I think we can all agree digital marketing doesn’t fit neatly into a single slot. Hence, success requires digital marketers to be expert at yet another skill: the ability to drive organizational change. Loosely translated, this means, "Those idiots and their rules are driving me so crazy I could throttle them." Completely understandable, digital marketing is hard enough as is.

While many books and conferences address marketing, few address how digital marketers are supposed to get through the day without either committing a felony or indulging in hari kiri. Not that I sailed through corporate life like the Dalai Lama. Far from it. I made plenty of mistakes, burnt a lot of bridges, and was furious a good part of the time, particularly at first. But over time I honed my ‘transformational’ skills.

For someone who spent most (okay, nearly all) of her time implementing new things, I always enjoyed working with legal and procurement, the two groups many marketers tell me they avoid by any and all measures.

Not me. One, their rules have some rhyme and reason to them, and are usually well documented.  Two, by and large their objections boil down to ‘the firm would be at risk if’ statements.  Makes perfect sense, I fully agree that type of risk doesn’t add value. Three, if you express your interest in their mission and articulate the business value of your slightly-out-of-bounds idea, I found for the most part they were willing to work with you on it.

For what it’s worth, here’s how I managed to get along with our brethren in legal and procurement. I'm not officially qualified, but given procurement jokingly nicknamed me Ms. Loophole, I can say with certainty I was proficient.

If you only take away one thought, let it be this: put in as much effort as you can before you approach these groups. Having helped others after they tried and failed, it’s much easier to do right than remedy.

How to get started:

  • Do your homework. Pretend you’re traveling to a foreign land. Unless you’re a lawyer or purchasing professional, you are. Understand their department’s organizational structure and read their guidelines. Regular marketers may not have to, but you do. Have colleagues recommend whom they enjoyed or had a hard time working with in these departments. The more you know, the better the outcome.
  • Expand your range. This is not an area where demanding behavior or arguing louder gets results. In fact, it's the worst thing you can do. Other marketing functions may cower at the mere mention of your name, but these groups deservedly wield real power. Alternately, don’t whine about your projects or your goals. They’re not therapists. They’re focused on their mission, not yours.
  • The thesaurus is your friend.  You want to know the process well enough to understand the implications of scope of work terms such as ‘campaign,’ ‘design,’ etc. One word can make a world of difference if you don’t want to end up in a certain bin. Note I said thesaurus, not dictionary. Don’t lie, just expand your vocabulary.
  • Be a boy scout. To a greater or lesser degree we're demanding nuisances who generate unnecessary risk and expense. Don’t earn a reputation as a scofflaw who requires a shorter leash. Don’t make a habit of cleaving large projects in two to route around clip levels. Don’t hire one firm, via other agencies, to do work that belongs in another procurement category. And never, ever, assume legal won’t find out or think what they don’t know won’t hurt them.

As you move forward:

  • Start with value. You’re on common ground. They’re there to protect the firm; you’re there to make sure it thrives. It only works if you both do your jobs. Outline what you’re trying to accomplish for the business, not the activity. Not, "But I absolutely need to let 300 perfect strangers tweet on our behalf," but rather, "Here’s why it’s imperative our business has a meaningful presence in this space. My thought as to how we might achieve that is..."
  • Avoid tunnel vision. Don’t walk away with a "no" unless it comes with a "why." Ask them to outline their concerns for the firm, don’t focus the conversation on the rules. Often, there are other issues you’re completely unaware of, particularly at large firms. Did you know government contracts can require a certain percentage of your firm’s procurement contracts go to minority business owners? You'd be amazed to learn what these teams have to juggle.
  • Ask them to help. I saw a great tweet from a social media colleague. Something along the lines of, “Why is it when you ask legal to weed a garden, their only thought is napalm?” Invite them to work with you. Being on the front lines all day is no picnic. I’m sure they'd welcome an opportunity to be creative and develop new solutions and policies.
  • Get even more creative. If at first you don’t succeed, let them know you understand, but that you’re going to go back and work on a solution that meets your criteria as well as theirs. If you’re as good as you think you are, you can do this.
  • Never stop educating. The more they understand, the better. Believe it or not they, too (perhaps more than you) live in an ever-changing environment. New regulations, financial constraints, etc. Provide some guidance as to how digital marketing will impact their work, and what’s coming, i.e. I may be the first, but there are at least a hundred similar requests behind me. Ideally, you become their digital resource.

Even with a "yes" in hand, the end-to-end process was always more akin to an Indiana Jones sequel than a business process. Inevitably, unexpected challenges that threatened to derail the project pop up, so it does take constant vigilance and supervision, but I’m here to tell you it can be done. Over time you’ll develop relationships with these teams; they’ll begin to see you as a partner and may even grant you a bit more leeway.

