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Marketing strategies in Brazil


The impact of the crisis has not been felt so deeply in Latin America, compared with other developed economies of the world. The economic growth of the countries in the region, mainly Brazil and Mexico, is fixed by rather strong consumer markets. Bearing in mind its position as the largest economy in Latin America, Brazil’s legal market is known as one of the most sophisticated markets in the region. In the midst of a highly dynamic environment, the importance of legal marketing to law firms in this country has grown substantially. We’ve asked Alessandra Machado Gonçalves, independent consultant and coach, to share her expectations from new trends and innovations of legal marketing in Brazil.

UJBL: What are the most proficient strategies for attracting clients used by law firms in Brazil? How does it change depending on a client’s profile?

Alessandra Machado Gonçalves: The most proficient strategies are the ones that promote networking and relationship development. In this sense, any strategy that fosters personal interaction is welcome. One of the most popular is events: from simply attending to actually organizing and promoting, eventually including speaking engagements and sponsorships. The opportunities in events are vast but should be used with planning and focus to guarantee better return on the investment, which does not always happen. Teaching classes in graduate and especially postgraduate courses is very common in Brazil among lawyers although all do not necessarily view it as a marketing strategy.

National and international alliances (or networks) are used by some firms with different results. My feeling is that larger firms who participate in international alliances tend to obtain better results than smaller firms that integrate in national alliances.

Some less used approaches are satisfaction surveys and market research. Lawyers usually understand their importance but few actually ask their current clients (some are afraid of what they might hear) about their services, or they hire some third party to research the market for new, potential business opportunities.

More modern approaches such as client account manage-ment and cross selling are also employed, usually by larger firms, but I do not feel they are employed with all the planning and commitment that are vital for such initiatives to be more successful.

In general, these strategies can be employed by firms with all kinds of client profiles. After all, they are all tied to personal interac-tions, which are common to everyone.

UJBL: What are the most popular marketing and PR tools in Brazil? Do you observe any difference in their application by local and international law firms?

A.M.G.: My answer to the previous question already covered many popular tools used in Brazil, to which you could also add: websites, social media, client alerts, PR/media presence (articles and interviews), publications, rankings and sponsorships (events and others).

I believe international firms, given all their evolution along the years, have a more effective use of such tools than their Brazilian counterparts, especially smaller firms. In Brazil, you have a certain number of mid to large firms but a huge number of smaller firms (and solo lawyers as well). The latter account for more than 90% of the Brazilian legal market. In addition, the reality is that most of them lack marketing knowledge and its importance in the modern market. Some do not even understand nor see value in it! In summary, only mid to larger firms actually grasp and use marketing as part of their regular business efforts.

One issue that happens with lawyers from smaller firms is that they do not understand very well the current Brazilian Bar (OAB) rules in place regarding marketing activities. The rules forbid any kind of activities that are common to commercial companies, such as advertising in general media, promotions, direct mailing, telemarketing practices, etc. As a result, most erroneously conclude that nothing can be done in terms of legal marketing. However, these forbidden activities make total sense for companies that sell regular products and services. Law firms sell professional services, for which relationship development, above all, should be at the core of any marketing strategy. This is, in some ways, a marketing myopia that I hope will change in coming years.

UJBL: Do you observe new trends and innovations in legal ma-keting in Brazil? What legal market players are most perceptive to the introduction of innovations?

A.M.G.: As I mentioned before, account management and cross selling are more recent innovations in vogue, but still looking for a more committed use by firms. The same can be said of CRM systems. More successful are the rebranding initiatives conducted mostly by larger firms in recent years. As a result, you can see firms with modern brands on top of visually attractive materials (websites, brochures, etc), more aligned with those used by regular business companies than with old style (and conservative) firms of the past century. This is a very good example as it shows that Brazilian firms, at least a few, do understand the importance of investing in their institutional image before the market.

Presence on social media sites is also on the rise, although still in an embryonic state if compared to US practices.

Usually, among the legal market players more open to innovation are the larger firms. Due to their size and their obvious interaction with international law firms and enterprises, they end up being more perceptive to trends and innovations. In addition, they do understand and accept that revenue is essential, competition is fierce and a law firm must be organized as a regular business company. The use of specialized management/marketing consulting services, as well as strategic lateral hires are other relevant consequences of such a market view. In general, they are the ones who pave the way to the rest of the market. Of course, there are also smaller and medium size firms with this more modern mentality. After all, not all law firms are agile in comparison to smaller ones. Sometimes it is much easier to change things in a smaller and less bureaucratic structure.

