Kim Tasso
By Kim Tasso

Live your brand values

This year's PM Forum conference, held in London on 21 September, looked at how firms can use their brands to enhance the client experience.

Maybe it was my imagination, but the conference hall at the Congress Centre in London seemed fuller than last year – there were nearly 200 eager delegates. Was this finally a sign of modest recovery in the professions or an indicator that the situation was now so severe that everyone was desperate for new ideas to improve the bottom line? The positive mood suggested the former.

On the table, I was delighted to see a pack of traditional sweeties from Clever Publications and a funky bit of electronic voting kit from IML incorporating a text facility to the chair and a microphone. Marketers love gifts and gadgets. Full marks.

PWC SETS THE SCENE

In a departure from previous years where either Richard Chaplin or Hamish Munro kicked off proceedings, we were welcomed by Linda Stevens of PwC – who originally trained as an auditor and tax adviser but switched from the dark side to work on business development and strategic projects.

After some anecdotes about changing from PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Linda talked us through their 2x2 brand development approach: identity (outward expression), experience (what's it like to work for us), capabilities (what we're good at) and culture (how we behave) to identify what they want to be known for. Interesting that client value and differentiation were not explicit.

DELEGATE DEMOGRAPHICS

The voting gadgets were put straight to work to reveal an interesting mix of people with diverse needs and interests:

  • 44% law, 17% accountancy and 10% marketing/PR services,
  • 65% UK, 30% global and 5% Europe (surprisingly it was 0% USA),
  • 53% headcount up to 250 and 24% over 1,000
  • 38% directors and 29% managers with 12% managing partners.
INNOVATIVE DRAGONS' DEN

An innovative (and brave) slot came next. Some 'dragons' (from Barclays, Lyceum Capital and Espirito Santo) were pitched to by three leaders in the field. Andy Raynor of RSM Tenon outlined a £10m fund for entrepreneurs – which would double every five years – and requested £125,000 to finance it; Gareth Pearce of Smith & Williamson requested £3m to launch funds in Ireland with a 37% IRR; and Sir Nigel Knowles of DLA Piper outlined a plan to use £50m to buy 25 High Street law firms to take advantage of the ABS rules in the legal market.

After each pitch, delegates were asked to score them on credibility, business case, support material, empathy, financial analysis and brand investment. There were also questions from the panel and the floor – who seemed most interested in the commodity legal market. The delegates and two of the dragons chose Nigel (one dragon chose Gareth). Personally, I would have backed the RSM Tenon concept – an entrepreneurs fund for entrepreneurs – effectively a new service in their established market.

Sir Nigel Knowles pitches to the Dragons
Sir Nigel Knowles pitches to the Dragons

FIRST BREAKOUT

After the coffee break – sponsored by Concep – delegates then had a choice. The overview options covered case studies on building a strong brand from Allen & Overy and Smith & Williamson, and taking a strong brand to market from Accenture and Mishcon de Reya. Marketing Leaders' Group options had Dr Paul Fifield of Southampton University and David Haigh of BrandFinance on commercial context or advanced branding techniques with Erika Uffindell and Geoff Dodds. Workshop topics ranged from media profile (Spada and Hogan Lovells) and corporate image (Mytton Williams – with an interesting colour analysis of accountants – and DirectLaw/Epoq) to people (JMW Solicitors and Orion Partners).

BRAND BUILDING AROUND ON-LINE PRESENCE

I chose a workshop led by a former Baker Tilly marketer who now worked for UNICEF Ireland and focused on digital fundraising. He was meant to present with someone from LSL Property Services plc (e.surv digital home surveys) although she was unfortunately unable to attend.

Raphael cantered through the steps in creating a digital marketing plan and peppered his talk with videos of the incredible work of UNICEF in saving children and improving their lives after natural disasters. Emotional stuff. Influencer theory, differences in Internet use between Generation X and Y and the move from 'flat' content to 'alive' stories (with purely video microsites) were discussed.

Most of us were impressed with his efforts to create the web presence of a fictitious professional firm and we laughed at the viral campaign which could be tailored to feature the person whose lack of a one Euro donation meant the campaign missed its target with screen appearances by Roger Moore, Jedward and other Irish celebrities.

