Marketing a professional approach: Helping members compete effectively is now top of the menu for a former dining club, writes Sharon Wallach

Sharon Wallach
Thursday 23 June 1994 23:02

A dining club turned limited company is the unlikely champion of marketeers working in the professional services sector. PSMG (the Professional Services Marketing Group), recently relaunched and revamped, sets itself the task of improving standards of marketing in the professions. Its function, it says, is to 'provide a regular forum for learning, debate and networking among its members dealing with the major issues facing professional services firms in an increasingly competitive environment'.

The chairman of PSMG is Paul Jaffa, the marketing director of the City solicitors Nicholson Graham & James since 1989. Before that, his working background was in mainline advertising and product marketing, the traditional area of work covered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. 'CIM's membership is primarily from commerce and industry,' he says. 'We believe that specific issues and problems relevant to marketeers of professional services may not affect our cousins working at Mars and Kelloggs. At present, CIM perceives that professional services are not the market for them, although this is about to change. They are beginning to believe that professional services marketing is a growing area.'

This changing mood has led to CIM's involvement in a conference planned by PSMG for the early part of next year. The institute, Mr Jaffa surmises, will use the conference as 'a tester to see if the two organisations can usefully work together'.

PSMG has its roots in a informal dining club. 'There were two people from firms of accountants, one consultant, one from a property firm, me and one other from a law firm,' Mr Jaffa says. 'We used to get together and moan about what we could do.' Out of that club grew an organisation which in turn merged with another, more formal group run by a marketeer from an architects' practice. After a 'fairly successful' 18 months, internal divisions developed over the future direction of the group. The dispute came to a head a year ago following an exchange of acrimonious letters and what Mr Jaffa calls 'other tennis club stuff'.

'It was very silly. None of us had time for it.' He said so at a meeting, his bluff was called and he found himself in the chair of the newly constituted group.

The new committee had a mandate to produce a constitutional structure and develop a business strategy. Now, PSMG is a company limited by guarantee, with all its voting and committee structures in place, including six regional committees.

'The national committee's plan is to develop a whole set of services for our members, so that there is real value in belonging,' Mr Jaffa says. 'The main reason to join is probably for the networking. There is also an element of professional status involved. We feel that the organisation should help its members, for instance those working for law firms as they develop their marketing services and the structures that support them.' Another benefit of membership is training. Many

firms have departments employing marketing people at all levels. 'PSMG felt that it had an educational role to help the younger people in professional services marketing,' Mr Jaffa says.

This notion has proved invaluable because there is no other mechanism for allowing people to learn from those actually doing the job, he maintains. Meetings therefore have a strong educational content. The group also intends to develop a series of training courses for more junior members, and plans are also afoot to set up high-level courses for senior marketeers, marketing partners and what Mr Jaffa calls 'real' directors. 'A director of, for instance, a civil engineering company probably has no background in marketing, but may just be good at it. We would like to provide some kind of continuous education for practising professionals to develop their marketing skills.'

And, he says, people will be helped to understand the market in which they operate and encouraged to look outside their own firms to the others doing similar work across the country. 'We believe that professional services marketing, as a concept, will grow wider. For example, as the NHS trusts take on marketing professionals to sell their services, we hope to take those people into membership.'

PSMG has more than 360 members, with broadly 40 per cent from accountancy practices, 30 per cent from law firms, 15 per cent from property businesses and the rest from architects, quantity surveyors and engineers. The accountancy representation is perhaps distorted because the major practices may have as many 300 marketing employees across the country. PSMG is keen to try to reduce the percentage from law and accountancy and to increase that of the others.

In the chair of the group's Yorkshire and Humberside branch is Patricia Lennon, the head of marketing at Dibb Lupton Broomhead. A core drawn from some 85 members attend meetings whose themes range from how to market marketing internally in a professional services firm to achieving a competitive edge through effective PR stategies.

The emphasis is on practicalities, Ms Lennon says. 'The group is most useful on the practical level of networking and keeping in touch with others in similar positions in different spheres. The actual presentations at the meetings are also useful. The last one was about what the client wants from his professional advisers, with a question-and-answer session led by the editor of a local business magazine.'

A pause for thought leads Ms Lennon to the conclusion: 'In fact the more I think about it, the more useful it is.'

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