UJBL: What kind of players usually attract external consultants?

A.M.G.: I believe that every law firm can benefit from external consultants but it is more common among smaller to medium law firms, which usually do not have adequate internal marketing/BD capabilities. Larger firms are obviously better organized and tend to use consultants for more specific and strategic work, such as client analysis, cross selling initiatives, etc.

UJBL: What do law firms usually expect from a BD consultant? Do you observe any difference between national and international market players?

A.M.G.: Generally, they expect to be assisted in better planning and execution of their strategies to develop business with current (account management and cross selling efforts) and potential clients (actual prospecting), involving to some extent client analysis and measurable goals. Usually this is a complex and sometimes difficult work to carry on as some lawyers simply do not understand that they are an essential part of business development activities. On the other hand, some lawyers believe that external consultants can bring business to them! This whole scenario results from the fact that lawyers not thought much about business (and sales) when they graduate plus the regulation by the Brazilian Bar (OAB) condemns action of commercial attitude towards the market.

That is the reality for Brazilian firms, but I believe that there is a lot in common with international firms, not considering Bar regulations. Their expectation with regard to BD consultants is probably similar and, although lawyers graduate with relatively less business knowledge, my understanding is that they are much more business-minded than we are. They see it much more as a business, the business of law, than just simply law. Such a difference makes everything work quite differently and that probably yields more success with BD efforts, whether involving external consultants or not.

UJBL: What marketing performance indicators do you usually apply? Could you please name the average share of mar-keting expenditures in the gross expenditures of a law firm in Brazil?

A.M.G.: Performance indicators are quite important but are not yet used among Brazilian law firms, especially in regard to marketing and BD activities. But that does not mean we cannot always try to use them! Depending of the current strategy in place, we can choose from an array of KPIs, such as: client growth rate, average fee per client, average fee per new client, marketing cost per client, client retention, growth in top clients, practice area per clients and matters per client.
To some extent also an indicator, some firms do try to register the origin of their clients. In other words, by precisely how they came to know about the firm. When done correctly, it can be a great source for better evaluation of the tools currently in use.

I coauthored a study called “The state of legal marketing: Brazil & Mexico”, released in early 2011, where we researched 130+ firms in Brazil and Mexico about their legal marketing practices. Specifically about marketing expenditures, only 29 Brazilian respondents answered. Among this small group, more than two-thirds (69%) indicated marketing investments of up to 3% of their firm’s annual revenue. Since this is just a reference, it is difficult to affirm that this is a healthy percentage for investment in marketing. But this number is somewhat aligned with some percentages already published about the same topic in the US.

UJBL: What are the most common requests made of you by clients?

A.M.G.: The most common is business development. Although many Brazilian lawyers have limited business knowledge and lack business thinking, they all have the same thing in common: they want more business for their firm! As I explained before, this kind of work is tricky and some basic work should be done first or, at least, in parallel. Other requests usually involve marketing/strategic planning, a relationship with international publications and rankings (submissions), institutional content development, web-site and social media management, etc.

UJBL: What legal rankings are popular among law firms in Brazil? Are national legal directories present on this market?

A.M.G.: By far the most popular is the Latin America guide from Chambers and Partners, complemented by their Global Guide. Other popular names are Latin Lawyer 250, Who’s Who Legal, IFLR 1000 and, more recently, the Legal 500 Latin America. It is important to clarify that such ranking guides are more popular among medium to large firms that also do work abroad.

The only national publication that is relevant is Análise Advocacia 500, released annually since the end of 2006. They do some tiered ranking of Brazilian firms and lawyers, among other things, and are popular among all kinds of Brazilian firms.

UJBL: Please tell us about your most interesting project of late.

A.M.G.: Business development consulting mixed with a lawyer coaching is a project I am currently developing that I will initially start applying in a small firm. Among many things, the project encompasses the identification of the legal and business expertise of a firm and its lawyers, complemented with individual coaching for the development of business skills.

A project I was glad to be a part of was the complete rebranding project done in 2012 for a large Brazilian business law firm, which is one of the most respected and admired in the country.

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  • The Ukrainian Journal of Business Law [2013]

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