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| 17 minutes read

Episode 96: Mariana Loose of Alston & Bird on The Intersection and Positioning of Marketing and Business Development within a Law Firm

Although often considered synonymous with one another, the Marketing and Business Development functions occupy quite different spaces within a law firm. No matter how those functions operate within the firm, there is always a need to ensure they are aligned to successfully meet the objectives of the firm.

On today’s episode of the CMO Series Podcast, Charles Cousins is lucky enough to dive into this topic with Mariana Loose, Chief Marketing Officer at Alston & Bird.

Mariana and Charles discuss:

  • Mariana’s journey to CMO at Alston & Bird, and the point on that journey she realised how important Marketing and BD alignment was
  • The consequences of a misaligned marketing and BD structure
  • How marketing and BD should work together and the roles they both play
  • How Alston and Bird are aligning these two key functions
  • The importance of diagnosis and applying the right resource to benefit the firm
  • How to define what "good" looks like for both the functions within the firm
  • Advice for other legal marketing professionals on their career journey 


Charles: Marketing and business development often occupy quite different places within law firms. No matter how BD and marketing functions operate within a firm, there is always a need to make sure they are aligned with one another. Equally important is how both functions are positioned within the firm.

Today, we're lucky to dive into this topic with Mariana, Loose CMO at Alston & Bird. Mariana, welcome to the podcast!

Mariana: Thank you so much for having me.

Charles: So, Alston & Bird is headquartered in Atlanta, but I understand you're dialing in from New York?

Mariana: I am a born and bred New Yorker, actually.

Charles: Wonderful. So we're gonna jump into how law firms can best position, marketing and BD and how those can be best aligned, but really for the benefit of the audience, could you take us through your journey of how you came to be the CMO at Alston & Bird and was there a specific point in your journey when you realized how important marketing and BD alignment was?

Mariana: Oh, so that's a fun question to think about. I guess I'll say as I think a lot of people in this profession didn't really go to college thinking I can't wait to be a law firm marketing and business development professional. It wasn't really a thing that any of us knew existed, at least in my generation coming out. So I spent most of my career, well, I should take a step back. I started working in a law firm in the late nineties thinking I might want to go to law school and somewhat quickly realised practicing law wasn't what I really wanted to be doing.

And I fell into marketing. There was an opportunity in the marketing team at the firm that I was working at and it sort of blossomed from there and it kept evolving and growing and kept bringing new challenges to me. So I kind of thought, let me follow this thread and see where it takes me. And so it's been a really fun journey of 22 something years. And through most of my career I would say I've been more focused on the business development side of things.

I worked on countless pitches for new business. I did a stint as a client relationship manager.

I've also worked on the marketing side more in terms of some of the communications and marketing communications, technology. But one of the things I've learned throughout my career in all these different stops along the way is that you know, marketing and business development really do go hand in hand together. And from my vantage point, especially now where I sit, you really do need a strong marketing platform from which you can do business development. And if you are trying to do business development and not really invest in marketing, it doesn't give you the opportunities that you can really capitalize on, and on the flip side, if you're really not um having a driven business development function, you're not able to capitalise on your marketing investments. So to me, they really are a joint focus and a joint service because I do see the benefits of having the two of them together and working in concert with each other.

Charles: So that sort of symbiotic relationship, you know, if one's doing well, the other's gonna do well and if you're lacking in one, it's gonna have that impact on the other.

Mariana: Right. Right. You need both. You really do.

Charles: And what's really the consequences when, you know, this is a bit misaligned and you don't have that sort of good relationship between the two?

Mariana: I think, you know, it's really intentional that they're misaligned. I also think it's not that firms necessarily choose to not invest in one or the other. I think they often conflate them. So, you know, where in the business world they're very distinct disciplines and have been for many, many years. In law firms, marketing was where it sort of started. And then several years ago, there was the trend to focus on business development without really changing all that much in terms of what the teams or what the people were being asked to do. It was just trying to name it. I think business development is seeing more business focused for the firm and more bringing more tangible results. So I think by conflating those terms and I have to say I was interviewing a lateral partner a few months ago and said to, he said to me, he goes, “I don't really know the difference. My firm where I work now will tell me, oh, you need to talk to marketing about that or you need to talk to BD about that.” And he's like, “I don't really understand, you know, what that means.” And so I had to explain to him, you know, what these two different disciplines are. And I think a lot of firms have you know, kind of done themselves or a lot of teams have done themselves a disservice by just conflating them as opposed to investing in both and making sure both are really approached at the right level with the right level of intentionality and thoughtfulness. 

