Managing Expectations When You Bring in a Marketing Consultant

In my last column, I talked about staffing the marketing department and deciding whether you need to “rent or buy”. Almost any marketing function can be outsourced if attention is paid to maintaining relationships, but being clear about expectations is important from the outset.

The first step in getting the most out of a marketing consultant or agency is to be clear about why you’re hiring them. Law firms usually bring in outside marketing help for one of four reasons:

  • Something needs to be done, but you’re not sure what 
  • You know what needs to be done, but you don’t have the expertise in-house
  • You know what needs to be done, you have the expertise, but your resources are already stretched to the max
  • You know what needs to be done , you have the expertise—but your lawyers aren’t listening 

Simple, right? Not so fast. If you’re not sure what needs to be done, you need advice. You would be smart to look for a consultant who can give strategic marketing advice and has experience with law firms. An agency that’s used to product marketing has never worked in a situation where the product talks back. They will want to tell the lawyers how it’s done—and we know how well that will go down.

OK, but supposing the advice you’re given is to start a blog and execute a social media campaign: are you expecting the consultant/agency to do that for you? If so, have you checked out their capabilities for execution as well as strategic advice? And if you’re clear that the consultant’s mandate is to advise, do your lawyers understand that? Reputations and relationships can be ruined by lawyers who don’t understand what the consultant was asked to do. If you want the consultant to produce a plan first, and the lawyers want to see brochures magically appear tomorrow, they will begin badmouthing the consultant, grumbling: “How much do we pay these people anyway, and what do they do for us?” 

If you know what you want, you need both production expertise AND advice. You may know what you want, but not what you need. Expect a good agency to ask a lot of questions about your firm, your practice—and your clients. The more you know about where your work comes from, which are your profitable practice areas (don’t forget that profitable means revenue minus the expenses of serving the client), which areas could spawn profitable niches, and generally, what the firm’s strengths are, the better guidance you can give your agency. Most consultants want to start with research in order to make informed decisions: the more you’ve already probed your practice, the less research the agency will need to do.

If you have the expertise in-house but are lacking capacity, you need an outside resource that can hit the ground running and produce to expectations. Chemistry is very important in this situation: if the consultant/agency is to work with your marketing team, both sides must be prepared to give a bit and learn from each other.

If you feel like a prophet in your own country because the lawyers aren’t listening, you need a “visiting expert” to tell them what you’ve been telling them. The consultant must understand what you want to achieve and why. Be prepared to listen: a good consultant should advise you on alternative ways to achieve your goal. 

When hiring an external marketing resource, be sure you understand what you’re paying for, and how you will be billed. The way lawyers work, with multiple iterations, is a very expensive way to work with an outside source. It will also take far more time to produce say, a newsletter, if the lawyers want to see the text laid out first—before they make their changes. Be clear on the approvals process you’re going to follow, and follow it! Have a signoff procedure—once the signature’s on the document, no more passing it around for a few other people to look at. 

Regardless of whether you hire a consultant, an agency, or just a freelance pair of hands, you’ll get the best results from giving your marketing professionals time and information:

  • Involve them early
  • Tell them what you want to achieve
  • Tell them as much as you can about your clients

In my next column, I’ll discuss how to choose a marketing consultant or agency. 


  1. I think it is also up to the marketing agency to manage expectations. We have a number of clients we work with that need something done ASAP all the time.

    We then work to communicate regularly and as much as possible with the client to make sure they feel comfortable with the process.