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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP70 - Jeanne Hammerstrom of Benesch on Longevity, Growth, Execution & Retention as a legal CMO

Longevity, growth, execution and retention. These are just some of the facets a legal CMO has to manage. 

In this episode of the CMO Series, we explore the various dimensions of the job of a CMO. Eugene McCormick is lucky to be joined by Jeanne Hammerstrom, CMO at Benesch to discuss the key challenges facing legal CMOs today and how she’s built a successful team that has stood the test of time.

Eugene and Jeanne cover:

  • How Jeanne came to be in Cleveland and the steps along the road to CMO at Benesch
  • The secret to longevity in senior legal marketing roles
  • The value of longevity and what success looks like
  • The "sales mentality" approach within the firm and what that looks like in practice
  • How to build a support infrastructure for high performers and that impact on new recruits
  • How to structure a small team for success
  • The key to retaining top talent that the firm needs
  • Advice for senior legal marketers


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO series.

Eugene: Hello folks and welcome to another episode of the Passle CMO Series podcast. Now, usually when we put together wee agenda for one of these episodes, we'll focus on a single dimension of the job or something to do with that CMO. But when we spoke to this guest, we had to explore all the different challenges that legal CMO faces and certainly this CMO faces in such an individual way. Now, today we welcome to the CMO Series podcast Jeanne Hammerstrom who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Benesch. And we're going to look at all things to do with longevity, growth, execution and retention. Jeanne, welcome to the podcast.

Jeanne: Thank you so much, Eugene. Glad to be here.

Eugene: Delighted to have you. Now, to kick things off, you are a self-professed Pittsburgher. Now when we were first having our initial chats, you were telling us all about your love of Pittsburgh. How did you come to end up in Cleveland, how did you leave Pittsburgh? And indeed, what were the steps along the way to becoming the chief marketing officer at the Benesch?

Jeanne:  Well, it wasn't a football team here in Cleveland, I'll tell you that because I'm a diehard Steelers fan. So, yeah, I still bleed black and gold. It actually was the persistence of the then managing partner and the COO who really gave me an opportunity to create something pretty cool here and innovative in the firm. There was nothing here when I came except for Megan, who's with me now. She was an intern. So when I came in the door, there's just Megan and they allow me to build a great team around Megan. Actually she's now a director and gave me the financial and the marketing resources to do so. I was pretty fortunate in just building it from bottom up.

Eugene:  And you mentioned Megan, and indeed you've got one thing which you have in your role is longevity. We see a lot of marketers and certainly, at the moment the job market, both for attorneys and for the legal business development marketing professionals is so fluid. What do you think is the secret to your longevity and indeed longevity in senior leadership roles within marketing and business development?

Jeanne: This is a good question. I've been doing this since 1989, in total. So it's been a while. But you need to create your own happiness in any position and really gain support from the managing partner of law firm and the practice group leaders. That's really important to do when you first enter the doors. They need to know you have goals for the firm and for yourself and for your team. And you bring new innovative opportunities and ideas and you've got to follow through on them. Even if they don't work. You can't be afraid of them not working. I've learned that a long way. A lot of great mentors, but it is really you got to create your own happiness. Nobody else can do it for you.

Eugene: So it's the happiness, it's the team, but it's also working towards something which you were all co-creating together. So that longevity over that period of time, you get to actually build your own thing. And indeed, when we first spoke, you talked a lot about the growth of the firm. I think you said this is almost 100% growth over the last few years, truck loads of new attorneys. And as a business, you really are changing at a national level. What do you put down that success to? Is it all of the things you mentioned before? Is it the co-creation? Is it the partnership? Is it happiness? What is the secret to your success as a business? And you personally?

Jeanne: I wish I could package it all up, but I'll tell you what, it's been incredible growth. You said 100% for the firm over the last few years, but 200, and like 10% just in Chicago alone. We start with people there, and we're now up to 100. In fact, we're having a celebration in a couple of weeks about our hundredth attorney joining. So it's been very incredible. The growth of the firm has been exciting, and it's really been a full team effort with the practice groups who have helped these laterals in, and our operations areas. We all work together really well, whether it's recruiting and accounting and HR and all those kinds of it. We've all worked really hard in growing this. And I have to give full credit to our very passionate and entrepreneurial managing partner who a number of people have met at the LMA conference. A few years ago, when I was brought into the hall of fame, he threw a party. So a lot of people got to meet Greg. And as I say to everyone, you can't take him, he's ours. But we set out with a very focused strategic plan, and he and the administrative partner and the COO have driven that plan. Even through COVID, we didn't stop. So I give a lot of credit to him in the leadership.

Eugene: One of the things you mentioned to me before, of course, it starts with the top down, starts with Greg, starts with you. But one of the things you said over and over again was about the sales mentality. And you talk a lot about growth, but you're one of the few Chief Marketing Officers who really uses the word sales as opposed to business development. Can you tell us a bit more about not only the building of that culture, but the recognition and the encouragement of a sales mentality within Benesc, how do you do that? Why do you do that? What does that actually look like day today?