Charles: So just picking up on that and probably some of the conversations you had with that partner, how do you see Marketing and BD working together and what part should each play?

Mariana: So, one of the things I find most helpful is when you're talking to attorneys about this and not try not to get into too much jargon. Right. They, you know, some firms still shun the word ‘sales’. Right. We don't want to talk about that. We're not selling. So I think it's important to just keep things as simple as possible. So the way I tend to explain this to most attorneys is marketing is the communications we put out there for groups of people to consume. It's the webinars, the podcasts, the events that you put together the brochures, the collateral, your website, all those things that are meant to um engage with large groups of people. Whereas business development is really those 1 to 1 relationships our attorneys have with their contacts, their clients and their friends. And again, when you have those two working in concert, if you have a wonderful podcast that you can share with clients with a personal note or calling out specific pieces of it that will resonate or really add value to that client's business or professional career. You really are then maximising both, right? And you have an opportunity to capitalise on both of those things and business development in particular is one of those things that a lot of lawyers talk about needing to do and wanting to be better at. And when you have a good marketing machine in place, it gives them so many easy opportunities to do it and get good at it and practice. So I see them really working hand in hand because they feed off of each other in many ways.

Charles: So bringing this back to your firm and Alston and Bird, what are you doing to try and drive better alignment between these two functions?

Mariana: When I joined the firm about two years ago, marketing was more of an operational function and back office function. And one of the things I am doing on a lot of different levels but just in terms of educating and talking and bringing marketing initiatives forward and marketing offerings forward within the firm itself is trying to force more conversations about both of these and how both of them work towards meeting firm objectives and building on each other and being very disciplined in terms of when we talk about one versus the other, what the focus is, what's the objective, what are we trying to achieve here because it's hard to solve business development challenges with marketing initiatives and vice versa,

Right? You're not gonna be able to deal with some of the marketing issues only through business development. So I think trying to give some voice to this and bringing a lot of conversation around it in education has been a big focus in addition to, you know, sort of elevating the function in and of itself.

Charles: So before the podcast, we talked about the importance of diagnosis and applying the right resource to benefit the firm. Could you take us through what you mean and how this is playing out at your firm?

Mariana: So I think one of the things we all know about life and it's true in marketing as well is, you know, they're always tradeoffs, right? You can't do everything for everyone if you want to do any of it well, and I think one of the things that we contend with in this profession is a lot of law firm marketing function have grown pretty organically within the organisation. And historically we're staffed by, you know, secretaries or admins and people that kind of grew into those roles. And a lot of it was very service oriented, right? It was executing on attorney requests being very responsive, being very client service focused internally. And one of the things I'm very focused on and I think is important in terms of getting to the right place is elevating the function, right?

These are professionals, there are lots of people with other backgrounds that have done other things in, in other areas of the world, in business, MBAs with other, you know, business expertise and acumen that they're bringing to the table. And so thinking about how we can be more than just executors of what lawyers are asking for, but bring ideas and suggestions to the table. But going beyond executing on what lawyers are asking business professionals to do, I think is really important and elevating the function by bringing in people who have a particular expertise to the table and can help move beyond just that service nature of the role. And as we do that, you know, obviously the expectations rise and the value should rise, but also, you know, resources don't necessarily always get to increase. There's there's a finite number of resources and any organisation and law firms are no exception to that. So thinking about how you can make some tradeoffs, right?

What things that maybe the department or individuals have historically done that, of course, attorneys are happy to have, right? They like having that very high-touch support structure in place. But if they get more value and more business support from their marketing and business development and professionals, hopefully, that tradeoff in the end pays off because at the end of the day, we all want the firm to be successful and having professionals who can help grow the business and focus on expanding the work into the areas you want to grow,  will only help and be a much bigger value add than someone who just can execute on requests.

