What is marketing and BD’s role in a firm’s responsible business strategy?
Much has already been written about the evolution of the Chief Marketing Officer role over the past two decades. The general trend has been towards CMOs taking on a more central role in the development and implementation of a firm’s overall strategy, as well as an increased blurring of the lines of what falls within and outside of the CMO remit.
Responsible business is a perfect illustration of a relatively new area that marketing teams are increasingly drawn into. But responsible business also creates some unique challenges, and opportunities, for the CMO and their wider team. This article explores these in more detail and looks at what marketing professionals can be doing to support their firm on its responsible business journey.
How are marketing and BD teams involved with responsible business strategy?
Working with law firm marketing professionals, we have observed an interesting dynamic where these teams, and the CMO in particular, are finding themselves landed with the unofficial role as the ‘guardian’ of the firm’s responsible business activity.
There are three main drivers behind this:
- 62% of UK-based GCs have already asked their firms to report on specific ESG metrics, according to Lamp House’s own research earlier this year. These queries are most often routed to marketing and BD teams, who then collate the relevant data, evidence and case studies for client pitches and RFPs. Simply put, marketing and BD teams are often the firm’s first responders for any responsible business-related enquiries.
- 83% of law firms are selling ESG as a service or practice area across the 125 firms we analysed this year. Marketing and BD teams may already be involved with the go-to market strategy around selling this as a service.
- Responsible business is a developing area where firms often appear to be struggling to find their voice. Our analysis shows that around 40% of responsible business activity happening within firms is not communicated externally via the firm’s website or official reporting; this ‘leakage’ can be down to a variety of factors, such as Partners’ lack of confidence in communicating the firm’s activity or a lack of dedicated resource internally. Whatever reasons are at play, there is a heightened expectation that marketing and BD teams will step in to manage what the message on responsible business ‘should’ be.
However, responsible business can be a trickier subject for marketing and BD teams to work with compared to their more standard marcomms:
- Communicating about responsible business isn’t as straightforward as talking about the firm’s legal successes or recent deals – there is the added nuance of ensuring that whatever the firm puts out is authentic and avoids greenwashing
- Across the firm, there may be a lack of understanding of what responsible business is, or a loud minority of dissenters who don’t believe the firm should talk about it at all. For marketing teams, this means spending more time ‘taking the temperature’ of the partnership and crafting messages in line with this. If your firm is global, or international, this messaging can be even more complex across geographies or even politicized.
- Accountability for different elements of responsible business is spread across different roles, departments and offices; as such, it requires much more integration and collaboration with other teams to build the right message
How can these teams be successful?
For many firms, embarking on a responsible business journey requires some organisational change. While there are challenges for CMOs in talking about responsible business, they are also well positioned to play a crucial leadership role in moving their firm along on that journey, in answering big strategic questions – like what voice the firm does want to have on responsible business – and working across the firm to action the vision.
So, what can marketing and BD teams be doing in practice to move responsible business further up the agenda?
- Bring the voice of the client into the business through formal stakeholder feedback programmes. Use this insight to educate Partners on why this topic is important to clients, and the opportunity it represents for the firm
- Leverage responsible business in client development conversations, events and even thought leadership – we know it’s on their minds
- Table responsible business as a Partner Retreat topic: having a shared understanding of what the firm wants to stand for and what position it is comfortable taking in the market is the critical foundation for all marketing messaging around the subject. This will also upskill Partners’ knowledge on a topic they need to be confident about with clients
- Build a Responsible Business Board: this will bring together the firm’s leaders on all of the different elements of responsible business so that everyone is working more cohesively and developing a clear understanding of what the firm is doing at a holistic level
- Ensure responsible business is a topic the firm is thinking about in building its brand strategy, both in terms of how it differentiates from others with clients but also with talent
As the firm develops more structure and accountability around its responsible business activity, it will be easier for marketing and BD teams to then externally communicate what the firm is doing in this space. The leading firms in Lamp House’s market-wide analysis of law firm responsible business strategies are those which are transparent in sharing the steps they are taking to become a responsible business.
The final challenge for marketing teams to overcome here is getting comfortable with being open and honest about where the firm is on its journey – communicating progress and not perfection.