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Marketing The Professional Services - Part 3

By The Drum | Administrator

February 15, 2002 | 7 min read

Photography: Richard Seagraves, Photonica

In my experience, projects proceed ideally through two stages: planning and implementation. During each stage specific actions are taken. The planning stage starts with a definition of the problem you want to solve and development of a strategy for the solution. You define the problem and analyse it within the context of the market and competition activity. At this stage you can choose to discuss it with external consultants, but at least make sure that all relevant colleagues are familiar with your definition.

The next step is more strategy: what are your objectives, who is your audience, what do you want to say, what do you want them to do and when. You also determine the tone of voice, preferred media and budget. When this is all clear, your external consultants can be asked to present project plans.

Following tests and the evaluation of plans, the message gets its creative treatment, including the production of text and design concepts. After presentation by the external consultants the creative plans are tested.

Before we move on to the implementation stage, it is time for decision-making. Involve all internal and external communication officers as well as the relevant business unit(s) and senior partners or management - for example, by forming a decision-making group or committee on which they are represented. Ensure the quality of the decision-making group. Make sure they all use the same communication principles or shared values as yardsticks in their decision-making. Let them decide on all the central issues.

Joan Roemmele, marketing manager with DM Hall, explains how they work at the property consultants, a firm with over forty partners and almost thirty offices: "I work out the plan with the financial controller and then our management looks at the plan. Eventually all partners have their say." By that time the plan carries a certain amount of weight: "When suggestions come from management they are very powerful." Working on a bigger scale, PricewaterhouseCoopers has a greater division of labour, but, says John Bunn: "While at the PR side we deal with the media and brand managers develop the brand, we work closely together in a central team."

In addition, at this stage you set out and decide on the final project specifications, time scales and budget.

The second project stage is implementation. First through the development of the communication instruments, followed by their delivery. During the development stage you also plan and purchase media, while design and text are worked out and tested. As we shall see later, the evaluation of the project actually starts before its implementation and continues during delivery until a date, which has been agreed upon before the start of the project implementation, is reached.

They say nobody can guarantee success, but there are ways to increase the chances of success. Most of all by meeting some conditions about the way in which you operate as a marketing or communication officer within your firm. This also relates to the function of the communication.

In public relations your main task is probably to advise and support the management, senior partners or other spokespeople of the firm. For this purpose you formulate public relations policies aimed at specific audiences, such as employees, investors, politicians, clients, special groups or the public at large. You also present the firm and its views to others. You produce or supervise production of communication materials and arrange sponsorship.

In order to do this work properly you must have access to all necessary information and be able to utilise all internal and external communication channels. You must have the support of the senior partners, managers and other individuals who are in control of the organisation. Vincent Gray, business development manager with Masons: "You have to be involved at the right level in the firm. If you do not understand the business strategy or have enough information you have to ask. You cannot function if you do not have the right information and support."

Being in charge of marketing communication relates to the promotion of specific service products. It means you are responsible for the development of marketing messages, campaigns and materials. Marketing communication instruments at your disposal include advertising, above-the-line as well as direct mail (marketing), personal selling, publicity and sales promotions. Each has its own place in the marketing communication mix. The key to success lies in managing that mix.

There is an ongoing discussion about advertising and direct mail promotions in professional services, but both instruments are used with varying degrees of success (a review of this discussion would require more space than is available in the scope of this series; see also my article "Lawyers hit the high streets", The Drum, 26th May 2000).

As noted earlier, personal selling is very important in the services industry. But this can cause problems. It is expensive. As more staff gets involved there is a risk that not all staff members appear to be specialists in their field as well as true professional sales people. Your organisation may lack the facilities and back-up services. It could be difficult to standardise services. These problems mean that there is a limit to what can be achieved by personal selling.

With publicity you try to stimulate the demand for services by publishing relevant and commercially significant news or favourable presentations in the media, without paying for it. As such, it is actually part of the more general field of public relations, notably media relations, as well as part of the traditional marketing or promotion mix. As costs usually appear to be relatively low, publicity is sometimes wrongly used as a substitute for advertising.

Sales promotions are often overlooked, regarded as inappropriate, or seen as a sign of bad taste. This is a mistake. Lawyers or accountants would not hesitate to waive their fees for minor services. Why not call this a sales promotion? After all, it is the same as a price cut to reward customer loyalty. Once this principle has been accepted it may be possible to talk about other sales promotions, such as offering discounts on the introduction of a new service or special rates for new electronic ways of working on large jobs.

In marketing communication, says Sandra Mohabir-Collins, professional services firms can use banks as an example of good practice: "They have gone through a lot of change and have been very successful in integrating their marketing communication instruments." She mentions the Halifax in particular, because this bank also involved its internal audience in an advertising campaign, attracting new customers with special offers and it utilises the window space in its branch offices very effectively for promotional purposes.

In public relations as well as marketing communication there are common conditions for success. These are being able to manage the communication mix, co-ordinate all forms of communication and operate an efficient internal communication system. Without your colleagues\' ability to identify with the business objectives of the organisation, and a consensus on what will be communicated and how this will happen, projects are unlikely to succeed.

Furthermore, you require a sufficient budget. There are many ways to determine a firm\'s communication budget. Some organisations allocate funds on the basis of what they feel they can afford or simply as a percentage of last year\'s budget. Others copy the competition. A few use intuition. In all these instances the organisation probably spends too little or too much.

Some organisations base their expenditure on the expected return on investment or a percentage of last year\'s sales or this year\'s predicted sales. These reasons may be easier to explain to partners or shareholders, but in this case communication is mistakenly viewed as a result and not as a cause of sales.

A more thorough method of determining the communication budget is to look first at detailed communication objectives and work out what it will cost to achieve them. This requires some research, analysis and planning, but on the whole it may prevent overspending or underspending, which in itself is also a waste of financial and human resources.

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