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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP69 - Deirdre Christin of Covington and Burling on building a more impactful career as a legal marketer

Ed Lovatt is lucky to welcome someone creating meaningful change in her legal marketing career to the CMO Series. On this episode, Ed has the pleasure of talking to Deirdre Christin, Chief Marketing Officer at Covington and Burling LLP about how legal marketers can have more impact on their firm.

Deirdre and Ed cover:

As a function, legal marketing is becoming increasingly more important and plays a core role in creating impact. With this evolution, there is a greater opportunity for legal marketers to have more impact on one of the world's largest and most critical industries.

  • How Deirdre came to her role at Covington and when she first recognised that ‘impact’ was so critical 
  • Why finding the right firm that aligns with your values is so important
  • What marketers should be looking for during a recruitment process to find the right firm
  • When the firm/marketer fit is right, how marketers can go about finding the right opportunity at their firm that will have an impact
  • How marketers can approach buy-in within the firm when they have an impactful idea
  • How to identify when something has made an impact


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO series.

Ed: Today on the CMO Podcast series, we have the topic of building a more impactful career as a legal marketer. The function of marketing is becoming more and more important and impactful for law firms. As part of this change, there is the opportunity for savvy legal marketers to have more impact on one of the world's largest and most critical industries. We're so incredibly lucky to welcome today's guest to dive into how legal marketers can have more of an impact on their firm. Welcome to the CMO series Deirdre Christin, CMO at Covington and Burling.

Deirdre: Thank you for inviting me.

Ed: Now, Deirdre, I'm going to jump straight into the deep end and I'm going to give the first question a two-pronged question. So my apologies in advance for that. But to start us off, how did you come to be in your role at Covington? And when, in your career as a marketer, did impact become something that you recognised as something that was critical?

Deirdre: Yeah, I joined Covington thanks to some networking with the then director of marketing at the firm. She and I had a coffee and a month or two later, she called me about a job here. And my first job at Covington was as a marketing manager for a specific practice group. Shout out to my friends Kelly Stuart and Jon Blake for providing that entry point to Covington. And since then, I've had the opportunity to take on a number of different roles, and most recently, I became the CMO in 2017. So, on your question about impact, of course, there's the immediate impact of a successful proposal, winning work, or a great client event, helping a relationship. But I remember realising the bigger impact that a firm like Covington makes in the world. And it was a real eye-opener for me as a 20-something-year-old, to realise that the firm was working on issues I was reading about in the newspaper every day. We help clients navigate sanctions related to the war in Ukraine, or we're helping companies that want to provide employees with access to reproductive health care after the recent Supreme Court decision, we've done critical work helping companies respond to the pandemic in the last couple of years. So it's easy, I think, for a marketer to feel frustrated with your incorporating, like, another round of edits into a client alert you've been working on all day. But I do think it's important to recognise the impact a firm like ours makes to help people. And I'll give you an example. I recently interviewed a client at a pharma company, and when I asked her for her perspective on why she hires Covington, she answered, in talking about how our work helps patients, not how we help the company, but how we help patients and that's impact.

Ed: Yeah, that's a bit of a much deeper dive as to the impact that it's having, rather than sort of taking a bit of a bird's eye view on it. That's quite interesting to hear, actually. And also, I'm glad to hear that you've got your role there from having a coffee, which is something that probably people haven't heard of happening in the last couple of years due to the lovely pandemic. So it's nice to hear that things like that do occur.

Deirdre: Yes.

Ed: We spoke briefly before the podcast, and you mentioned how important the wider firm is to having an impact as a marketer. So for the benefit of the listeners, why is finding the right firm so important?

Deirdre: Well, I think you can't do meaningful marketing work in an environment that doesn't support it. Right. You have to really understand the job that you've been hired to do and whether the firm environment will facilitate you doing it. So, for example, do the leaders of the marketing department have a good relationship with the leaders of the firm? Do they even talk to or meet with the leaders of the firm? And how often do the lawyers who you'll be working with have a clear vision for what they want to do? And is their vision something you can actually achieve? So at Covington, there's no origination credit. So our lawyers are really incentivised to work together without negotiating for who gets credit for client work. And that, for us, provides a tremendous platform to do good marketing because the culture rewards lawyers working together and it also makes our work more enjoyable and fulfilling.

Ed: Which is very key. Do you feel that there was maybe a light bulb moment for you when you've realised that Covington was the right firm?

Deirdre: I've always felt happy and comfortable here because the people are so good to each other and to their clients. Maybe it's a light bulb moment for me when I realise that it's not that way everywhere else and talking to some of my colleagues at other firms. Right. There's a lot of networking in the legal marketing industry, and to hear people talk about problems they had that I just didn't face was a bit of a realisation for me.

Ed: And probably a relief.

Deirdre: Yes, that too. It's one of the things that's kept me here so long.

Ed: So how do you go about finding the right firm? What should people be looking for and what the marketers need to look for during that recruitment process?

