Re-thinking the relationship between Legal and Marketing functions
by Chiara Lamacchia
Businesses need to focus on aligning legal and marketing efforts, now more than ever.
During the 80s, the industrial design sector became conscious of the need for a blend between the design phase and the research phase with a knowledge-sharing approach in all phases of the production cycle. As a result, research, design and manufacturing learnt how to work in concert as the only way to create value.
About four decades later, we are moving the focus on the relationship of two other key business components: Legal and Marketing.
These two fields of actions are so interdependent that we would expect the related functions to work in unison. In fact, most of the times they operate at separate levels, with different mindsets and approaches. In this case, the points of connection between the two are hard to envision, and therefore there are virtually no possibilities to adjust their dynamics.
On a business level, the companies concretely evaluating a reciprocal enhancement between Legal and Marketing are extremely few. Quite the opposite, businesses are most of the time unaware of tools and approaches to thinking legal differently and they are rather reactive when legal and marketing are in order.
Can we re-think a more closely alignment of the two functions?
This is what “lawrketing” stands for – a new field for businesses and other organisations that finds its very first application in the misalignment between legal and marketing, through the integration of innovative practices and approaches to enhance the joint performance and increase the contributions of these two functions.
What is the main issue when it comes to legal and marketing?
Long story short: legal and marketing are misaligned.
On one side, the Legal team and advisors tend to believe that Marketing sets strategies without a complete legal check and is not giving enough time to legal to evaluate. As a result, they are somehow forced to say “no”.
On the other side, when receiving a “no” from their colleagues in legal, Marketing blames the Legal for the impossibility of (what they believe is) brilliant strategy execution. Marketing tends to believe the Legal is out of touch when it comes to marketing and insufficiently aware of the larger corporate strategy.
While we could long debate about factors influencing the misalignments between legal and marketing functions, I would like to quickly address two of the main sources of friction:
- Needed: Any business activity, included marketing, requires diligent legal research. While Marketing is responsible for setting the strategy, planning actions and campaign and establishing the overall promotion, Legal has often the last say. During this “last” step, the amount of relevant legal aspects, ramifications, and impact on business overwhelm lawyers who have limited time doing research and evaluation. Therefore, when asked for their approval or inputs, lawyers need enough time to be able to assess the situation and evaluate alternatives.
- Given: Legal and Marketing are responsible for a sequence of activities investing the overall company brand, products/services and the relationships with all stakeholders. Any marketing move has at least one related legal aspect to leverage. However, Legal often plays no role in this process if not only at the very end when the marketing strategy is already locked down and the action plan is a moment away from its implementation. This is when the “call-the-lawyers” stage arrives: far too late to guarantee a smooth and frictionless approval. Marketers hardly think of including the legal in the conversation to make the point on critical upcoming legislation having an impact on marketing strategy. Lawyers are therefore given little time to play with.
- Needed: Marketers are somehow moved with the same degree of research but in the strong need of achieving quarterly KPIs and strategy goals. They tend to act rapidly, looking for innovative fast-tracks, enhancing and bending ‘content’ if needed. They need out-of-the-box inputs and proactive colleagues capable of sparking new and unconventional ideas. When facing problems, they need on-time solutions.
- Given: Legal professionals are taught to think defensively: they tend to proceed carefully, methodically, appropriately, finding catches, researching, evaluating all possible inputs and calculating the risk. They tend to be reactive rather than proactive and are not used to go a step beyond when it comes to being “out-of-the-box” or “innovative”. They are there to clarify what is feasible but not proactive enough to trigger brainstorming and conversations that go further.
Why do Legal and Marketing need to be more aligned?
From a “lawrketing” angle, the misalignment between Legal and Marketing represents a barrier to value-creation impacting the business on multiple levels: from more immediately tangible financial losses to more deeply embedded problems impacting brand reputations, brand equity, customer perception, positioning.
There is no doubt that when departments and functions work complementing each other, companies are heavily benefitting. Therefore, there is no difference when it comes to Legal and Marketing working together, particularly in terms of cost-savings, risk reduction and improved company performance.
Looking at the market, we could for instance mention some well-known companies with an early stage of Legal and Marketing alignment: Adidas on plastic waste, Argos on sustainability, Deutsche Post DHL Group on gender diversity Mozilla on privacy. These are contexts where Legal and Marketing are starting to collaborate with a view to mutual benefit and where the business itself tends to be increasingly proactive around legal trends and topics concerning both Legal and Marketing.
What are the possible next steps?
We indeed live in an era of niche specializations. It is also true that in such an era, clear communication and cross-field knowledge become paramount.
As the interconnected and interdependent relationship between Legal and Marketing becomes progressively tangible, lawrketing aims at envisioning law as a central character of the business strategy plot, starting from finding a meeting point between Legal and Marketing. In this sense, companies are urged to promote the integration of the legal function into the marketing journey, through:
- changing the role of the lawyers in the strategy design dynamic, including them right from the start;
- choosing the right legal partner who is capable of going proactively beyond the legal-as-usual;
- changing the business action from “reactive” to “proactive” where legal trends are monitored and become the baseline to foster innovation;
- introducing necessary tools and processes to supporting the collaboration between Legal and Marketing.
The future will be owned by organisations capable of managing and responding to the legal complexity and speed of nowadays marketing challenges.
If on one side lawyers and professionals in the legal sector should gain a more proactive and innovative mindset that goes beyond “the usual”; on the other, marketers shall embrace a new attitude when it comes to law looking at it as a greater strategic trigger that stimulates thinking, creativity and innovation.