Managing a busy marketing team or function is stressful and sometimes overwhelming, says Deborah Farone. Having a few simple tools at your fingertips can help

Managing the marketing function in a professional service firm is tough. It’s particularly rough when you are on the front lines leading a department, producing great work, and dealing with professional revenue builders, including  lawyers, accountants, consultants or architects. One of my CMO clients recently said to me, “The stress of having so many bosses, so little time and few resources is getting to me.” This is not a surprise and we’ve heard this before.

After building marketing and business development functions at two large law firms, Debevoise & Plimpton and Cravath, Swaine & Moore, I’ve learned many of these lessons the hard way. Through trial and error of my own, I’ve kept track of the tools that have been helpful to me. These days, I often coach CMOs and offer the advice it has taken me years to learn. Here are just some ideas that may be helpful.

Put it down on paper

If you are overloaded, write your long to- do list on paper or type it into a document. Get the stressors out of your mind and onto paper, and you will be better able to visualise what you have ahead of you. Take the list and prioritise it into two or three sub-headed sections based on time sensitivity. My list generally has a ‘must-do’ and a ‘nice-to-do’ section, just to keep things simple. Once you do that, you’ll be better positioned to plan your priorities and consider tasks you can delegate.

Avoid being overwhelmed

Don’t look at the long to-do list every hour of every single day. Rather, each day, take a few things, three to five is what I usually recommend to my clients, put those on a small notepad and focus on accomplishing just those. If there is time after accomplishing those, you can always go back to your longer list and pluck out a few more items to master.

On Fridays, review your past week

Were there things that others could have helped you with? Were there projects that could have been done better, more efficiently and more effectively? By looking back, you’ll be able to tell what worked best for you and adapt and move ahead differently for next week.

Direct reports

If you are structuring a new group, avoid too many direct reports. It’s a road to burnoutdom. The rule of seven says that you will be more productive if you can have seven or fewer. I believe that as well.


Avoid silos of information within your marketing organisation and the firm. Some of the most significant stressors I see when working with law firms come when one area doesn’t know what the other is doing. The friction (otherwise known as complaints) from lawyers and your own staff are generally issues that could have been mitigated by breaking down silos. By creating processes to keep workflows going and putting good communications in place, you can avoid a tremendous number of problems.

Take a break

In addition to real getaways, take mini-breaks, even during the day. A walk outside or a trip down the block to grab a coffee can increase endorphins, get your brain cells moving and release some of the pressure. It will also help you think more clearly when you return to the office.

Learn to say no

One year, I spent several weekends on the phone with a particularly brilliant (yet challenging) lawyer. By the time May rolled around, I realised I has been absent from three holiday celebrations with my family. To some degree, it was my fault for not drawing the line.

Annual goals

Set an annual goal for yourself. You may decide that this is the year to have a better balance between work and home, or you may decide to delegate more often than you have in the past. Keep that macro goal on a piece of paper on your desk or someplace where you can visualise it. Consider buying a trinket with a word that symbolises your goal. For example, during a year when one of my clients was trying to focus on taking care of their health, they kept a beautifully smoothed stone on their desk. Inscribed on the stone was the word ‘health’. While the piece became something he held on to during phone calls and used to help him calm his nerves, looking at it reminded him of what he wanted to focus on during the year.

Keep your brain refreshed with new ideas

Be active in industry organisations; for me that means PM Forum, the Legal Marketing Association  and the International Bar Association and listen to programmes and podcasts on topics you love, even if they don’t relate to your career.

Deborah Farone is a marketing strategy consultant based in New York City and is the author of Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing. Her practice involves helping law firms and lawyers in the areas of marketing and business development through consulting and coaching. Visit

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