Deirdre: Well, first you have to make sure there's actually a job description and that the expectations for the role are clearly articulated and consistent among the different people you interview with. If you're hearing a different story from two or three different people, I would pause on that. And I think you really have to evaluate both the marketing team and the lawyers that you'll be working with. For a mid-level or a senior role, I would expect to interview with the lawyers that you'd be working with, and for more junior roles, I'd expect to interview with several members of the marketing team. I would ask about how the marketing team is viewed internally. I mean, at Covington, we're really viewed as strategic teammates in setting and executing marketing plans. And we have, as I mentioned, we have a real seat at the table and that's not the case at every firm. I'd also ask about the tools that are available to do your job right. Like, does the firm have a good tech stack that's going to help you find the right matters and do a good proposal or are you going to spend all day chasing information around and trying to dig things up? I'd also ask about the integration process. So for our team, we develop a written 90 day integration plan that's customized for every new person who joins our team. And then the new person and their supervisors sit down at 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days to say, how's it going? Are we hitting all the marks? Is everything on track? And we sometimes have to adjust things, but I think without that level of clear expectation and support to get started, it can be hard to be successful.

Ed: I love that 90 day implementation plan. Sorry, integration plan, did you say that it's kind of simple to do, but actually probably has massive benefits in the long run?

Deirdre: Totally. And people really appreciate it when they come on. I mean, we hear all the time, people say, wow, I didn't have anything like this at my last firm. I just showed up and they wanted me to go figure it out on my own. But that's not how we roll.

Ed: Yeah, I imagine that there's probably a few listeners that will hear that and think, actually that's quite easy for us to throw in the mix as well and add to our process. So, moving on a little bit, if the firm and the marketer fit is the right fit, how can marketers find that right opportunity at their firm that will have an impact, if that makes sense? I feel like I ordered that question a little bit strangely, but how can they find the right opportunity at the firm to make that impact?

Deirdre: So I think one of the key things here is for people to talk honestly with their supervisors about their work and the type of work that they want to do. I've seen a lot of people assume that they have to leave to get a new opportunity, and that's not always the case. I've also seen people struggle with having too much to do and not being able to figure out what's most impactful. But you should be able to rely on your teammates and your supervisors to help you figure that out. So look, again, we're very candid within our team. Somebody comes to me and says, hey, I want the opportunity to do this work and it's not something that's possible. We would tell them that if it's not possible, but I think it helps to talk about it and to ask what's possible and figure out in a collaborative way what work will have the most impact.

Ed:  But also to have the environment where people can come and ask. I think that's also quite key.

Deirdre: Absolutely. And, you know, like I said, we're honest with people. I don't want somebody to stay in a job that they're not happy with.

Ed: No, that's not an ideal situation to stay in. Buy in is such a huge challenge for legal marketers. How should marketers would an impactful idea approach bring that to fruition, which which kind of follows on from what you just ended with.

Deirdre: Yes. So I was thinking about this question ahead of time. When she was about five, one of my daughters asked me how you get money? And I had to explain to her that you don't get money, you earn it. And it's the same thing with buy-in that you have to earn the trust of your lawyers or supervisors by consistently doing really good work. Right. You have to be responsive and reliable. You have to meet your deadlines. And then when you have an impactful idea, you demonstrate that same good work in presenting your idea. Right. You have to show that you've done your homework in preparing the idea and anticipate what questions or objections someone might have and shop the idea around. Right. Ask your colleagues or bosses or lawyers you're working with. Hey, I have this idea. Do you have 15 minutes to give me your feedback? Because you get really good feedback that way. And I think people should also be prepared for it to take more time and effort than you think it should to get the okay. So we've done a lot of really exciting and impactful marketing projects here at Covington, but every one of them has needed multiple conversations before getting a green light. Right? And each conversation, each meeting, each presentation helps you sharpen the idea and really improve the likelihood that it's going to be successful. I often see less experienced marketers feel frustrated with the process. They just want to ask and have somebody say yes. But lawyers are trained to look at evidence. They're trained to look at precedent. They're careful, they're deliberate, they're risk averse. And those are the qualities that make them a good lawyer. So the sooner you accept this and work with it, not against it, the better. Your credibility will be.

Ed: Absolutely. Very analytical in some of their ways, which makes it good because your processes are analysed before they go to fruition. I love that your daughter asked that question. It's a fantastic question and something I probably should have asked when I was five. I think.

Deirdre: I will never forget it.

Ed: I'm sure we could probably talk more and more about this, and it probably has its own separate podcast. But then how do you know when something has had an impact? Or how did you realise when something that you did had an impact?