Last, let us praise legal and procurement. Be ever so thankful you've got them to help to keep you from getting yourself fired, or worse. It’s not as if the digital marketing landscape is that well-mapped. Ask them to share their field's horror stories: vendors who disappeared mid-project, lawsuits that have gone on for decades, etc. The more you hear, the more grateful you’ll be.

Photo credit: flickr/r0ck_

Pauline Ores

Published 25 October, 2010 by Pauline Ores

Pauline Ores is an Enterprise Market Relationship consultant and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (8)

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Teresa Fiore

Pauline - love this blog! Well said and so true! Glad you are sharing your infinite wisdom of dealing with Procurement and legal with others! Teresa

over 7 years ago


Brad @ TopFatLossTraine

this is a very great blog that the readers having an interest to visit it often
more on interesting things to follow  and can give the satisfactions to the people.
thank you guise for this article.

over 7 years ago


Graham @ d2

Pauline - this really is an excellent blog - thank you. I have 2 questions for you.

First - Do you find there is a difference between Government Departments and Private Sector? The reason I ask is we work about 80% with govern,ment departments and related bodies; and we find their legal teams are understaffed, incredibly pushed and very slow - we've sometimes finished a project before they've completed the paperwork and we're not always invited to discussions (this was definitely the case with the BBC).

Second -  Do you think there's a need for this work as a specific role within an agency - rather than leaving it to project or account managers? Or do you think all project/account managers should skill up in this area?

Thanks again - terrific post.


over 7 years ago


Jackie Shapiro

Excellent post Paul. Evolved detailing of how to get home safely. Thx

over 7 years ago

Pauline Ores

Pauline Ores, Enterprise Market Relationship Consultant at large

@Graham - Thanks! I don't have any government experience, but only yesterday someone told me legal approval from their private sector client took four months, so perhaps not. In answer to your second question. My guess is there isn't much you can do from the outside, but certainly from the inside there is - so I suppose that means your clients have to 'skill up.' I would suggest that includes: 1) Tracking. Many marketers send it off and wait for it to come back. Better to track every step - "did you get it, is it good to go, who gets it next." If it's stopped or missing X you know right away not weeks later. On average, our tracked PO's opened in half the time. Be a squeaky wheel, call/email till it's done. A minute/day saves weeks. 2) Helping. If I was in a rush (always) and they were understaffed (always again), I would ask how I could help. You need to find/bid three comparable firms in this new space? Here's a list. You're waiting for my mgmt. to respond? Let me make that happen. Often legal and procurement are waiting for a response, i.e. it's not them. A bit exhausting, yes, but moving forward beats waiting.

over 7 years ago


David Bruce

Pauline, as always you've done an excellent job at describing the difficult in a simple and understandable way. From my experience, the critical thing that you've covered in your post is that we're all part of the same team. Although marketing and procurement or marketing and legal may seem like natural opposites, we're all just trying to do the best for our company based on our responsibilities and abilities. Our organizations are not diametrically opposed to one another - we just need to understand one another better.

Of course, no good comment would fail to point out that there are "problem children" in every company, and their sole purpose is to confound and confuse - but they live in every organization, not just ones different from the one you're in. :-)

over 7 years ago


Dom Collier

Timely and entertaining post - I particularly like the legal/napalm reference! 

The point about digital marketers needing to be able to drive organizational change also well made. As the recent Market Data report eConsultancy/Blue Latitude report shows (The Impact of Digital Beyond Sales and Marketing, http://econsultancy.com/uk/reports/impact-of-digital), the next phase of digital innovation will have significant impact on internal departments like legal, procurement and human resources.

The report shows that the main obstacles to change are to do with budget, resource and culture - specifically fear, based on lack of knowledge about what digital innovation might mean for the way business has been conducted historically. In other words, fear of change. 

Digital marketers have always had to work with uncertainty, and the strategies they have developed to mitigate this means they have valuable lessons to share - as noted above under 'Never stop educating'. The potential benefit to the whole organisation will be significant. 

Starting by understanding constraints, learning the language and developing strong internal relationships is excellent advice - thanks again for a neat summary!

over 7 years ago


Martin Brass

Pauline this is a lovely post. In my opinion procurement and legal are simply part of the negotiating process and (large) companies tend to split client from procurement purely to negotiate a better price. My approach to negotiation is quite simple - Speed, Quality, Cost: Pick any 2. Their challenge is that they need to justify their own existence, so they need to drive down the Cost, else they are out of work. You can remove Speed (time) from the equation as (IMO) all clients tend to want everything yesterday. Which leaves Quality. If your company (like ours) is positioned on Quality, then this is where we have to negotiate. The challenge here is that (again IMHO) neither procurement or legal are necessarily best placed to understand the details around scope and quality. With this in mind, building relationships with procurement and legal folks and helping them to understand what your business actually does and the quality of your deliverables is a very sound idea and will help to position your company in their minds and (no guarantees) will lead to increased success. I just wish sometimes they would not use Excel as their format of choice!

over 7 years ago

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