Observations from the field: what law firms want from CMOs.

Author:Fleischmann, Greg
Position:Chief marketing officers

This is the single hardest position to hire, period," says John Lamar, managing director of the Alexander Group, a retained executive search firm. "The terms 'marketing' and 'business development' can mean so many different things to different people that firms might see a CMO as either the coming of a great messiah or a waste of money. Of course, most firms fall in the middle."

At any given time, a number of law firms are conducting searches for candidates to lead their marketing, business development and communications efforts. There isn't a predictable cycle, but on average 5-10 percent of the AmLaw 100 are looking for a CMO, Lamar says. While firms often take six to nine months or more searching for the right person, the legal industry has a spotty track record with CMO retention.

Industry experts agree that success hinges on firms getting all their stakeholders --partners and professional staff--together on the front end to make sure they are on the same page about the key objectives for the role. "I would be concerned about firms that have a knee-jerk reaction to searching. You hear about churn in these roles--in some cases one to two years if you're lucky," Lamar says.

But I see some positive signs both for firms and candidates. More and more, firms appear to appreciate the need to establish concrete key performance indicators for the role and communicate those to the partnership. This helps candidates better understand what is expected of them and how they will be measured. It can also help protect a CMO from being pulled in too many directions by individual partners as they assume the role.

Clients, Clients, Clients

While each firm might articulate a CMO's objectives differently, a pervasive trend is that firms want someone who drives revenue and profitability. This is reflected in the increasing use of "BD" or "client" in job titles, such as chief business development officer and chief client officer. It is also evident in CMO job descriptions that define the role's primary objectives as acquiring new clients, growing fees from existing clients and increasing profitability.

In fact, most CMOs I speak with want to focus more intently on clients and profitable growth, but they also need to juggle many other responsibilities across the marketing, BD and communications mix--not to mention the effort they need to put into developing and managing their talent. CMOs are therefore well positioned to see how all the different components of...

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