.
Overall, don't let their input, suggestions and strong opinions overwhelm you!
Keep a positive outlook and be proud that you are generating interest—remember too that most people you are speaking with chose their profession with little or no idea that their ability to market was going to be significant to their success.
After the Meetings
Be sure to compile your meeting notes as soon as possible while the meetings are still fresh in your mind.
When you sit back and evaluate the interview results, you will find most ideas fall into a few neat little categories you can address in a logical order. Look for related skill-sets and/or cross-promotional opportunities that aren't already maximized. Meet with your manager (hopefully the managing partner) to discuss next steps for an organized approach to marketing (if one doesn't yet exist).
At a minimum, you've gathered important information about what areas of practice your people are individually the most passionate. These are the areas they are most likely to follow-through on when it comes to marketing efforts. These are the first areas you want to ask them to develop because success is most likely where there is passion.
Additionally, if you have enough information, consider updating their bios and/or launching the development of an experience database that all could access. The latter is particularly useful marketing infrastructure that is also "tangible" to your clients...the people in your firm. (Firms always like to see some tangible things coming from marketing early on.)
After your interviews, no longer will you walk the halls or visit the other offices without knowing the people you are passing. And some people will have a better understanding (defined by you) as to what the marketer "does." Or at least what your process will be.
Ask the professionals who are most interesting (or interested in marketing) if you can follow-up (or finish up) over lunch one day soon. Keep building the relationships and position yourself as a peer. Don't lend reason for you to be categorized as "just admin."
You're a part of management, or should be, and if you slip into a support role, you'll find it terribly hard to climb back out.