Jeanne: Well, let's call a spade a spade is what I always say. Let's be honest about it. We can come up with all kinds of creative names for it. But again, we're a business and we just happen to be in the service industry. Just like any other service company, we need to expand our customer base and we like to recognise attorneys who really take it upon his or herself to build a book of business and service clients above and beyond. So we actually created an annual program similar to those sales recognition programs you see at some high-tech companies or the Fortune 500 companies have where we give awards and recognition and do some downtime spying and golfing together and then really develop plans on how we can all work together to service our clients better and identify new prospects. So it really is a sales effort throughout the firm.

Eugene: And then everyone probably not only sees that, but they want to take ownership of it. So you're building, in effect, an infrastructure and a support thing which encourages those who are successful already. But it must also be really good that you talked about that growth of 211% and 100 plus attorneys in Chicago. It must be a real bonus when you are looking to recruit new talent to your firm.

Jeanne: It is. I got to tell you, they do use business development/sales/marketing whatever as a hook whenever we are trying to recruit. But similar to what I just described, our Team Everest program, which is what we call it, is unique in that we like to not only recognise those making real effort in developing business but support them right with business development resources and technology and even financial financially to build their practice. So, yes, when we talk to potential hires about these tools and resources available, they're pretty unique and they stand out in our firm. So it helps them to build their practice as they come over.

Eugene: Well, you're a very good example, Jeanne, of how it's quite easy to measure culture and to assess it, but it's quite hard to influence it and something which you have built with your managing partner over time to build this sales culture. Another thing which I found really interesting when we were speaking before is not just the way that you approach things as a business, but also how you structure your team. So we talked a lot about growth and how you achieve that, but actually you're a bit different to other firms. You have a very compact experienced team which relies a lot on external support, this core group of I think you have about eight people in your team to drive this growth. Can you tell us a bit more how you structure your team, how you arrived at that model, and then how you sort of drag and drop these external supporters, the support system which you've built around your Benesch team?

Jeanne: So we've been together, my senior team and I, for 18 years. I got them on board. Megan was here, but most of them came right out of school. So we have a real unique again, as you said, compact, small team. But what I did, and I think we're actually looking at structure restructuring all the time for new ways is from the very beginning they were cross-trained. So everyone knows everyone else's position here. So if somebody's out or somebody's sick or somebody has a death in the family, whatever it might be. Anybody can pick up anybody's job. But we're finding more and more that we might have to restructure a little bit more and get some more specialities. But because we are a small team and because we like working with each other so much, we've been fortunate in the firm has also allowed us to use what I call Benesch Plus outside of our immediate Benesch team. And Benesch Plus really is a conglomeration of I have a designer in Pittsburgh. I have research people in Atlanta. I have people who do content for us in Canada and in the US. And all over. So I call them Benesch Plus because they really are an extension of our team and so we are able to use those resources to help support us and supporting our attorneys. So it is a pretty unique setup. But quite frankly, there's less HR time on our part, the directors themselves, because we just really have these outside resources that manage themselves. So it's been very successful. And we try to get together with Benesch Plus once a year they come in, we meet and get to meet each other because sometimes some of those consultants change over time. But it's been very, very effective for us and we don't have all the answers right. Isn't it easier to go to an expert outside of the firm and say, what do you think this PR strategy should be? Or what do you think this CRM that we're looking to purchase should be, kind of thing? So, yeah, it's been very helpful. 

Eugene: It's a really good recognition as well of the strengths and maybe the bits where your team can’t add value. And it's also quite a nice, efficient way of running your own team. Linked to that, you mentioned Megan a couple of times that he's been with you 18 years. That's pretty much unheard of. Not just yourself staying at Benesch for that long, but someone like Megan. How on earth are you keeping people that long? What is the secret sauce? Because I'm sure there's a few listeners here wondering how on earth do I keep my team for even half that amount of time?

Jeanne: You know, it sounds, again, very simple, maybe elementary, but every time I left the house, my mom would say to me, be kind to everyone every time I left the house. So I think it is being kind and being a mentor. Make sure your team members are successful and lift them up. I always find the opportunity to let the firm management know their contributions to the success of the firm and the efforts they're making in the department. Because if I don't have them to help support me, to help support the firm, then we don't have anything here. I don't hesitate, even young in their career, to put my team in a meeting with the managing partner or the COO. All said, I just have somebody who came right out of Ohio University. I had to have a meeting with the managing partner and it was in her area. Social media. I'm like, you go, because I can't even explain this as well as you can. So I don't hesitate to put them out there, let them be successful and lift them up. But as I said earlier, I'm smart enough to know that I don't know everything and they have more to offer in certain areas than I do. So don't be insecure with that. Be secure with that and say, you know what? Here Megan. This is a different Megan, by the way, Megan is really, really good at social media. Let her do it. Somebody else is really good CRM. Let them go and talk about it. So, yeah, I give them opportunities to speak and to be in meetings and to run with things, that's really important for their professional development.

