“Build my personal profile in the hospitality sector.”

“Develop our tax strategy advisory work.”

“Grow our health law practice in the Western region.”

Do you recognize the similarity of some of these generic marketing objectives? Maybe they’re too close for comfort.

Having held positions in professional services firms and advised on marketing for lawyers, it never ceases to amaze me: whether it’s a personal business development plan, industry sector plan, or practice area plan, the objectives established in legal marketing plans are often vague and meaningless.

Effective lawyer marketing requires a short and concise plan, and one with meaningful objectives.

Let’s deal with the extract of the personal marketing and business development plan above: Build my personal profile in the hospitality sector.

Wouldn’t ‘get two articles published this year in key trade magazines’; ‘write a blog post for each of the first two quarters this year, one on franchising and one on the need for shareholder agreements’; and ‘secure a position on the franchising discussion panel at the Restaurant Show for 2014’ be more meaningful?

smart marketing objectivesMarketing objectives like the ones above are examples of SMART objectives, because they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

That many lawyers can’t establish clear, concise objectives isn’t really their fault. Most legal firms, regardless of size, require the individual lawyers to produce some form of personal marketing or business development plan. But in many cases these plans are simply produced to seek approval or justify a marketing budget. Once the individual lawyer or department has their slice of the pie, the plan ends up in the bottom drawer or in a remote folder on their laptop until it’s cleaned up and regurgitated for next year’s budget process.

The individual lawyer has never really been forced to consider their objectives because for many firms, although they have a process of personal plans, the performance of the lawyer is not appropriately measured against their plans, nor is there a culture of accountability. The planning and objective setting process becomes a necessary evil and the lawyer resorts to what they’ve always done. The process doesn’t create the foundation for meaningful objective setting let alone motivation, action or the desire for teamwork.

I’m an advocate of simple plans for legal marketing. There’s a tendency for lawyers to create large marketing and business development plans. After all, most lawyers like writing. The result is a personal marketing plan that’s not digestible, sometimes even by the originator. And there’s a tendency to make the plan far too ambitious, which could be the result of a need to impress.

Let’s be realistic: most busy lawyers can only do so much. I do a considerable amount of business development coaching for lawyers and the most common explanation for not executing a personal plan is they “didn’t have time.” That’s understandable given client demands and the firm’s own demands of fee targets. But if a lawyer’s personal marketing plan contained just six to 10 key objectives, which are clear and simple, it’s more likely the lawyer will be able to focus and visit their plan on a regular basis to ensure they’re on track.

High quality objective setting for law firms doesn’t just apply to personal plans. If a law firm took the same approach of setting six to 10 key objectives for all its plans— whether its department and practice area marketing plans, sector or key client plans—everyone within the firm would be able to understand the plans and how they can contribute to them through their personal objectives.

Developing clear and meaningful SMART objectives also affords the opportunity of “connectivity,” that is, connecting with other lawyers in the firm on common areas and objectives, thereby establishing a playing field for teamwork. No matter how compelling a lawyer marketing strategy is, you need people with clearly defined objectives and connectivity in-house to make it happen.

So, give SMART marketing objectives a try. I welcome your comments and questions below.