There is an old line about the inexact science of marketing? The apocryphal Marketing Director declares that at least half of the money spent on marketing is fantastically successful ? the trouble is the Marketing Director does not know which half?

There is also an element of the emperor?s new clothes about marketing ? not so much a strategic investment in brand or values but more about keeping up with the Jones?s.

I once heard a very serious and lawyerly partner justify spending several thousands of pounds on a swanky Mediterranean conference as the best way to stop his clients from talking to some other firm that would be there as well. Was this strategic marketing or just heavy duty chaperoning?

Then there is the often repeated dance which is the law firm?s seminar programme; the premise is to dress up low key networking as a learning experience for the firm?s contacts. The in-house lawyer is enticed into the firm?s den with the promise of free CPD and consents in doing so to some gentle probing from slightly green but earnest associates developing their chat-up lines.

If it works the firm runs an inexpensive relationship building event, the in-house contact picks up cheap training and everyone’should be happy?What seems to happen more often than not is that the law firm is left to feel slightly cheated of the relationship building part of the deal as the ?no-shows? almost outnumber the people who do come and the in-house contacts that show up feel slightly guilty for leaving early but also slightly put out that no-one they knew was at the session in any event!

It is not long, on this basis, before marketing becomes just a little discredited. Instead of taking a long hard look at the effectiveness of every penny spent a conspiracy of comfort zones takes over; partners and associates resort to inviting their friends to lunch, their events, the rugby etc, while in-house lawyers give up their internal training budgets as a painless cost saving measure knowing that there will be half a dozen law firms that will give then the CPD.

Empty boxes are ticked.

Then there are the poor old marketing managers who, in law firms, have a tougher job than in most other lines of business?

First, the budget they are given is begrudged, perhaps because those granting it (begrudgingly) know that their own dysfunctional behaviour will ensure most of the money spent on marketing will prove to be a waste of time.

Secondly expectations are just way too high for the amount of money that is spent. Marketing is always very, very expensive and will only usually work over an extended period of time. Holding one?s nerve when the creative types down the corridor are threatening to burn serious amounts of money is not natural territory for the risk averse lawyer.

Thirdly, simply agreeing the marketing plan for the firm can take so much energy a lot of marketing professionals are developing their personal exit strategies long before they have delivered anything resembling a significant success to their reluctant paymasters.

Does this analysis mean that the whole thing is a waste of time? That law firms should not do any marketing or invest in relationship management strategies? Obviously not but in my judgement expectations do need to change.

We need to get back to first principles.

Marketing should be reflective of the values of the firm, its culture, ambitions and character. Any disconnect will discredit the marketing and the message.

Simple and focussed messages that put context and direction to values are the most powerful marketing tools. ?Simplify and focus? might not be the most sophisticated message in the world but time and time again the businesses that succeed or the ones with the least complication around their proposition and the clearest direction.

Investment in relationships must also be undertaken thoughtfully, systematically and sensitively. There must be discipline around the processes and their must be measures for success which reward the right behaviours and which, frankly, punish the behaviours which are antagonistic to the process.

I don’t want to make it sound mechanical because there is a very important human element in what must be observed and delivered, but too often firms jump from one strategy to another, from one initiative to the next and this lack of coordination and discipline undermines confidence in the lawyers and their clients.

The next time you spend marketing budget taking a friend to lunch for the umpteenth time, or turn up to a breakfast briefing on the latest legislative change and find a pile of uneaten croissants instead of a room full of eager contacts, reflect on this thought?

?Perhaps we should spend a little time deciding not to do some things we have always done, before we spend even more time and money repeating what we know makes such little difference.

And just maybe, we should leave the clothes hanging in the emperor?s wardrobe and consider instead delivering on a simple and focussed commitment to the values we believe in.