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Career Transition: A Back Story and the 5 Things That Made the Difference

Career Transition: A Back Story and the 5 Things That Made the Difference

When asked how I got into marketing, I always say that I “fell” into it. That’s the truth. But it was the greatest fall ever. It works so well with who I am naturally.

I have always loved to write and read. Thankfully, my passion for both was recognized and encouraged by teachers from elementary through high school. I have also always been a creative and visual person. I can paint pictures in my head. I read words, I see pictures. My approach to problem-solving is part analytic and part creative. I often catch myself thinking: Can we do this another way? And, things begin clicking in my head.

Armed with my natural love of writing and reading, it was an easy decision to major in communications in college. What I was going to do with the degree after it was all over was another story. Somehow, I landed at a major television broadcasting company, but in the sales department where they managed the inventory of commercials. That wasn’t where I wanted to be, and when an opportunity presented itself in the marketing department of a luxury goods retailer, I took the leap. This is where my marketing career began.

[Related: Prepared For A Job Change? 5 Strategies That Can Help]

After a few years in that position, life called me out of the U.S. for a while, and when I returned, the communications industry was in flux. Modes of communication (both personal and professional) were being driven by technological evolution. Or was it a revolution? It is hard to believe that just 15 years ago, the Internet as we now know it was still trying to gain traction with most of the world, and what was available then would not compare to what we have today.

Fourteen years ago, I made a career transition – albeit completely unplanned and without research (not the smartest of moves, I know) – from what I thought would be my “forever” industry sector to another. I was more than comfortable and happy with the idea that marketing within luxury goods retail was where I wanted and needed to be, thanks to terrific experiences working directly with three intelligent, creative and passionate marketing professionals. They may not realize how much of an impact they made in my life, but they were truly amazing.

My intent was to land right back into the marketing department of another luxury goods retailer, but the market was competitive. I responded to an advert for a marketing position on a now defunct online jobs board, and within one week I was working at a law firm. What?! I didn’t even know law firms had marketing departments! To this day when I introduce myself to someone unfamiliar with my profession and tell them what I do and where I do it, they look at me in awe and then the questions begin. When I first started the position I had questions, too. But, I realized, regardless of what is being sold whether a product or a service, the bottom line remains the same: You want people (your customers, or this case, your clients) to respond favorably and choose you – choose your product, choose your service, buy what you are selling – over your competitors.

Fourteen years later, I am still in legal marketing, which falls under the umbrella of “professional services marketing”. Legal marketers are responsible for helping attorneys effectively target and place themselves in positions for valuable client development opportunities. We help promote and communicate the expertise of attorneys in a variety of ways – and no, not necessarily through overt advertising. The showcasing of an attorney’s expertise can be bolstered by their writings – publishing articles or books, being quoted by the media on issues related to the industries aligned with their area of practice, and participating at speaking engagements, particularly in front of buyers of legal services, e.g. business owners, in-house general counsels and other senior executives who are key procurement decision-makers in companies. Much has changed during my tenure. Technology has been a driver behind the change. Look no further than social media, which has forced almost all of us to adapt and evolve.

What did I do to ease my transition from a marketing department within a luxury goods retailer to one within a law firm? Here are five things that worked for me:

Read. I mean it. Read any and everything you can get your hands on about the industry, the sector, the role you are acquiring. This includes mainstream and industry-related publications. You have a responsibility as a professional to understand the expectations of your position. A keen understanding of the business and the professionals within it is essential. The last thing I wanted to do was make a significant career shift and crash right out of the gate. Other than having relationships with lawyers as family members and friends, I had no idea what happened in law firms and what lawyers really did – and frankly, why they needed marketing anyway. Various legal publications, easily borrowed from our in-house library were terrific learning tools.

[Related: The Things Most of Us Forget When Making a Career Change]

Ask Questions. I know, I know. When you are new, you may not want to be perceived as not knowing the answers to everything. There are times when new employees are expected to “hit the ground running”, but there is a not a person on this planet who is all-knowing. That time when you choose not to ask the question when you could have, may be a big mistake (there goes that first impression). Like this: Condominiums in office buildings. What? I don’t get it. Well, I didn’t get it, but now I do, thanks to one of our attorneys who patiently explained things to this marketer with no real estate experience or real estate law experience.

Listen. I mean, really listen. This next statement may not be very diplomatic, but here goes: You can learn a lot when you close your mouth and open your ears. Too often, we are so busy talking or speaking over another person, eager to make our point(s), that we miss valuable information. When you are in transition, it is best, especially at meetings, to listen. You may be called upon to comment, but commenting should not be your primary focus. (By the way, there is nothing wrong with saying that you don’t know – but will find out and return with an answer. Nothing. Crafting and spurting baloney – yes, I’ll use that word instead – is immature and not worth it. Just don’t do it.) In addition to being around attorneys who are exceptionally well-versed in their chosen area of law, I have discovered how they think and how it is they do what they do in order to solve a client’s problem. It can be incredibly fascinating.

Join an organization. One of the first things I did once I got settled was join the Legal Marketing Association (LMA), the largest organization of professionals responsible for the overall marketing, business and client development and communications within law firms. It is also an organization that welcomes other professionals who are essential to the success of a firm’s marketing activities. These activities include media relations, event planning, design, web/technology management and development, social media and even corporate social responsibility. Joining an organization is a wonderful way to meet people, network, share and learn. Over the years, I have been a member of several organizations. During my formative years a a legal marketing professional, these organizations were incredibly beneficial. Using the LMA as an example, the monthly luncheon programs were terrific. The ideas presented armed me with information I could often implement sometimes immediately. Being an active member of an organization that relates to your field also makes a great impression when your new colleagues see you taking a vested interest in your professional growth.

Not everything is transferable. Get it out of your head that when you were at so-and-so that things were done “x” way. You know what? It worked for that environment, but it may not work with the one you are in now. How could I say the way a physical product was marketed to attract a sale would work exactly the same in professional services? Selling someone’s experience is not easy, especially when the consumer can look around and see others selling the same type of service. The perception is you’re all one in the same.

So, what’s the moral of this long story? It goes without saying and it has been said before perhaps in thousands of articles similar to this: When transitioning, recognize that it will not always be “smooth sailing”. Your rough days may be many at the start. Get ready. Be patient and give it time to get your footing. Believe me, what I knew of lawyers, law firms and law schools amounted to my exposure to “Matlock,” “L.A. Law,” and “The Paper Chase.”

Originally published on the author's LinkedIn profile on June 13, 2014. | LinkedIn Profile


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