Part 1: The challenges facing marketing teams in traditional professional services firms

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Recent research suggests there are two main reasons why marketing remains undervalued in professional services firms:

1. The Attitudes of Partners and Principals towards marketing 

The unique dynamics of professional services firms mean that partners and principals often view the marketing team sceptically as second-tier ‘operational functionaries’.

Being a marketing manager in a professional services firm is not easy.

Here’s a quote from a partner in a law firm taken from recent research[1] discussing the role of management professionals (non-fee-earners such as marketing):

“They have a function to fulfil – they do it very well on the whole. Their views are interesting but only interesting. I wouldn’t say that they are influential…That’s not to denigrate the individuals because they are very talented …but culturally we have a snobbery about lawyers being superior…We are very sceptical about non-lawyers frankly.”

In professional services, unlike ‘product-based industries’, the core assets of a firm are individuals with specialist technical knowledge and in-depth client relationships. The success of the professional services firm relies on the ability of these individuals to apply their specialist knowledge to create customised services for clients.

Those with the technical expertise and client relationships hold significant authority and autonomy. Those who do not share this expertise or responsibility for client relationships – or, more crudely, who do not directly generate fees – are usually seen as second-class operational managers. This is particularly true for those working in marketing departments.

In her excellent research, Professor Laura Empson describes how[2]:

“Many of the fee-earning professionals in firms [I researched] appeared puzzled when asked to reflect on the role of the management professionals in their firms, dismissing them as ‘functionaries’ enacting the instructions of the partnership.”

2. ‘Traditional’ marketing toolkit activities are not as relevant and add less value in professional services than product-based industries

Marketing individuals in professional services firms often work on activities that don’t add much value and have little control over activities that make a difference.[3]

A recent Source Global Research publication suggested that the current role of marketing in consulting firms is often seen as ineffective and not the most suitable use of resources. We believe this research could be applied to all professional services firms.

In particular the report “Marketing in consulting firms – A two-tier society[4]” found:

 “Marketing departments have lots of control over a wide range of marketing activities but that control does not extend to the things that actually make a difference when it comes to building brands, strengthening existing client relationships and creating new client relationships. That work is left to the technical experts (fee-earners)

 Time and money are wasted by marketing departments working on activities that don’t add much value, while organisations as a whole direct marketing effort indiscriminately at best and wastefully at worst

 Marketing departments appear to focus their efforts on things that can be measured rather than things that work in an attempt to prove their value

 Worse, marketing departments defer to consultants rather than clients in their effort to measure the performance of their firms’ brands

 Brands remain undervalued and underused

This research will probably come as no surprise to those working in marketing in professional services firms. We believe it should be a wake-up call for professional services marketers and the catalyst that brings about an honest reflection on the current role of marketing in firms.

In Part 2 of our Special Report we examine the Current Role of Marketing in Professional Services Firms

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

Part 1. The Challenges Facing Marketing Teams in ‘traditional’ 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] Professor Laura Empson “Who’s in charge? Exploring Leadership Dynamics in Professional Service Firms” Cass Business School June 2013 p.40

[2] Professor Laura Empson “Who’s in charge? Exploring Leadership Dynamics in Professional Service Firms” Cass Business School June 2013 p.34

[3] Source Global Research “Marketing in consulting firms: A two-tier society” 2016 p. 2

[4] Source Global Research: Marketing in consulting firms: A two-tier society 2016 p. 2

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