Developing the roles of marketing and BD secretaries, PAs and EAs

The recent workshop on “The effective marketing and BD PA/Secretary” organised by Professional Marketing Forum ( was attended by delegates from law firms, accountancy practices, patent attorney and design firms. Developing the roles of marketing and BD secretaries, PAs and EAs was a key point of discussion. 

Professional services marketing is different

We covered the fundamentals of marketing and business development. We explored why marketing and business development is different in a professional service firm, including:

  • Professional services are intangible – It is hard for the client to know what the service will be like until they purchase and experience it for themselves. This is one of the reasons why there are so many events – opportunities for clients to get to know the fee-earners and to effectively “try before they buy”.
  • There are professional rules – Professional bodies (e.g. The Law Society, RICS, ICAEW etc) govern the activities of fee-earners in their marketing, selling and relationship management activities.
  • Differentiation is hard – Many professional services are the same so it is hard for the clients to understand the differences between firms and fee-earners. This is why brand, experience and relationships are so important.
  • Different roles – In industry, companies usually have separate marketing and sales teams. Yet in the professions, whilst marketing is usually conducted by central teams of professional marketers, there is a reliance on selling and client development where the fee-earners take the lead. Those supporting fee-earners in business development have to be skilled at marketing, selling and relationship management.
  • Long, complex sales cycles – Unlike consumer services where advertising dominates and decisions are made quickly by just one individual, the purchase of professional services can involve many individuals in a client organisation across many interactions over a long period of time.
  • Cross-selling – In many firms, a lot of effort is directed at internal communication and co-ordination to provide excellent value-added services to encourage clients to buy services from multiple teams and offices.
  • Referral management – Many professional service firms direct their marketing and selling effort not at the end users of the service but at intermediaries (sometimes other professional advisors) who are in a position to refer their clients when they have a need. This is particularly the case in transactional work such as mergers and acquisitions or in litigation.
  • Reputation is critical – In many consumer organisations, brand is the driving force. But in a professional service firm there is a greater emphasis on the reputation of firms, teams and individual fee-earners. There is a huge amount of activity aimed at raising profile and building reputations – whether through directory entries, conferences, media relations or social media.

The difference between marketing and selling is explored further here: (2019) (2004)

Developing secretary/PA knowledge

Due to the nature of their roles, secretaries and PAs will often have a really good understanding of clients, markets and the professional services provided to them. In many cases their product knowledge will be superior to those in full-time marketing and BD roles.

Secretaries and PAs will also have the benefit of direct contact with clients and will often have relationships with people client-side which means that they are in a great position to learn more about clients and client needs. This information is the life-blood of marketing and BD programmes.

We also talked about where to acquire further knowledge – both within a firm’s systems and the external market. Most firms have intranets where marketing and business development plans and lists of key clients, clients, referrers and targets are held which are easily accessible by secretaries. Secretaries and PAs are in an ideal position to undertake further research into contacts and clients – to share with their fee-earners and to add to the firm’s databases and systems.

Secretaries and PAs are often encouraged to attend marketing and BD meetings – whether for sector groups, practice teams, pipeline and opportunity management updates or other marketing/BD projects. They can both contribute valuable information to these meetings and also glean information that will support their fee-earners in their business development efforts.

In many firms, secretaries and PAs are in the fortunate position of having a fantastic overview of the firm’s systems and services and can therefore act as effective cross-pollinators of ideas to help people join the dots internally.

A four page reading list was provided signposting further information on a variety of marketing and BD topics..

Delegates were also directed to look at the excellent free on-line training resources provided by Hubspot and Google where they could learn more about digital marketing, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SMM (Social Media Marketing).

For those interested in more structured learning, we also looked at the 2019 revised syllabus for the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) professional qualifications covering foundation certificate, certificate, diploma and post-graduate diploma (

Event management

Marketing and business development in professional services firms involves a lot of events. Contact marketing can include everything from informal coffees, drinks and lunches through small groups at webinars and seminars and up to full blown conferences with hundreds of delegates.

Preparing fee-earners for events

Secretaries have a number of roles to play here. In the first instance they must support their fee-earner in his or her preparation for the event. This usually involves internal and external research, the preparation of briefing notes and action plans.

