Advice for Those in Support Positions

I happened to have had lunch with a new marketing professional recently. I spent some time briefing her on the strategic project that I was doing with her firm. During our discussions she asked if I might have any advice for her, given that I’ve spent three decades working with law firms and this was her first foray into professional services.

Now, I’ve heard from a number of business development professionals about how they spend far too much of their time having to justify their existence at their firm; how no one knows or appreciates the contribution that they are making, how their reporting structure has become overly bureaucratic, how they are continually having to defend their budgets, and so forth. Some long-term folks are even questioning whether this is still the right career choice for them, feeling that they suffer from the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” syndrome far more than any of their other department head counterparts.

I told this particular business development professional that there are a couple of specific actions she might want to think about taking in her new position . . .

One, if you think about law firms, irrespective of size, you can place all the partners across a bell curve. 10% originate the work, 80% do the work, and with the remaining 10% you feed the work through the top of the door, pull it out the bottom, but never expose them to clients. My advice is that you make it a regular habit to visit, one-on-one with all of the equity partners twice a year, and ask of each, what activities they think you should engage in to both support their efforts and to add value. In visiting with these partners, recognize that the top 10% represent the power in the firm and you must ensure that you get them in your camp and understand their views and needs. The middle 80% probably won’t give you any answers of much substance, but just asking the question will ingratiate you to them. And the bottom 10% if you are not careful will find never-ending ways to suck the life-blood out of you (“energy vampires”) by consuming your time in meaningless adventures. Any real time invested in them is to be avoided at all costs.

Two, in most professional service firms, money is the currency of respect. Why not consider adopting a reasonable charge-out rate for the services you provide. Institute a “mock” charge-back system, placing a dollar value on the marketing department’s services and issuing an account at the end of each month for the value of the services provided to different practice groups and the firm in general. Do it as if you were an outside marketing consultancy providing these same services. This initiative could well progress into your group developing it’s own engagement process, seeking interesting problems to solve and making “pitches’ to your internal clients.

Three, that said, the bottom line is that you do need to recognize that you are a support center and not necessarily a revenue center. And as a support you must always be sensitive to justifying you and your department’s existence as power partners may very well ask what it is that you are accomplishing. My advice is, at the very least, to begin preparing a written, one-page, Friday afternoon wrap-up, in bullet point form, of your core activities and accomplishments for that week and e-mail it to the managing partner and whomever else you think important enough to receive your report. Keep your Friday briefings in a binder and prepare a monthly summation. Keep those monthly reports together and prepare a quarterly synopsis. Keep your quarterly highlights so that you can produce an Annual Report. Never let any partner ask what it is that you are doing or contributing without having others informed enough to quickly provide ample written evidence.

Comments are closed.