Brand marketing has never been more complex or more perilous than it is today. Day in and day out, marketing efforts go wrong. People lose their jobs. Companies get sued. Brands cease to exist.
As a marketing and development executive, that keeps me up at night. Add to it the 12 years I spent in law practice and let’s just say I don’t get much sleep.
The best way to mitigate the risk inherent in the work we do is to approach it holistically, tapping into the expertise of our colleagues across the organization whose unique capabilities almost always ensure they will see things we don’t.
Interdepartmental collaboration is more than just asking your company’s legal team to review content or sign off on collateral (though definitely do this).
Effective marketing campaigns succeed (and minimize risk to the organization) when collaboration is honest and ongoing; when it involves input from operations and compliance executives; when it simultaneously shapes and is shaped by business development leaders; and when executive leadership participates and buys in.
Inevitably, collaboration begets learning. What follows is a collection of challenges and best practices compiled over years spent learning from my colleagues. These inform how I market my organization and, ultimately, help me sleep at night.
Marketing & Operations
Challenge: Staying abreast of your company’s operational objectives, today and tomorrow
The marriage of marketing and operations is a critical one; indeed, there is no greater marketing tool than operational excellence.
But operational objectives can shift rapidly, so it is not enough to know the state of the company today — you must know where the company is headed tomorrow.
In our fast-paced world, it’s almost too easy to disseminate a message that rings true in the present but may be outdated or invalid within a few news cycles. Eliminate the risk of violating truth-in-advertising regulations by making sure marketing associates know what the company’s future holds.
Best Practice: Hold quarterly regroups with operations colleagues
More often than not, it is at the behest of changing client preferences, emerging trends or in response to customer dissatisfaction that a company shifts its priorities.
Scheduling quarterly or even monthly regroups between marketing and operations executives provides a forum for operations teams to report – in real time – on developments from the front line. What are clients saying? What challenges are employees vocalizing?
Make the most of this time by covering all the bases: review and align marketing strategies to the company’s future plans and initiatives; set aside time to discuss customer feedback (positive and constructive); discuss new and potential business prospects; and review emerging trends.
This insight is invaluable to marketing executives who should leverage it at every appropriate opportunity.
Marketing & Compliance
Challenge: Ensuring compliance among third parties
Marketing executives oftentimes engage third-party business partners to provide specialized services such as public relations and event planning.
Ultimately, however, it remains our responsibility to ensure all external communications and client interactions on behalf of our companies are professional, consistent with the brand identity and corporate values and, above all, compliant.
Imagine the public relations partner whose firm, as a practice, sends press releases to a database of thousands of reporters. That might be standard operating procedure for the firm while at the same time violating everything your company values.
Third-party business partners serving on our behalf must be given clear guidance regarding the treatment of confidential and proprietary information, corporate goals and plans and – perhaps most important – the standard to which they will be held accountable.
Best Practice: Get it in writing
First and foremost, get it in writing. All of it.
While drafting a contract or agreement with a third-party business partner, be sure the business partner signs a nondisclosure agreement immediately to prevent the disclosure of sensitive or confidential company information.
But go a step further and require that all pre-agreement conversations about the scope of work, how obligations will be fulfilled and how compliance standards will be met are included in the final agreement or contract.
It’s well within our purview – our obligation, really – to define clear operating guidelines for those working on our behalf.
Marketing & Legal
Challenge: Reaching new audiences within legal and regulatory boundaries
As marketing executives, it is our job to communicate in such a way as to engage current audiences while attracting new ones.
In our digital-first world, reaching stakeholders almost always involves electronic communication. It can be tempting to purchase marketing lists that promise to deliver client leads and help your brand interact with key influencers. The idea of sending an email blast to hundreds of potential clients with an ambiguous subject line might, at times, seem appealing.
But tolerance has never been lower for violations of the CAN-SPAM Act, which regulates the transmission of all commercial email messages. Each separate email in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to civil penalties of up to $16,000; therefore, non-compliance can be expensive while also putting your reputation at risk.
In our industry, legal and regulatory restrictions abound, and failing to stay up-to-date with the evolving landscape could threaten your most valuable assets: the elite and highly-curated experience your current and potential clients have when they interact with your brand.
Best Practice: Know your audience
Avoid purchased marketing lists, which can be outdated, insincere and, ultimately, ineffective.
Instead, build lists organically and update them regularly. Make it a practice to routinely consult ever-evolving CAN-SPAM regulations to verify your outreach tactics are above board. And take care to confirm that the people you’re targeting are interested in hearing from you. If they’re not, make it easy for them to opt out.
In short, demonstrate respect for the recipients’ time, schedules and interests.
The more you prioritize getting to know your audience, the less likely your marketing strategies will raise any red flags with your legal department.
Marketing & Business Development
Challenge: Highlighting client achievements in marketing efforts
Marketing strategies simultaneously inform and are informed by business development activities, so the collaborative nature of this relationship cannot be overstated.
In client service industries, it’s natural to want to highlight the accomplishments your company has amassed on behalf of its clients, but doing so within the legal and ethical boundaries of client agreements is paramount.
Business development professionals often have a unique line of sight into a company’s most impressive achievements, as these play a substantial role in their pursuit of new business.
These insights can and should be employed by marketing executives to maximum advantage. But, as always, it’s up to the marketing executive to proceed with caution.
Best Practice: Know your client agreements and be sure you can back up your claims
Maintain an evolving master list of any approved communications, including client achievements that are appropriate for use by both marketing and business development teams in external settings. Revisit the list often to guarantee the accomplishments are up-to-date and client agreements have not changed.
Consider getting written approval from clients to spotlight their programs in any business development or marketing activities.
Above all, always require that your marketing and business development teams only highlight achievements that can be independently verified.
Brand marketing does not exist in a vacuum, nor does an organization that values collaboration emerge out of thin air. Both are the result of executive leadership buying into the process and creating a culture that promotes cooperation and teamwork. It’s not always the fastest way from A to B, but it is by far the most effective.
Successfully executing a holistic approach to marketing will broaden your client perspective, ensure your finger remains on the pulse of internal developments and external activities and, ultimately, safeguard your company for years to come.
Christi Cannon is the Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development at Garden City Group, LLC (GCG), a leading provider of legal administration services. In that role, she is responsible for directing and implementing GCG’s national marketing initiatives, the overall strategic management of GCG’s client relationships, and supporting the company’s vision, mission, and values in industry and client specific endeavors.
Over the past 10 years, Cannon has held several leadership roles at GCG, executing on strategic client relationships, and working with clients to develop business across GCG’s service lines. She has contributed materially to some of the company’s most complex administrations, such as the Cobb EMC Patronage Capital Program and the Deepwater Horizon Settlement Program. Prior to joining GCG, Cannon was a practicing attorney. She handled national class action matters including securities, antitrust, consumer, and mergers and acquisitions litigation at prominent plaintiffs’ class action firms, and complex litigation matters at a defense firm. Her experience includes litigating some of the largest class actions in history. Cannon earned her J.D. from Emory University and graduated magna cum laude from Auburn University. She lives in Atlanta with her family.