I am so excited to have Deborah Farone in the Women Who Wow series as she is truly someone I admire and someone who is the epitome of a woman who wows (also our last names rhyme). She is brilliant, generous with her time and advice, and she is a woman who supports other women.
In case you don’t know who Deborah is, she created and managed the marketing departments for two of the world’s most highly respected law firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Debevoise & Plimpton. She now runs a consulting firm Farone Advisors, where she works with company leaders and C-suite professionals to produce innovative programs in the areas of strategic planning, business development, marketing communications and key client management.
Somehow she found time to write a book in 2019! It’s one of my favorite industry “encyclopedias” and not just because I’m quoted in it. The book “Best Practices in Law Firm Business Development and Marketing,” published by PLI, was based on more than 60 interviews of law firm leaders, innovators, technologists, academics and marketers.
Learn more about Deborah.
What do you think are the keys to success in a role like yours?
As a marketing strategy consultant, it’s a balance. The ability to focus on the project at hand and to enjoy learning are both essential.
On focus, each assignment needs to receive my full attention and all the resources I can access. As a CMO, I never felt marketing was the highest hurdle. After a few decades, you have that muscle. The constant attention required of a CMO to different practice areas, groups of clients and complex problem solving is a significant challenge. Creating systems and processes to streamline the work, break-down silos and harness all of that to further a strategy is also part of the equation. Due to that work, I’ve learned to be very organized and focus on one issue at a time. On the other hand, I need to notice the nuances of my client’s organization in order to provide the proper guidance to help them succeed.
On learning, as a consultant, I put aside the notion of “I’ve seen this before” or “I know the answer. There is precedent.” Really no two assignments or two firms are the same. Yes, you learn by being involved in reoccurring issues and applying that learning, yet each firm is different. The solutions and implementation will be unique. It’s essential for me to always remain in a learning mode.
When I speak at a partner retreat or to new partners, I always spend time getting to know the firm. I want to know about their belief system and the marketing capabilities they have on hand. As a speaker, you want to impact the lawyers and for them to leave with new ideas and motivation. You never want them to leave being frustrated with their current team.
Any advice to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
I believe all of us need to take responsibility for our own career growth and our own financial stability. Don’t depend solely on an organization, no matter how reputable, to create a future for you or to lead you on a path to greater success. There are many wonderful employers who will nurture their staff and provide outstanding training, but ultimately each of us needs to be the master of our own careers. That doesn’t mean that one needs to leave an organization in order to grow. It means taking responsibility for learning and improving, whether by becoming involved in a non-profit to learn new skills, networking with others outside of your line of business, or taking classes.
Financial independence is vital for both men and women, but women still need to play catch up in this area. When I had my first job after college, my dad advised me to put $20 every week into a savings account. With each raise, I would set aside a little bit more. I am no Suze Orman and I admit to a well-documented weakness for nice handbags, but when saving money becomes a habit, several things occur. You begin to enjoy the process of saving and, and it gives you more freedom to do other things, such as start your own business or create a unique side-hustle. More critical, it gives you the ability to have options and think calmly when you want to get out of a bad personal or business situation.
How has the pandemic changed you?
Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” I think when the pandemic struck, so many of us were in shell shock. I had a one program in the works for a client that had to be placed on hold, but I knew I had to continue to be there for them. Even if a project wasn’t happening, I was still providing advice and counsel in whatever way I could. I am fortunate in that I really adore all of my clients, and so maybe we were all there for one another.
In the last 12 months, I’ve been fortunate to have had exciting assignments: Working with the GC of a global consulting firm and his in-house legal department, producing a podcast with Lavinia Calvert at Intapp and working on a number of strategy projects for long-term clients. Those things have kept me very engaged.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about how personal and corporate brands respond to a disaster like this one. I’ve had many business friends call and reach out, and yet I have one who I suspect is likely still hiding beneath her bed.
Unfortunately, there are no magic beans for growing a brand. Brand starts with what a company stands for and how it acts. You further a brand, you don’t grow one. Someone recently said that a firm’s culture is only as good as the worst behavior it allows. For individuals, it goes beyond what is on your social media profile. It’s how you treat people. Consider the partner who leads a firm’s practice area, yet he is dismissive of dedicated employees. I have been giving this a lot of thought.
Brand starts with the personal note to a colleague who is having a tough personal time or the time spent going for a coffee with someone looking for a new job. While you can have the most beautifully crafted LinkedIn profile, if you don’t consistently treat people with dignity, none of the marketing matters.
How are you breaking barriers faced by women in your field?
I don’t think in terms of barriers. I know that there are not many women conducting strategic planning on a law firm-wide or department-wide level. Part of that may be the assumption that the market is saturated by bigger players. Having years of experience in the area, when I was first asked as a consultant to do this work, I jumped in. I love partnering with other experts in the field. If I am approached about an area beyond my expertise or something I don’t think I am the best person to handle, I refer a client elsewhere. The other option is to offer to work with them to create a transparent partnership with the best talent in the area where I may be missing it. Knowing that you are not going to excel at every part of the marketing mix, and being honest about it, is vital.