Charles: I really like that point you made about elevating the function and I guess that leads on to one of the things I was interested in finding out is how you're defining what ‘good’ looks like for both the functions that you oversee and how you know, what's marketing at its best? What does ‘good’ look like for you guys?

Mariana: Yeah, I think I'm gonna, this will probably resonate with anyone who's been working in this field for any amount of time is, you know, the request that comes to “make something look better” or “can you jazz this up” or, you know, “I'm not happy with this. It needs to be better” but what is better, right? I think it's incredibly important that we're constantly engaging our attorneys and clients with the question of what ‘good’ is, what does ‘good’ look like to you because until we know what ‘good’ looks like, it's very hard to, to meet any expectations. And so we are constantly asking that question, whenever there's a comment about something that, you know, we've done well, we want to understand, well, what about that looks good to you and why did it resonate? And on the flip side if you see a competitor or a peer in a different industry or in a different line of work that's done something. What about that looks good to you? So, asking that question and thinking about how do we define that? How do we get some real tangible examples? And implement those in our work.

And one of the other things from my vantage point in terms of a good marketing and business development team is to not only be thinking ahead of our attorneys, right? And thinking about what they might need next, but what do our clients want and need? I think too often in law firms, the thought is, you know, we need to go out and find clients who need our services. And I like to train people to think a little bit differently. We're not out there trying to find people who need what we do. We need to think of ourselves as people who need to service our clients. Right? So it's not about what we have to offer, but what do our clients need? What services can we offer our clients? And so thinking of it differently thinking about not just who needs our services, but what do our clients need and how can we bring any resources we have available to us to support those clients and help them be successful. In my mind is what a good marketing and business development team is constantly pushing and constantly thinking about.

Charles: Yeah, I think that that that will probably resonate with a lot of people. If you can address the client's needs, you're probably gonna be in a very strong position. And, just touching on that, getting feedback, you mentioned that, you know, it's hard to know what good looks like.So you have to go to your lawyers and say what does good look like to you? What sort of conversations does that involve with the lawyers?

Mariana: There's usually a pause because it's not a question I think they're used to hearing. But it does create an environment that allows for, I think from my vantage point, a lot of learning because they might not know how to articulate what it is that they've seen from either a client or a peer or a completely different industry that resonated with them. So trying to pick apart what it is about something that really made sense to them and jumped out at them, I think is a helpful, you know, they kind of tend to enjoy kind of going through that exercise. And again, it's not about necessarily finding somebody that's good at something and let's just go copy it, but it's trying to dissect it a little bit and understand that everyone has a different vantage point of what good looks like to them. And a lot of the time that aligns and sometimes it doesn't, and until we can articulate that we won't know that we're misaligned. And so to me, it's very important to have lots of conversations around it. So most of the time people are, you know, a little surprised but then happy to talk about it.

Charles: That's good. Get the conversation flowing and then you can make a plan from there.

Mariana: Exactly.

Charles: So we're now at the point in the podcast where we like to jump into the quick-fire round, and this is just an opportunity for us to learn a bit more about Mariana Loose and what your interests are. So we're gonna jump into a few questions and you've got to tell me the first things that come to your head. So the first question I've got here is what's your favourite book? Business and Non-business, so you can have two.

Mariana: Great. Okay, so business book, I think, and it's gonna sound a little boring. It's an oldie, but a goodie from my vantage point, which is the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I read this book really early in my career and I still try to think about those four quadrants every once in a while in terms of um the work that I'm doing and where I'm spending my time. So I think it's a really valuable book and then in terms of terms of non-business books, I would love to say that it's some classic, like The Great Gatsby. But the truth is I actually love British comedies. So, just about anything by Nick Hornby is one of my or my favorites. So, I loved his books, How To Be Good and A Long Way Down, especially if you like anything a little dark and funny. Those are two of his best. So I like books.

Charles: Oh, I'll have to check them out.

Mariana: Very good. Very funny.