Eugene: Sort of tying everything. We've said that in the last few questions. It seems like honesty and integrity is really a big thing for you and your team and your business, what we're good at, what we're not, what we need to focus on, and actually who's the best person for the job each and every time. It's quite a transparent way of working.

Jeanne: Yeah. I mean, some people say maybe I'm naive by doing it that way, but I can only be who I am. Right? So it's like either I can answer your question or I can't or find the best person to do it or, you know, I've always sort of been that way. There have been different opportunities that I've been given to other firms, that kind of things. I knew that that wasn't what I could or should do. I'll be honest with them, like, you don't want me.

Eugene: Well, people will complement the model of how you've structured your team and how you run the business, but actually it's the integrity behind it and actually being very honest with yourself and where your strengths and where your weaknesses lie. I think that's actually the innovative part. And maybe there's no bluster or bravado. I think that's really the interesting piece behind it.

Jeanne: Right. My biggest weakness, Eugene, is sugar. That's what I gotta stop, sugar.

Eugene: Yeah. You're a woman after my own heart, and we can have a big discussion about that later. I think that's probably going to be for the core bits of questions, but if you still have another couple of minutes, I'm going to go through a quick fire round, which is non-work related, and there's a bit more about you.

Jeanne: Okay

Eugene: So first question, favorite business and non-business book.

Jeanne: Okay, so I'm going to be really honest. People give me all kinds of business books all the time to read, and I'm not really good about reading them. Just bore me. I go to sleep. But I will tell you, I'm going to give him a plug. Jim Durham's Little Essential Book of Service Excellence. It's really small and really easy and you can just take bits and pieces out of there and give a presentation at your own firm. So I really appreciate that as my business book and non-business. I really like the Glass Castle. I like that book.

Eugene: The Glass Castle.

Jeanne: Yes, The Glass Castle. Our founder Tom Elgar always talks about if you read the first few chapters of a business book, you've usually got the gist of it. So I understand what you mean.

Jeanne: I get bored.

Eugene: Jeanne, what was your first job?

Jeanne: Believe it or not, my first job, and I was not very good. I was a summer secretary at a law firm for the summer associates. It was really like at that time, nice job, worked in an office, by the way, we got to smoke at our desks and things like that. That was crazy back then, but I was not very good. But I ended up being the CMO of that law from 20 years later when I was interviewing him, like with a mandate. Do you remember me? He's like, you look familiar. I'm like, yeah, when your secretary was out on leave for vacation or whatever, I filled in and I was just horrible. He just looked at me, started laughing.

Eugene: A very small world and probably related to some of the stuff we were talking about before, but what actually makes you happy at work?

Jeanne: You know what, again, sounds sort of corny, but I love being with my team. COVID was tough on our camaraderie and we used to try to meet in parks and take walks and stuff like that. But we're laughing and sharing stories and working together. So really it's my team.

Eugene: I think that's a pretty good answer and it really comes across and everything else you said, what are you listening to at the moment? Can be podcast, music, audiobook, or anything in between.

Jeanne: Okay, well, I take long walks all the time and I listen to Dateline, which is not the right thing you should be doing while you're walking in parks. But I listen to all the Dateline podcasts, like Murder Mystery kind of stuff. And then I also recently more cheerful and very interesting podcast I listened to was The Renegades Born in the USA. It was with Bruce Ringstein and Barack Obama. And it was just really an interesting podcast on how much they had similar in their lives. And it was a really nice discussion.

Eugene: I haven't heard that one before. And last but not least, where's your favorite place to visit and why?

Jeanne: I love Key West. I just think it's relaxing, sort of my zen area and just funky. I just like going there and seeing people watching and being on the beach and hanging out with just happy people.

Eugene:  I think anywhere by water is always a bit of a winner. That was quick fire and I've been asked to ask you these two last pieces, which sort of weaves together from a slightly more professional perspective. You are incredibly successful. What would your one piece of advice to other senior and also aspiring legal marketers be?

Jeanne: As I said earlier, be nice and have fun. We're very fortunate to be in this unique industry and make sure you help with the professional development of your team members.

Eugene: That sounds very reminiscent of what Brenda Plowman always talks about. And then last but not least, you've been absolutely fantastic on this. Who would you recommend as a future guest for the Passle CMO Series podcast?

Jeanne: Oh, my goodness. I think I have to say Adam Severson.

Eugene: Adam Severson. Okay, I'll give Adam a shot. I'm also going to give Jim Durham a shot as well. As he's written his book, he sounds like a prime candidate for the next time.

Jeanne: He would love the opportunity. So would Adam, they're both very, very good.

Eugene: Jeanne I have to say a big thank you from all the Passle team for your time. It's been fantastic.

Jeanne: Thanks,Eugene.

Jeanne: See you soon.


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