A Center of Excellence (CoE) can help a legal marketing team to up their game dramatically in a discipline that is important to the firm’s business.


There comes a time when every law firm marketing team realizes that excellence must become a critical priority.

For some firms this may seem obvious. After all, says the marketing leader, doesn’t our team deliver excellence every day? We’ve hired a competent group of professional marketers with modern skills.  They are attentive and diligent in serving attorneys. They do their jobs effectively. What more do we need?

For some firms, that may be enough. For others, more is required. One thing we know for certain is that the bar for “excellence” in law firm marketing has been raised significantly. The field has become much more complex and specialized. Digital channels, ROI measurement, data analytics, client/market insights, account-based marketing and other advanced marketing concepts have moved from the fringe to more mainstream. As a result, a generalist marketer must go beyond to do truly excellent work in all aspects of the job.

Picking the Spots

As the scope and scale of the firm’s marketing programs increase, marketing leaders must carefully select where specialists are needed. Once determined, they should organize those specialists in a Center of Excellence (CoE), where their unique skills can benefit the entire firm.

Gartner defines a Center of Excellence as, “a physical or virtual center of knowledge concentrating existing expertise and resources in a discipline or capability to attain and sustain world-class performance and value.”

Note the term “world-class.” The concept of a CoE goes well beyond delegating certain tasks to a back-office group. When properly implemented, a CoE provides a way for a marketing team to up their game dramatically in a discipline that is important to the firm’s business.

The Digital Campaigns CoE

The digital campaigns function — which any marketing organization needs to excel — is a good example of where a CoE works well. Why? Because today’s clients engage with marketing content across multiple channels, at multiple times and places, on various devices.  If content and channels are not managed in a coordinated manner, you risk:

  • Your message becoming diluted and/or inconsistent (communication risk)
  • Your client getting a poor impression of the firm (reputational risk)
  • Missing potential business opportunities (revenue risk)

In many law firms, the digital campaigns function is an ad-hoc one, handled by multiple individuals working in silos. For example, there’s a web developer, possibly employed by the IT group. There’s a CRM manager who may be in IT or marketing. There’s an email marketing manager, an events specialist and maybe a social media specialist. An external communications professional may be involved in writing copy. Additionally, another individual needs to run the analytics to measure ROI.

All these people are successful in performing their individual tasks, but because they all work independently, no one has insight into the big picture — the business purpose for the campaign, the client insights, the specific tactics and how well the campaign performs. Since these processes are organized in silos, each step in the campaign process requires a handoff from one person to another. These handoffs are potential failure points, where things can go wrong — and often do.

There’s a Better Way

A CoE offers an alternative solution. Rather than relying on individual specialists to execute the many moving parts of a digital campaign, we organize those specialists into a collaborative team, led by a credible leader, who is tasked with developing a world-class capability in digital marketing campaigns.

By working together, the members of the Center of Excellence are incentivized to develop efficient processes and best practices. They will:

  • Identify core repeatable deliverables for the team
  • Document process steps for each deliverable, including handoffs between team members
  • Embed process steps in a workflow system
  • Create time benchmarks for completing each deliverable
  • Create a “single window” intake system for all requests
  • Develop a governance process to ensure continuous improvement and accountability for creating value

As part of their mandate, the CoE team not only learns how to do things well, but they also document their knowledge with templates, checklists and learning programs so that these resources are accessible to all other marketing team members. Thus, they accelerate the firm’s digital maturity.

Other CoE Opportunities

Digital campaigns are just one marketing-related function that can benefit from a CoE approach. Another example, already in place at many law firms, are pitches and proposals.

Typically, we see a law firm proposals CoE staffed by a senior manager or director who is responsible for managing the end-to-end proposal process — from the initial client briefing, through the go/no-go decision, to bid strategy and pricing, document writing, and design and presentation coaching.

In addition to doing the work, the proposals CoE develops an efficient, repeatable process, creates standardized language and makes it accessible via a proposal generation tool. The proposal CoE raises the whole firm’s capability to respond to proposals and increases its win rate.

Data analytics is another potential candidate for a CoE. In my experience, analytics are a nascent capability in most law firms — something handled off the side of a manager’s desk. With data becoming more and more critical to business decisions — not just in marketing, but throughout the business of law — the need for advanced analytics skills is growing rapidly. There’s a potential business case for a data analytics CoE that provides analytical insights to all the firm’s business services functions and attorneys.

CoE Success Factors

If you’re wondering whether the CoE approach is right for your firm, consider the following five criteria:

  1. A CoE aims to build excellent capability inside the organization, not by purchasing outside expertise. Once built, this capability becomes part of the firm’s assets and needs to be maintained and enhanced over time.
  2. The capability you want to build must have a limited, well-defined scope. It must be outward, preferably client-facing, and not aimed solely at running internal processes more efficiently or cheaply.
  3. A CoE does not do business as usual. You should expect your CoE leader to push for continuous improvement beyond basic performance metrics.
  4. A successful CoE is process driven. It focuses on generating business value, supported by strong, well-documented business processes, outcome-based planning and ROI measurement.
  5. A CoE needs strong sponsorship at the senior executive level. Don’t consider starting the process without buy-in from the managing partner, CEO or COO.

In summary, a CoE is not for every law firm marketing team. However, if your firm needs to rapidly and sustainably improve performance in a particular marketing or business development discipline, a CoE could be a great fit.

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This post originally appeared in the Legal Marketing Association’s Strategies+ Blog

Kathryn Whitaker

Kathryn Whitaker is director of recruitment and strategy consulting at Calibrate Legal. During the 15 years Kathryn spent in-house at law firms, she worked closely with firm management and practice group leaders to develop and implement marketing and business development plans.