I reconnected with Janis Nordstrom, Chief Strategy Officer at Wolf Theiss, at the Marketing Partner Forum in Miami in January – and peppered her with questions about her globe-trotting legal marketing career. It’s different, mainly, because she is an American LMA member living in Austria and working for a non-U.S. or UK law firm.
Having served as a CMO or senior director at large U.S. firms, I asked her how what she does abroad is different than working in the U.S. – and where the Chief Strategy piece fits into her role. Here is what she reports about her life and responsibilities:
I am sitting here in the airport in Vienna, waiting to take off for Moscow, thinking how far legal marketing has come over the years and what the expectation now is of a C-level legal marketer. I am charged with a great deal more than having oversight over traditional marketing or practice development efforts, although at my firm, Wolf Theiss, we try to do both extremely well.
Because of the way European legal practices are run, I have become more of an advisor, ambassador, door opener and deal maker with regard to business development opportunities, which involve multinational corporations and governments throughout the world.
I must navigate 25 languages, 30 nationalities and a host of cities and political issues virtually every day. I must set the tone and draft the strategy for multiple offices, practices and industry groups with highly diverse needs and expectations, and serve as a key integrator in making highly disparate cultures and lawyers operate as a single voice.
I must become the face of the firm and cross the divide between western and eastern cultures, whether I am in Vienna, Warsaw, Dubai, Istanbul, Moscow, Beijing, Rio or Singapore, and make everyone feel comfortable, while always representing the best interests of my firm.
In our firm, I am a primary bridge that connects business and law. I must make each side’s opinions known and help them discover how they can best work together when, at times, it appears impossible.
As a legal marketer, I know the firm, its lawyers, its issues and areas of emphasis because that’s what a legal marketer does. I am a front line client service provider for both internal and external clients. I know who these people are, what they want and what they like – and what they don’t.
Like other CMOs in global firms, I am an objective third-party-witness to what goes on in my firm. I am thankfully viewed as a teacher, mentor, thought leader, advocate and judge.
It’s important that I know what the press thinks, and what colleagues and competitors say about my firm. It’s important that I can clearly see my firm’s weaknesses and strengths through their eyes.
Our Management Board, Firm Chairs, Senior Partners, Department Heads and staff ask for my advice, and much of the time, I know they actually listen to me. Earning a seat at the table is critical to every senior legal marketer. I have worked hard to get a seat at the table and, after four years, am trusted enough to branch out into the real business world and serve as a key spokesperson for every working segment of my firm.
When I have a spare moment, I am excited to share what I know with everyone who might be curious or interested, for I have learned so much throughout a long and multi-cultural career.
I am becoming ever more cognizant of a continuously growing highly competitive marketplace in which all my C-level counterparts pass each other in the night, looking for ways to stay one step ahead of each other or to join forces when necessary to achieve a result we otherwise could not achieve alone.
Unlike global firms headquartered in the U.S. or U.K., I have no known address or headquarters from which I operate. I live on planes, eat unfamiliar food, stay at an assortment of unique hotels each night, attend endless meetings, rarely see my family, hate my BlackBerry, love my iPad and am absolutely passionate about what I do.
I work on a global basis. I have become a true citizen of the world. I recognize my fellow weary business travelers waiting in airport lounges and have become adept at transforming a casual
conversation into a meaningful business relationship.
Without sounding presumptuous, I think I am the face of what global legal marketing will look like in the future. Can we even call it that anymore? Have we outgrown that moniker?
I have become a Chief Strategy Officer. I am arriving in Moscow, so must dash off.
A final note: the “seat at the table” works differently at European firms. It’s progressive and inclusive. My wish is that American law firms consider this as a logical next step for experienced legal marketers. The firm and the marketing/business development professional will greatly benefit.
Janis can be reached at Janis.firstname.lastname@example.org.