Marketing is one word that means a lot of things.   And marketing takes on a lot of responsibility in a professional services firm from branding to online marketing to coaching to revenue generation and client retention.  Some marketing activities take a lot of time but don’t cost much money and some are expensive but are easy to execute.  This latter bucket is where a lot of professional services firms get into trouble.  Don’t fall into these five traps that will spend-down your marketing budget without much to show for your investment.

Being a Generalist:  The fastest way to waste your marketing budget is to go after any business down the street to provide compliance services.  Business owners and executives can’t judge the quality of your work directly so they put value in what they can judge – your experience working in their industry, your website, proposal and other marketing, and their gut feeling when meeting you.   It’s going to be much easier to get quality referrals and win new business (while commanding higher prices and doing add-on consulting!) if you can do it with an industry focus because you’ll be able to differentiate from the competition and convince the prospect that you’re the best firm for the job – because you will be!

Sponsorships:  There are few ways to spend marketing dollars faster than with sponsorships.  Commonly ranging from $5,000 – $25,000 or more, there is rarely a sponsorship worth the money in pure marketing value.  I know it’s tough to say “no” to a big client who asks your firm to support an event they’re involved with, and saying “yes” has intrinsic value.   My advice is to put an annual cap on your sponsorships, and decide in advance your selection criteria (client requests, in a niche market, etc) and maximum spending levels so that you can respond to requests respectfully even if the answer is “no” or you choose to get a table instead of doing a full sponsorship.

Advertising:  Advertising in the traditional sense (magazines, newspapers, etc) is a tough recommendation to make for marketing for a couple of reasons; it’s very expensive, and it’s very hard to measure any direct results.  Advertising is an “awareness driving” marketing activity so you’ll have to do it on a consistent basis to have any hope of making an impact; which brings us to the first issue of it being expensive.  If you’re going to do advertising it needs to be in a niche market with other marketing to support it like a call-to-action in the ad that you can track and that is supported with other marketing activities that direct people to engage further with your firm.  For instance, an example of a “reasonable” ad campaign would promote an upcoming webinar or ebook download on your website showcasing your focus in a specific niche in a niche focused publication.

Internal Events:  Internal events are firm-only gatherings like summer outing or holiday parties.  Is this even marketing?  It shows up in most professional services firms marketing budgets but there is zero marketing benefit.   I suggest that you create a new budget for employee-focused spending because your marketing shouldn’t have to show ROI for a total marketing budget if you’re putting non-marketing activities like internal events in the mix.

Charitable Giving:  UGH.  I had to write this blog post in Thanksgiving week.  I can feel the bad karma.  But really, charitable giving isn’t marketing.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s GREAT that companies are opening their wallets.  I’m a huge fan of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and think it makes a big difference in firm culture, hiring, and retention of young people.  But, as with internal events, perhaps you have another way to categorize this spending.  While you should promote your gift on your website (careers page and blog) and in social media, it’s not likely to be any marketer’s top choice for how to spend their budget.   Consider following the lead of many large companies that are creating foundations or employee directed giving funds instead of lumping charitable giving in with marketing.

You should choose what mix of marketing activities to undertake based on what your firm’s goals are for the coming year because different activities have different natural outcomes.  If you’re looking for help with designing a marketing plan and budget for 2018, I can help.  Contact me any time!

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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.