Then there is the scheduling of time with other fee-earners who are involved so that there is a cohesive and joined-up approach. Time might be spent researching, preparing and packaging any presentation materials and handouts. Often, there will be scheduled rehearsals and briefings for those who are attending.

Organising events

Often, secretaries will become involved in organising the logistics for events. Researching and visiting venues, liaising with banqueting staff as well as caterers and technicians, preparing purchase orders, organising transport and accommodation, preparing the rooms and any materials to be distributed and organising for invoices to be paid. Seating plans are a frequent activity.

Sometimes it can take months to prepare a large conference where involvement extends to building stages and exhibition stands, arranging for third parties to attend and present, complex content production such as videos and automated presentations as well as research and thought leadership campaigns. Whilst there may be a dedicated events team in a firm, often a huge amount of work is delegated to the secretaries and PAs.

At the other end of the scale, secretaries and PAs might be tasked with organising lunches, dinners and social events. Co-ordinating diaries is a skill in itself – even when we have online calendars and schedulers. Knowing the type of venue and activity that will appeal to the guests – and ensuring that every detail is attended to – can take a huge amount of time and energy.

Organising overseas trips

Many secretaries play an important role in organising overseas trips. There is a lot of preparation that goes beyond the logistics – scheduling multiple meetings during a limited amount of time to be really time efficient for fee-earners while they are there and preparing the vast volumes of information that they will need to be fully prepared for each meeting.

Many secretaries and PAs who support real estate specialists will know only too well all the work that is involved in something like MIPIM which takes place each year in the South of France. And there are numerous international conferences in Asia and the Middle East for those involved in construction and litigation. Liaising with associates in foreign jurisdictions across cultural and time divides takes particular skills.

Attending events

Secretaries will often be involved at the actual event. Here secretaries have to act as ambassadors of the firm – having a wide knowledge of the firm’s markets, clients, services and activities. This is both to enable them to have productive conversations with guests and delegates and to sign-post them to the relevant individuals.

Other activities include directing guests to facilities, providing badges and delegate packs, meeting and greeting clients and helping them to find the people they wish to meet. It is often the secretaries and assistants who will keep an eye on things as the event progresses – prompting venue staff and dealing with over-runs or situations that were not anticipated.

Increasingly, secretaries and PAs will play a crucial role in social media promotion before, during and after events. Many fee-earners use systems like Passle to develop and share relevant content. But many secretaries assist with live-tweeting or sharing photos and images to extend the reach.

Follow-up after events

And once the event is over, the hard work of follow up begins. Typically, there will be a debriefing session where information is pooled and follow up activities logged. Secretaries and assistants then play a key role in ensuring those follow up activities are recorded in the firm’s plans and systems and scheduling activities in fee-earner calendars.

Project management skills are valuable for those organising major events (see and

Supporting ABM and KAM

In larger firms, the focus is often not so much on winning new clients but on developing relationships with existing clients and referrers (referrer management).

Key Account Management (KAM) is where business development effort is focused on a critical client relationship. There is a huge amount to do in gathering all the information about the separate companies or divisions within that key client – sometimes on a global scale – and all the individuals at that organisation.

Data management is a critical activity where using the firm’s systems to log key data and activities and extract profiles and update reports is where secretaries can make a valuable contribution. There are often both internal and external meetings to arrange, content for campaigns and presentations to organise and a range of other events to co-ordinate. Good internal communications is critical (see

Account Based Marketing (ABM) is similar to KAM – it is a focused campaign of marketing, selling and relationship management activity directed at a potential new client or referrer rather than an existing one. Again, researching and managing the information and internal and external communications and co-ordination and planning are key roles for marketing and BD secretaries.

In both ABM and KAM it is likely that fee-earners will be required to prepare presentations, pitches and tenders to try to win work. Secretaries are usually adept at interrogating the firm’s systems to obtain information on the relevant fee-earners and case studies for such documents and know their way around the templates and systems to produce them in the firm’s brand or house style.

For major presentations, pitches and tenders there will also be significant work in liaising with the marketing and BD team, project managing the work to meet the client’s deadline and internal communications to co-ordinate all the fee-earners that are involved. Many secretaries and assistants will be tasked with managing the information in pitch tracking systems and the communications activities that these require.

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