Special Report: Professional Services Marketing is Dead; Long Live Professional Services Marketing

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A series of articles that redefine the role of Marketing in professional services & introducing the ‘Hidden Curriculum’

Executive Summary

Marketing in a professional services firm could be perceived as “a dead end position.”

So said Paul Bloom in the Harvard Business Review of September 1984.[1]

While much has undoubtedly changed since Bloom wrote his article – with nearly all professional services firms investing in marketing activities, heads of marketing being promoted to partner-level and computers no longer considered “state of the art” – in many firms the attitudes towards the role of marketing have changed little in over 30 years.

Indeed, recent research suggests that many professional services firms remain ‘two-tier organisations’ with marketing[2] very much in the lower tier.

Why is marketing often viewed as a ‘second-tier’ function?

In our view, it’s firstly because of the prevailing attitudes of partner and fee-earners towards marketing professionals and secondly the perceived value created for the firm by ‘traditional’ marketing activities.

Among more progressive partner groups there is little doubt that marketing has a very important role to play in their firm. However, there are many professional services leaders who remain sceptical and the challenge for professional services marketers is to convince these doubting partners, principals and fee-earners of the valuable role that marketing can play.

Another major challenge for professional services marketers lies in the finding that ‘traditional’ marketing toolkit activities[3] create significantly less value for professional services firms than product-based firms.

While ‘traditional’ marketing tools are important for building the visibility and perceived expertise of the firm, partners remain unconvinced, believing many marketing activities are a waste of effort with their marketing teams only controlling those activities which matter least.

To overcome these two challenges, we believe it is time to redefine the role of marketing in a professional services firm. The emphasis for marketing teams needs to shift to supporting those activities that are at the foundation of a professional services firm’s success: namely, the critical interactions that occur when creating new and strengthening existing client relationships.

A ‘consultant’ or ‘coach’ to the partner group

In our view, the dominant role of a marketing manager in a professional services firm should be to act, in effect, as a ‘consultant’ or ‘coach’ to the partner group.

The marketing/partner relationship should mirror that of the professional advisor (fee-earner)/client relationship. This new role will require a re-evaluation of the core skills expected of marketing individuals, in contrast to the skills developed in a traditional marketing curriculum and career.

We believe there is a ‘hidden curriculum of professional services marketing’ that will give marketers the skills and abilities to succeed in their new role as strategic ‘consultants’ to the partner and fee-earner group.

Only by redefining the role of marketing to focus on those activities that add real value to the firm and by developing the ‘hidden’ skills and abilities required in a consulting capacity, will marketing teams be able to truly add value to the firm and prove to hitherto sceptical partners that marketing deserves a place at the top table.

Professional Services Marketing is Dead; Long Live Professional Services Marketing:

Part 1. The Challenges Facing Marketing Teams in Professional Services Firms

1. The attitudes of partners, principals and fee-earners towards marketing

2. ‘Traditional’ marketing toolkit activities are not as relevant and add less value in professional services

Part 2. The Current Role of Marketing in Professional Services Firms

1. Marketing work on activities that add little value to the firm

2. Marketing have most control over things that matter least

Part 3. Redefining the Role of Marketing in a Professional Services Firm

A ‘Consultant’ to the Partner/Fee-earner group

The new roles of professional services marketers

Part 4. The ‘Hidden Curriculum’ of Professional Services Marketing

Redefining the professional services marketer’s skill set

The ‘Hidden Curriculum’

Part 5. Conclusion: Professional Services Marketing at a Crossroads

Next steps for marketing teams and professional service firm leaders


[1] Paul Bloom “Effective Marketing for Professional Services” – Harvard Business Review, September 1984
[2] And other “Support functions” such as IT/Admin/HR
[3] A ‘traditional’ marketing toolkit might include activities such as: Events, Brochures, Emails, Websites, Advertising, PR, Social Media, Corporate Hospitality, Sponsorship etc.