Charles: And what was your first job? So, my first job was going, I was in college, was going door to door in the suburbs of New York City asking people to sign a petition and donate money to an environmental public interest research group. So you can imagine, you know,

knocking on someone's door around dinner time, asking them to listen to you for a couple of minutes while you go through a spiel, and then getting them to not only sign your petition but give you money is quite difficult. So I have to say to this day, that was the hardest job I've ever done in my life.

Charles: And at a young age as well, like doing that, it must have taken a bit of confidence to, you know, knock on the door and start chatting to people you don't know.

Mariana: It was almost better to not know any different when it started. So I definitely don't think I could do that at this point in my life.

Charles: And so sometimes a bit of naivety helps, helps get the job done.

Mariana: Absolutely. 

Charles: And what makes you happy at work?

Mariana: So, this is gonna sound really corny. But I love when the people on my team are successful and get recognised for their contributions. I think too often, you know, there's an assumption that if you're doing a good job, people know it and see it. But I think when people are recognised and it makes them feel good, that makes me really happy.

Charles: I like that. That's a really wholesome answer and not one we've had before. So that's good.What are you listening to at the moment? This could be a podcast, music, audiobook.

Mariana: I used to spend a lot more time in the car than I do now. But every once in a while I'll love to listen to, How I Built This. I just think it's really fun to hear the journey some inventors and business people go through in terms of the start of their business and how it's thrived and all the bumps and lumps that happened along the way. So How I Built This is always a goodie.

Charles: I've written that down as well. I'll have to check that out. So what sort of people come on that then?

Mariana: It's everything from sort of tech in people who invent different, tech companies to some people that, you know, have been in business a very long time. They did one that was really fun with Ben and Jerry's where they talked about how they started their ice cream company together. One of my favorites was the woman I'm blanking on her name who started Spanx and how she started out selling printers to people going door to door selling print no less. imagine that. So it's just kind of funny because you hear the person's journey and it's not always as direct or as easy as one thinks, or as it looks from the outside, a lots of sort of misses or near wins. Another great one was about Tate's chocolate chip cookies and how this woman built this amazing cookie-baking empire and then actually had it kind of stolen from her by a business partner and had to rebuild completely and actually was more successful the second time around. So things like that are just really inspiring and make a long drive go by very quickly.

Charles: How I Built This, right? I've written that down. I'll check that out. And then our final quick-fire question is where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Mariana: Oh, that's a good question. I haven't been to these places in way too long, but I would start with Paris because it's Paris and amazing. And then also love going to Costa Rica. It's just a beautiful place the people are wonderful. The food is great fun. Just a beautiful place to be. So Costa Rica is my happy place.

Charles: That sounds like a brilliant trip you could do Paris then Costa Rica and get your fill of food at both and a bit of sunshine in Costa Rica.

Mariana: Yeah, you have to come back and do the massive diet to uh get your body back into normal living shape.

Charles: Brilliant. So we're gonna wrap up the podcast, how we wrap up all of our episodes. And that's by asking you what would be your one piece of advice for other legal marketing professionals.

Mariana: Oh, can I give you two?

Charles: Yeah, no problem.

Mariana: They're short. So the first one to me is that you need to find something that excites you about the work that you're doing and, and try to make time to do that at least once a week. And so if you get, you know, excited by digging into the work, you know, figure out a way to carve out some time to do that. If you get excited by just, you know, chatting with attorneys and coaching a little bit, find some time to do that. I think it's really important that we keep our energy up and that you, you feel fulfilled that way at work. 

And then the other piece of it and this is something that was I picked up at a CMO dinner a few weeks ago, which from a speaker, which sounds really simple but really important to me, which is never stop learning. Make sure that you're constantly challenging yourself on a really regular basis, you know, maybe once a day, maybe at least once a week to learn something new, try something new and do something a little different.

Charles: Well, I think they're two great takeaways, find something that excites you and carve out time to do that and never stop learning. Mariana, thanks for coming on uh today and sharing your insights and thoughts around how marketing and BD functions can be better aligned within law firms. It's been a pleasure to chat to you and I wish you smiles and success for the rest of 2023.

Mariana: Sounds great. Thank you so much for having me. This has been a lot of fun.


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