Deirdre: So I have kind of two parts to this answer. One is lawyers are not shy about providing feedback. So usually they're going to tell you how something went and when you've had an impact, they'll say thank you when something works well and you've made their marketing life easier. And even if they say that they're unhappy, it's a chance to learn about why or how to improve or manage expectations for next time. And then the other half of my answer is we spend a lot of time cultivating the talent on our team because we can't execute all the good ideas we have without an amazing team doing all that work. And our marketing leadership team, the directors and I recognise that not everybody has the same access to information that we do. So there's a lot of steps that we take to share the impact and make sure that everybody sees the impact their work has. So, for example, our chairman comes to our department meeting once a year to talk about the firm strategic goals and how marketing supports those. We have a written four year marketing plan that we share with everybody on our team so they understand the impact we're trying to make. We ask teammates to give updates at our department meeting about the progress of various projects so that they can share the impact they're making. And then we have smaller working groups to help us tackle like specific opportunities or challenges or problems that we're finding. And I would say in terms of like, how do you see the impact if your lawyers or your marketing supervisors aren't giving you that feedback? Ask for it, right? Law firms are really busy in demanding environments and sometimes it's as simple as just putting 30 minutes on somebody's calendar to ask a debrief about a recent project or better understand the impact you made and how you can make more next time.

Ed: And just follow on from that. How do you feel when asking for feedback? Do you feel that it is quite free flowing or it does come to you?

Deirdre: Yes, definitely. I have never asked a lawyer for feedback and had them be unwilling to provide their opinion. They're happy to share what they think. And I think the same is true within our team. Right? Like, we keep talking about this honesty pact. We are all positive and cooperative, but honest with each other. And so if I go to somebody and say, hey, how did that project go? And they think it didn't go so well, they are empowered to say that.

Ed: Which I think is quite key to having a successful team that pushes each other a little bit because honest feedback is actually how you grow. It makes a huge difference rather than just telling a bit of a white lie and saying everything is fine when maybe it's not.

Deirdre: Right.

Ed:  So think towards the end of the podcast, we have a quick fire round where I'll just ask you a couple of questions. I think I've got five written down here, and it just requires a very easy quick answer, if possible. What is your favourite business and non-business book?

Deirdre: So my favourite business book is called Leave the Office Earlier. It's old, but it was really useful as I got my feet under me. In an industry where it's easy to have information overload, it has a lot of practical advice about working smarter. My favourite non-business book? I don't know that I could pick a favourite of all time, but my favourite lately is called The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. About the blitz in London during World War II was really interesting.

Ed: Oh, wow. Okay. Both of those I'll have to look it up. I haven't heard of either of them.

Deirdre: You'll enjoy them.

Ed: I will find out and read them. What was your first job?

Deirdre: So in high school I worked at a place called the Discovery Zone, and it was a little bit like a Chuck E. Cheese and had, like, a ball pit and arcade games and a snack bar. And I hosted birthday parties for little kids, like six or eight parties every weekend day. And each party had a different package, right? So some people got pizza and some people just had cake. And I had to keep a dozen kids entertained in the party room in the hopes that the parents would tip me at the end. And there was this awful uniform with, like, bright blue wind pants and a red and white striped shirt. But I will say that job taught me a lot about project management and customer service.

Ed:  I bet it did. I've only ever been to Chuck E. Cheese once, and so if it's something that's comparable to that, I can only imagine. This is often a question that can be quite entertaining, but what are you listening to at the moment? Either a podcast or music or maybe an audio book.

Deirdre: I'm afraid maybe my answer is not so interesting, but nothing. The only time I have to listen to something is on my drive to and from work every day. And I actually use that time usually to make phone calls. So I talk to my sister in the mornings every day on my way into work, and then I'm usually doing work calls and conversations on the way home.

Ed:  I think that's a fair answer. You're listening to other people? Yes. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Deirdre:  I couldn't pick. I have a tie between South Stephanie Beach, Delaware and Maine, and it's because my husband and I both come from very large families, and in both places we are with a mob of cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. And maintaining that big family scene is important to us, and it's really joyful to see our kids develop that big family identity too.

Ed: That's a fair tie. I cannot blame you at all for that. I haven't visited Bethany yet but have been up to Portland, Maine and I can understand why you'd say Maine.

Deirdre: Yes.

Ed: Last quickfire question. What makes you happy at work?

Deirdre: The people do. I have so many good friends at Covington and they have been with me through many ups and downs and I really appreciate the opportunity to do impactful work with really great people.

Ed: That is a fantastic answer. And the last question that we always end one of our podcasts with is what would be your one piece of advice for marketers looking to have more impact with their careers?

Deirdre: I would advise people to work hard and be nice because you don't always know where that next opportunity is going to come from. But if you do good work and you're a good person, people will want you on their team.

Ed: Couldn't agree anymore. I think that's a brilliant answer as well. Deirdre, it's been absolutely fantastic having you on and getting to dig a little bit deeper into something that is important to you and learn a little bit more. Thank you very much for coming on the podcast. Much appreciated.

Deirdre: Well, thanks again for having me. It is such a fun job and a fun industry and I've been fortunate to have a good career.

Ed: Thanks very much, Deirdre.

Deirdre: Thank you. 


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