What is the “Optimal” Marketing Organization?

OPTIMAL Marketing OrgMarketing in professional service firms can be MESSY.

Marketing departments are tossed hither and yon as firms wrestle with how much to invest in Marketing or whether it should exist at all. Firm leaders ask, “Should we focus on sales?” “Should we organize Marketing by practice, industry, geography–or all three?”  “Should Marketing be centralized?” “Should we have a shared services model or should we specialize?”  “Do we need more doers or more thinkers?” “Should we use CRM or not?” The questions– and the reorganizations– go on ad infinitum.

What is the optimal marketing organization?Most partners and practice leaders I know are exasperated. They ask me questions like:  “What is the best marketing structure for a firm of our size? What functional marketing skills [strategy, communications, proposals, CRM, social media, design] should we have?  How much should we spend?” My response is always the same: “What do you want your marketing function to achieve?” Most often, they say, “GROW!” Naturally.

This is where our conversation really takes off. I ask, “Is it growth from current clients you want or from new clients? Or maybe it’s new services? Or new markets? Is it acquisitions? What is your growth starting point? Do you retain 90 percent, 50 percent, or 5 percent of your existing clients?” These are not profound or difficult questions, but they are seldom asked and less frequently answered. As a result, firms get a discombobulated Marketing team running around trying to meet the whims of partners and demanding practice leaders—all with “a top priority.”

“We need to build our brand, generate leads, develop a strong referral base, maintain loyal clients, develop new products and services, and grow my practice.”  That sounds great. My wife wants her anti-aging cream to do a lot for her too– all within the next 14 days– but what’s really possible? (she did approve that question by the way)

What is the state of your current marketing organization? Do you have a sales force? How does it work with marketing? What technology is in place? Is your brand relevant in the markets you want to pursue? Do you have a clear understanding of ROI for each element of your marketing mix? What is the headcount? What is the budget: one percent of revenues? Two percent? Five percent?

When you are trying to build the “optimal” marketing organization, you must begin with clarity about what you want.  If you want growth  (and, most often, people do), where does the business plan identify and prioritize it?  If you want to build the brand, then what part of brand needs building: brand awareness, familiarity or consideration?  If you want leads, then how many?  If you want to launch new services, are they solutions, capabilities or products? If understanding client satisfaction and building a referral base is what you want, then do you want to focus on all clients, top clients or new clients?


You can’t build the “optimal” marketing function until you have collective clarity on where you are and where you want to go.  Once the firm has become clear on its growth priority, developing an effective and efficient function is relatively straightforward. The leadership, functional skills, strategies and tactics fall into place.

The final marketing function will be as specialized as the organizational structure, culture and budget will allow. With clarity, you can begin to align performance metrics, assess current strengths and weaknesses and begin prioritizing the people, process and technology you will need for your optimal marketing function. Either way, you must begin with the ultimate goal to clean up the mess.

Be prudent.

McKay_portaitJeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion.  His strategies have helped the world’s top consulting firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Follow @jeffmckay

6 thoughts on “What is the “Optimal” Marketing Organization?

  1. Hey Jeff,
    Great article as always. One of the things I enjoy about your thinking is how structured it is. I think one of the mistakes most often made by firm leaders is a desire for marketing to create some arbitrary, unspecified amount of consistent growth (we’d like 10% or 20%). But, growth doesn’t generally come in a clear, sustained year over year predictable rate. Rather it comes in bursts. High growth years can just as easily be followed by flat or declining years.

    • Hi, Jason. Thanks for the feedback. I think you are spot on about the unspecified amount and the inconsistency of growth. It is really important to have a collective strategy, particularly for firms with a wide breadth of services, so everyone knows where the firm is placing its bets.

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