Several weeks ago I was part of a discussion on marketing in the legal industry. In the course of the conversation a successful, respected law firm leader looked around the room and announced, “I just don’t get this whole CMO thing.”

His pronouncement wasn’t argumentative or confrontational. He wasn’t lobbying against marketers. He was giving voice to what scores of law firm leaders wrestle with — the questions of whether the marketing function (whatever it is labeled) in the legal space, is strategic at any level, and where it belongs in the hierarchy of a firm?

To be pointed — does marketing belong in the so-called C-Suite in law firms, participating in baseline discussions of direction, profitability and growth? Or is the industry served best by top-flight marketing communication teams, able to respond, react, deliver and facilitate communication, media relations, events and the like?

And while it may be pronounced to an uncomfortable degree for marketing professionals in law firms, the underlying issue is not unique to the legal industry.  The fact that in many industries the ultimate office in the Suite — that of the CEO — is rarely occupied by one having come through the marketing ranks, is an oft explored issue by senior marketers.  And (editorial comment here) far too frequently our response as marketers is defensive…if not indignant.

There are scores of possible causes for this. The creative, polished and often “event-driven” side of marketing — from high-end production, to the concept of “spin,” to the degree to which “optics” seem to determine so much — may give rise to the question, How can one engaged in so much “theater” bring appropriate gravity and perspective to an executive’s role?

Whatever the reason, for all marketers aspiring to leadership, here are three ideas that will change the discussions in your organization

  • First, learn and use the language of those with whom you wish to connect / relate.  Marketing-speak and Financial-speak are (most often) worlds apart.  The verbal shorthand, metaphors, and acronyms of one rarely connect with the other.  Want to lead strategic discussions?  Speak a language that will connect with and be understood by leadership, whatever their respective discipline.
  • Remember the organization’s reason for being.  Unless you market an agency or creative shop, it is probably not to win awards for advertising or gain acclaim for design and creative excellence.  Focus efforts on initiatives that directly connect to the mission, and watch the nature of your discussions change.
  • Synthesize.  See the big picture.  Avoid (indeed, fight against) the silos that evolve in every organization.  The leaders in technology, finance, and human resources are allies and partners of the successful marketing organization.  And any perspective on strategy is incomplete if it is not a synthesis of every discipline in the organization.

One reason more marketers don’t have a “seat at the table” just might be that we haven’t found the way to connect with our colleagues in Finance, Technology, HR, Professional Development and Strategic Growth — or whatever the departments in your organization might be.

A bit ironic that the group charged with connecting with the marketplace outside the organization has such difficulty connecting inside, don’t you think?  And if we are unable to connect with our colleagues, have we earned the right to an office in the C-Suite?  Should we be shocked or dismayed when leaders “don’t get the CMO thing?”