Last week there was a "conversation" among bloggers (Suzanne Lowe, David Maister, and Michelle Golden) on PSF marketers. Suzanne started the ball rolling with a post entitled "Is Marketing Talent Overrated?" In it, she commented:
I have spent a career helping professional service firms market their experts and their collective expertise. But I have yet to hear a single person refer to their MARKETERS as experts. It's as if the only expertise resident in a management consulting firm, say, are the management consultants!
David then riffed on that along with a very cogent observation from Seth Godin regarding the seeming irrelevance of marketing professionals when he stated:
My own tentative hypothesis is that professional business marketers (and consultants) probably know quite a bit about the processes of marketing (listen to your clients, get feedback, build relationships, form client teams, manage media relations, etc.) But I suspect we actually know very little about marketing itself, ie major breakthroughs in positioning, actually achieving differentiation and branding (as opposed to claiming it.)
Thinking back, I don’t know what I would point to as a major MARKETING achievements in the professional world. Just as Seth Godin has pointed, I can think of many professional businesses built by the professionals themselves (i.e. the marketing amateurs), but it’s very unclear (at least from the outside) what the marketing professionals contributed.
Michelle responded to David's post with a good list of ten challenges that in-house marketers face every day. She prefaced the list with these comments:
I have some pretty strong feelings about the topic of in-house marketers, having been one, and from being in very close contact to hundreds of colleagues in my present business and 11 years with Association for Accounting Marketing. Maybe it's just me, but the conversation seemed to be missing a large part of the picture of the world in which in-house marketers work.
I've considered these posts and thoughts over the weekend and have to say that everything that has been said is, well, right. But, it all begs the question of: so what?
Michelle's top ten list is pretty much right on the money yet, again, so what? You sign on as a marketer for a professional service firm and you mostly know what comes with the territory. You do your best to get better every day. If things don't work out for you or if you're not valued, then you work like a dog to change your circumstances or you go elsewhere. I know it sounds harsh, but it's true.
As for David's post, I hate to say it but he's probably more right than we PSF marketers would like to imagine. We all give lip service to positioning and differentiating but precious few of us know how to make it happen.
Here's the reality I've found in a PSF: it can't happen without the fee-earners. This dovetails into Suzanne's post. The fact is that we PSF marketers are not as close to the clients and prospects as the fee-earners. That means that often the great ideas come directly from them, not from us. That means that new initiatives often come from them, not from us. They see the market in a way we can't. A fee-earner with a marketing bent is a blessing from God!
Does that make me less of an expert? No. Do I contribute by taking these ideas, adding my insight and talent, and pushing them until they become reality? Yes. But if the idea wasn't mine in the first place, does that make me useless or irrelevant? Of course not.
We are all part of one body and if the body is to work efficiently and effectively, all parts have to be working together. Yes, I am sometimes seen as less than an expert within the walls of Mercer Capital. But that's often true of our fee-earners as well. I don't worry about this. Even Jesus noted that a prophet is without honor in his own country. If it can happen to Jesus, it can certainly happen to me.
The truth is if I quit and hung out my shingle tomorrow, I would automatically be seen as an expert in the eyes of many people. That's just the way it works.
Maybe it's my age and experience, but I've reached a state of philosophic calm about a great many things and one of them is this issue. Over the years, I have talked with a great many PSF marketing directors, many of them younger than myself, and listened as they complained about the lack of respect afforded them by the partners in their firm, about their tight budgets, about what they saw as insufficient compensation. The list is long and, for the most part, useless, as is the complaining.
PSF marketers have to understand that we are part of a greater whole. We need the fee-earners as much as they need us. In fact, without them, we wouldn't have the jobs and opportunities we do. We will earn respect when we've shown we deserve it by our knowledge, our character, and our results.
That's my two-cents. Take it as you will.