Marketing the professionals is hazardous to your career: Neasa MacErlean on the heavy toll among 'second-class' staff

THE HISTORY of marketing within professional firms is a chronicle of frequent and expensive personality clashes, according to a new report.

A survey published in Professional Marketing shows that 25 per cent of marketers in professional firms leave their jobs within 12 months of starting and another 35 per cent leave in their second year. Only 40 per cent stay longer than two years - a short time in the implementation of any marketing strategy.

The research by Richard Chaplin, who heads the recruitment consultancy, Strategic Marketing Connections (SMC), concludes that: 'Personality clashes are the main reason for an early departure.'

Intellectual heavyweights are more likely to be thrown out of professional firms than people who think and question less, according to the survey.

SMC suggests therefore that professional firms need to think more deeply about personality when recruiting rather than focusing solely on technical skills or experience.

Successful marketers must be 'acutely aware of office politics' and 'thrive in a role which tends to be more tactical than strategic', the survey adds.

Many marketers who work in the professional sector have been sacked at least once or have left a job under a cloud. The lack of harmony in this sector is the subject of much discussion, and the consensus is that marketing is given a far higher profile, status and budget in other sectors. In professional firms, marketers are generally seen as second-class citizens. A number of lawyers and accountants still apparently resent the idea that they have to do more than be good at their work to sell their services.

Because they are worried about job security, many marketers have stopped challenging the suggestions put forward by the partners who employ them. Stephen Perrett, a freelance consultant who was formerly marketing head of the solicitors, Davies Arnold Cooper, has compiled an annual league table of the media profiles achieved by law firms. In 1990, Herbert Smith came first, but only because of the unwelcome attention it received as adviser to the Al Fayeds in their deeply controversial takeover of Harrods. The next year, Freshfields topped the table, but again for negative reasons - its appointment and subsequent replacement as adviser to Touche Ross, the insolvency specialists in the BCCI affair. 'With the exception of Clifford Chance, the top firms have a reactive PR function,' said Mr Perrett.

There are, of course, exceptions. KPMG Peat Marwick, the accountancy firm, has had the same marketing chief, Tim Roberts, for seven years. The firm is known for its proactive PR and for a wide range of targeted publications, sponsorships, seminars and other marketing activities. But Mr Roberts believes that marketing in the profession as a whole still has several obstacles to surmount before it can catch up with industry.

'The professionals haven't fully yet appreciated that marketing is an investment. There's still a tendency to see it as a cost. Truly, marketing should be developed against a strategy, which should be a minimum of three years, if not five or ten years,' he said.

In the legal profession, Clifford Chance has probably been most consistent in its marketing approach. Robert Pay, its marketing head, has been there for nearly six years. Other large firms, however, tend to be rather disparaging about Clifford Chance, suggesting it pays too much attention to packaging and not enough to the real product.

These other firms should be wary. Last week Datamonitor, the research consultancy, reported that Clifford Chance had a 16 per cent market share of company commercial work, a third more than its nearest rival, Freshfields.

But fourth in the Datamonitor table was Slaughter & May, with 7 per cent. Slaughter, widely regarded as the blue blood of law firms, has never employed a marketing professional in-house, and it seems not to have suffered for this decision.

Getting rid of marketing professionals can be expensive. Salaries at the top end range from pounds 60,000 to more than pounds 100,000. Budgets are likely to be about three or four times that. Then there are recruitment costs and the lost time of partners and other staff in the firm.

This cost is not only to the firm involved. 'The credibility of marketing takes a hell of a hammering in this situation,' Mr Chaplin said. 'In terms of the development of a firm, putting the cause of marketing back can have very serious consequences.'

(Photograph omitted)