Like a great band manager, CMO Don Lee has turned Clark Hill’s lawyers into rock stars touring the nation
By Aine Cryts
Whether an attorney’s expertise is in fracking, Facebook in the workplace or cloud computing, Clark Hill PLC Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Don Lee sees his role as making each of them a “rock star.”
Headquartered in Detroit, with 12 locations around the country, Clark Hill is an entrepreneurial full-service law firm serving clients in all areas of business legal services, government and public affairs, and personal legal services. Since 1890, the firm has successfully represented clients, other entities and Fortune 500 companies—largely because, Lee said, of its DNA.
From Firefighters to Rock Stars
“Our attorneys are incredibly bright, but they’re trained to be risk averse,” Lee said. He relies heavily on the firm’s aforementioned DNA—which he describes as hardworking, very fair and transparent—to rally everyone around Clark Hill’s vision. When he started as CMO nine years ago, Lee wanted to elevate the role and the contribution of marketing to a more strategic level.
“We had a terrific strategic plan,” Lee said, “and marketing could be a value-add to that strategic plan.” He spearheaded shifting the focus of marketing away from “putting out fires” to helping to build a profitable and growth-minded law firm.
One way Lee helps his attorneys reach rock star status is to position them as thought leaders, whether their area of expertise is health care reform or the Dodd-Frank Act or pension issues. In order to promote attorneys’ expertise, Lee’s team has set up a Web-based portal called TrendWatch that educates clients about industry events that may affect their business and ways that Clark Hill can provide expert guidance.
Marketing Clark Hill’s attorneys is really about helping each of them become entrepreneurs, according to Lee. While the firm’s marketing strategy is grounded in goals and objectives, individual attorneys and practices can choose from various marketing resources, including Web properties, social media, public relations and sponsorships, to drive business.
Engineering to Sales to Marketing
“I’ve always had a goal of leading companies and leading people,” Lee said. “I love being around people. I got an Engineering degree because it was the best professional degree I could get.”
After gaining a solid understanding of manufacturing, Lee moved into a sales role—a conscious decision. “I wanted to get to know every part of an organization,” he said, “if I were to lead an organization someday.”
Having served as a President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) as well, Lee enjoys having the freedom to use his creativity and organizational and process-oriented skills in his role as CMO.
“Being a CMO allows me to make others rock stars, and make sure my CEO and our firm is successful,” he said.
Lee’s team at Clark Hill includes geographically based Managers who “own” their respective regions while having access to the firm’s internal and external resources. These Regional Managers also have their own domain expertise, such as public relations or design, in a highly matrixed environment.
Keeping Firm on the Rails
Every year, Lee organizes an offsite meeting with the entire Marketing Department; they spend a day and a half discussing trends in the legal world, in the marketing field and in their local area. An integral part of this meeting is a thorough discussion of the firm’s goals and objectives and how their team will help drive organizational success. Out of that meeting comes the group’s plan for the year ahead.
Measuring and then communicating success is the only way to really hold his team accountable, Lee acknowledged. To deliver on his commitment to accountability, he meets weekly with his staff for updates on tactics and he reports to the firm monthly and quarterly to ensure that their activities are in sync with the big-picture strategic vision.
A parting piece of advice from Lee for his fellow CMOs? “Your best friend is your CIO [Chief Information Officer]. We’re in the digital age. We’re moving so fast. And the way to keep your firm on the rails is through technology, creativity and content, which allow you to grow and change at a rapid pace.”
Aine Cryts is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.
Don's Key Partners:LexisNexis (Computer Assisted Legal Research) | New Foundry (Branding, Design, Websites) | Image Creative (Graphic Design) | Tanner Friedman (Public Relations & Communication)
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