Late last year, my colleague Vivian Hood wrote a post about overcoming significant legal marketing challenges. As part of her preparation, Vivian asked me what I thought was the most significant challenge law firm marketers face in perpetuating their firms’ marketing programs and achieving goals. Without hesitation, I said “Navigating the internal political minefields and senior-level resistance toward the firm’s marketing strategy.”
My answer came from my own experience not only as an in-house legal marketer but also, and more importantly, working with dozens of legal marketers in a consulting capacity. Simply put, senior-level (owner) political resistance to any marketing strategy or initiative can kill progress and ultimately thwart achieving the goal.
Since office politics are a given in any organization, how do we as marketers and/or marketing champions navigate the minefields?
Ignorance is not bliss
First and foremost, ignoring the political undercurrent is not an option. We must face the circumstances and handle them in an appropriate and professional manner. The trick here is that the appropriate manner will vary as often and as much as the internal political infrastructure of the firm.
That said, I attempt to provide some sound advice based on my own debacles (I’ve learned more from my mistakes than my successes) and that of a myriad other legal marketing professionals with whom I have worked.
As I stated before, ignoring the political situation is not an option. If you do, all top-level marketing initiatives you helm are doomed to failure, so face the situation head on, and remember to use an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Take the bull by the horns
Looking to tackle office politics directly? Try these techniques:
Meet with the political detractor face-to-face on her/his turf and listen.
Listening is an underrated art. Oftentimes, if we would only listen, our adversaries would give us all the advice we need to turn them into proponents.
Scenario: Request a meeting to discuss the marketing strategy and/or initiative. Ask only for the person’s opinion and insights regarding the initiative. Listen, ask open-ended questions as necessary, and never refute or challenge the opinion. Your job here is to understand the other person’s opinion. Thank the person for her/his time and assure them that their opinion is appreciated and will be taken into account regarding development of further strategy.
Include the political detractor in or add him/her to the marketing initiative group.
Make sure the person has all meeting times/dates and receives reminders regarding scheduled meetings. Be sure to send an agenda before the meeting date and ask for other agenda items they would like to add.
Scenario: Here’s a saying I heard long ago: Ideas are like children – we love our own and will accept others. Welcome the political detractor into all meetings and ask for her/his opinions and ideas early on and often. Don’t worry about political sabotage. A sound strategy will stand on its own merits, and we have no need to toot our own horns. Winning new representations and increasing firm revenue are our primary goals.
Don’t get in a “pissing match,” i.e., don’t go on the defensive. Nobody wins and it’s messy.
Webster’s gives the following definitions for defensive: 1) used or intended to defend or protect and 2) very anxious to challenge or avoid criticism. Why should we try to avoid criticism for a strategy or tactic that we know is in the best interest of our law firm? We shouldn’t. After all, our over-arching goal is to increase law firm representations and revenue. There is nothing to defend.
Scenario: If a political adversary attempts to filibuster against or discredit a sound marketing strategy, allow them to state their case. Be respectful of the meeting members’ time and cut off the filibuster if warranted. Schedule a follow-up meeting soon (the next day or soon thereafter) to continue the discussion. Even the best politicos can only filibuster for a finite amount of time. Eventually they will tire and the real work will proceed.
There are many other ways to navigate the law firm political minefields that stall marketing success. If you are facing a sticky situation or have advice for those who are, leave a comment to get input and support from the Jaffe PR team and our readers, or contact Terry M. Isner at firstname.lastname@example.org.