One of the longest-running and most popular training courses at the Professional Marketing Forum (http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training.aspx) is the effective marketing Secretary or PA. Whilst many people involved in marketing and BD in the professions have a marketing degree or professional marketing qualifications such as CIM and therefore understand the theory and practice of marketing and selling, secretaries can make a different but valuable contribution to the party.
In tough economic times, when firms shed members of the marketing and BD team, it is often the secretaries who have to step up and take more responsibility for marketing and BD activities – whether they are in the marketing team or whether they are supporting a group of fee-earners.
Here are seven main reasons why I believe secretaries and PAs make brilliant members of the marketing and BD team:
1.Knowledge of the firm
Most secretaries will have been with their firms for some time. This means that they will have an in-depth knowledge of all the people and processes within the business. Their internal network – and therefore their internal communication skills – will usually be excellent. They will know as many folk on the fee-earner side as they do on the business support side. They will often know the personalities of the fee-earners and how to get the best out of other support services.
2. Ability to use the firm’s accounting systems
Whereas marketing and BD folk may have limited exposure to the firm’s accounting and practice/work management systems, secretaries and PAs will usually be expert users. They will be able to navigate through the systems easily – obtaining the data and information on clients, finance, work types and teams with ease to support the marketing planning and client management process.
3. In-depth knowledge of the fee-earner role
PAs and secretaries will have insider knowledge of what fee-earners – lawyers, accountants and surveyors – do in their day-to-day roles. This gives them amazing empathy with fee-earners and puts them in a perfect position to connect and demonstrate that they understand the pressures that they operate under. This improves the relationship between marketing/BD and the fee-earners. This insight that is rarely available to professional marketers who miss out on such a close working relationship at the coal face with fee-earners.
4. Knowledge of the firm’s products and services
Many professional marketing staff will lack extensive product or service knowledge. There is rarely technical product training available to them. They will often have only a superficial knowledge of what fee-earners do and what clients want on a day-to-day basis. Not so with secretaries and PAs – many of whom undertake a sizeable amount of actual client work themselves – whether as a paralegal in the legal profession, an audit assistant in accountancy or as a project assistant in the property industry. This makes PAs and secretaries valuable when preparing or reviewing technical content.
5. Strong client relationships
A major challenge for professional service marketers is that they are often kept at arm’s lengths from clients because of the professional rules. PAs and secretaries have often spent years talking to and working with clients and will have many contacts and relationships with client and referrer organisations. So they will have an enhanced understanding of client needs (a fundamental requirement of marketing) and will be able to properly fulfil the role of client’s representative. Their involvement in Client Experience Management (CEM) programmes should therefore be encouraged.
6. Brilliant organisational skills
Most PAs and secretaries are highly experienced in juggling heavy workloads – they often serve several fee-earners, sometimes whole teams, and are therefore adept at prioritising and time management. There are many marketing and business development support activities – such as enquiry management, analysis, campaigns, organising events, list management, planning and budgeting where these organisational skills come to the fore. And if the PA or secretary has the ability to take lots of notes quickly he or she will be invaluable in interviews and meetings and in other content development activities.
7. Great attitude
In my experience, some graduates and newly qualified marketing staff overestimate their skills and underestimate the amount of knowledge that they need to become a productive member of the marketing and business development team. This is rarely the case with PAs and secretaries who often do the reverse.
Effective marketing Secretary or PA careers
There are plenty of examples of PAs and secretaries working their way up through an organisation, sometimes gaining professional marketing qualifications along the way, who become excellent leaders in legal, accountancy and property partnerships.
So if you are a secretary or PA, please hold your head up – you will be a valuable addition to the marketing and business development team. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to make suggestions. Volunteer to take on projects and responsibilities. Encourage your boss to allow you to attend courses and/or achieve your professional marketing qualifications (see http://kimtasso.com/students/marketing/)