He summarised with the following advice: get found, convert and analyse. There was some animated discussion about how to make law and accountancy practice content more interesting and engaging. The biggest hurdle seemed to be the reluctance of the partners to be seen to be doing anything new and different.

LESSONS FROM STRONG CONSUMER BRANDS

After a delightful lunch chatting to delegates and visiting the exhibitors (Mytton Williams, Chartered Development, Kelso Consulting, STL Technologies, Clever Publications, Acritas and IML) the plenary session on consumer brands was led by Tim Wragg of Millward Brown.

He made a compelling case for brands with some impressive financial charts arguing that brands propel growth, support fatter margins and provide resilience to downturns as well as creating meaningful differentiation. Only Accenture from the professions appeared amongst the top brands which achieved over 50% growth and it was interesting to see both Louis Vuitton and LIDL in the same company. Starbucks, Moet & Chandon and Marks & Spencers were featured case studies.

BRAND BUILDING AROUND CLIENT SERVICE

This was my second choice of workshop and frankly the most productive session from my perspective. Emma Price of Bond Pearce (rated No 1 for client service by Legal Week) and Elizabeth Duffy from Acritas led a small group through a highly interactive and engaging session on the client satisfaction spectrum and service excellence.

We were asked to define what we meant by 'excellent client service' and then classify our responses into one of the four categories that they had obtained from research with 2,000 companies: closeness to client, quality, speed and value. We were then asked to identify the three most critical ideas in each category and to consider the stakeholders and obstacles.

They closed the session with some interesting insights into scorecards and scoping skills and a long list of coaching questions based on the GROW model. It was such a good session that we didn’t mind that it over ran by 15 minutes which meant we missed our tea break – again sponsored by Concep – but most of us managed to get our hands on one of the ice creams on offer.

PANEL SESSION – IMPACT OF A FIRM'S BRAND ON ITS CLIENTS

Usually, my favourite session at the end of the conference is the client panel where we hear from the horse's mouth how to support our fee-earners to engage more effectively. There was a bit of a departure this year as there were experts (Stephen Cheliotis from Superbrands, Chrissie Lightfoot from EntrepreneurLawyer and Professor Vincent-Wayne Mitchell from the Centre for Professional Firms at Cass Business School) as well as two clients: Dr Isabel Hacker from Styron (major spin off from Dow Chemicals) and David Steeds (private equity and Non Executive Director of two AIM listed companies). Hamish Munro acted as moderator.

The panel session kept the room packed even at the end of a busy day
The panel session kept the room packed even at the end of a busy day

The most interesting thing to arise from the discussion was Isabel's denial that brand, web sites or marketing had an impact on her choice of lawyer – for commercial services it was based purely on the individual. However, it transpired that when it came to critical transactions she relied on Magic Circle brands (mainly, she argued, because they had more professional indemnity cover).

Stephen fought a valiant case for brands but Isobel was insistent that recommendation and personal choice of who she preferred to work with were the main criteria. There was animated debate about whether brand was more important on first purchase, the value of brands in attracting the best calibre candidates and the role of 'faceless' procurement people. Isabel explained that she received many pitches describing firm's values and thoughts but preferred face-toface interaction.

David took the line that the firm must be matched to the client and that the largest firms were not always appropriate for smaller or declining clients whilst Chrissie picked up on the individual professional as a brand. The high cost of Big Four and 'aspirational' brands was mentioned and the impact of the recession and on-line presence formed the closing remarks.

As always, the conference provided an ideal opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones – especially over afterconference drinks sponsored by Hubbard One – and to hear from the academics and leading practitioners both in-house and consultancy side. However, I detected that brand wasn't the topic that was foremost in the minds of most delegates – but making an impact and sustainable profit growth in markets that are beset with challenges from the recession, deregulation and increasing client sophistication. Maybe adaption and reinvention as a theme for next year – what do you think?

© Kim Tasso 2011

Kim Tasso is an independent strategic marketing consultant specialising in the professions and also an author, journalist and psychologist. www.kimtasso.com


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