EQUALIZING PARTNER BASE ENCOURAGES SIGNIFICANT GROWTH
At a time when some firms are taking a second look at their marketing investments, Porter Keadle Moore/Atlanta (seven partners, 43 total staff) is launching its first firmwide marketing push. Partners hope the infusion of marketing will help them achieve their personal financial goals and grow their firm.
The move came after MP Phil Moore introduced a new plan to equalize the ownership of the firm, whereby the five minority partners see their equity shares increase along with the revenue growth of the firm.
After approving the plan at the firm’s partner retreat in May, the next step was for partners to ask themselves where that growth was going to come from. Their answer: they needed marketing help.
“Growing revenue at 2% per year won’t accomplish re-configuring our ownership,” Moore says. The partners’ goal is to double revenue to $11 million by 2010, and they hired Jean Caragher, president of Capstone Marketing/Alpharetta, Ga., to help them get there.
Caragher began by conducting a marketing audit, which included interviews with partners and managers and surveys of other staff (see related story below). She’ll use that information to re-firm’s brand, craft a marketing plan and target marketing training.
PKM’s growth to this point came from deep expertise in the banking industry and the efforts of a couple of rainmakers, Caragher says. But continued growth with require sustained business development efforts throughout the firm, Moore says.
“Hopefully she’ll have the ability to focus us and make us do what we have the capabilities to do,” he says.
One of the first areas Caragher will focus on is client service. While PKM benefits from strong relationships with its clients, it needs to pursue relationships with more individuals at different levels of client organizations, Moore says.
“What we haven’t done a good job of is building that relationship with the No. 4 person in the bank,” he says.
Marketing Replaces Lost Revenue
At the first firm-wide marketing training session in early October, Moore explained the reasons behind the new marketing initiative. The firm lost $1 million in business during the last fiscal year because of two major events: It lost two large clients that merged and a partner left the firm. The partner, Bill Porter, generated approximately $700,000 by offering litigation support and business evaluation work, and no one else in the audit-driven firm was interested in providing those services.
There is no quick and easy way to replace that revenue, so everyone in the firm must pitch in by embracing marketing, Moore explains.
He hopes understanding the big picture will motivate staff, who also might view marketing training as personal career development.
“Partners have their own advantages, but for non-partners, this tells them they are with a progressive, dynamic firm that is interested in growing and will provide challenging opportunities and a career path to remain with the firm,” Caragher says.
In addition to career path documents that spell out technical and soft skills requirements, Caragher is devising specific marketing expectations for each level of staff. She’ll meet with each individual to craft a personal marketing plan based on those expectations and on the strategic plan and vision of the firm.
Although many firms make marketing training voluntary, PKM expects each of its 43 professional and administrative employees to attend.
“There is no, ‘I’m too busy,’” Moore says.
“If someone’s not interested in marketing and [isn’t] rewarded for it or penalized for not doing it, why would you go? You’re busy enough already,” Caragher says. “This is a dynamic firm that recognizes that, in order to grow, they need to market. And they sought out the help to do it.”
CONDUCT A MARKETING AUDIT AS STEP ONE
Look internally at firm culture
A marketing audit is an essential first step in crafting a marketing plan, says Jean Caragher, marketing consultant and president of Capstone Marketing/Alpharetta, Ga.
Some of the steps an audit should include:
A profile of the firm. What is the history and heritage of your firm? Who was the firm’s first client, and is that client still with the firm? If so, “that’s not just client satisfaction. That’s loyalty, which is harder and harder to find,” Caragher says. Financially, what has been the firm’s growth pattern? Firms that have seen a lot of success over last few years don’t necessarily understand the need to plan how they will continue to grow.
A description of the firm’s culture. How do staff, manager and partners describe the firm as a workplace? Is it fun or sophisticated? Is it competitive or employee-focused? That culture is the primary component of the firm’s brand, so mold your communications with clients and prospects according to the personality of the firm. While all firms are similar in that they offer similar products and have to do the work in pretty much the same way, people and skills and resources vary from firm to firm, Caragher says. “Focusing on individual skills is a great way to set your firm apart.”
A profile of the partner group. How old are they? Has there been a succession in leadership? That information can tell you how open the partners are to change. What are their marketing strengths? How do they usually generate new business? What are their specialties and their skills? Each partner probably has some natural abilities that will play into your marketing plan. What is their vision for the firm? In many firms, partners don’t agree on one vision, making the marketer’s job infinitely more challenging.
A client analysis. Use a spreadsheet to organize your clients by industry, with rows for fees, realize, average billing rate and number of clients. You’ll see which are your most profitable clients and whether there are any industries that are costing the firm money. Also, make a list of the firm’s top 20 clients based on fees. Partners probably won’t ask you to dig this information up, so take the initiate to mine the data out of the time and billing system. “Usually partners have a good idea of what their client base looks like, but there is always a surprise,” Caragher says. “Part of your job is to forge ahead, despite the doubts about the value the information will give.”