Wednesday 22 January 2020, London

A few weeks into a new decade, the PM Forum members gathered to hear the findings from the 2020 Marketing Leaders' Benchmark and discuss what the professional services industry can expect to see in the ten years ahead. 

The event was kindly hosted by Turner & Townsend in their City of London offices, and attended by a full house of PM Forum members. Welcomes were extended by Matthew Crimes (Turner & Townsend) and PM Forum Regional Director, Susanne Pugsley (PSBD).

The event was led by Alastair Beddow of Meridian West who was joined by an esteemed panel made up of Ed FitzGerald (RPC), Katy May (LCP), Samantha Bisson (Buzzacott), Nicole Bisson (Turner & Townsend). 

Alastair opened the presentation by describing the last decade - characterised by the global financial crisis, challenges to billings and the emerging impact of technology. He then posed the question: “Who thinks the 2020’s will be a better place to be a professional services marketer?” and taking a straw poll from the audience. 

The findings from the floor showed: 

  • 1/2 seemed optimistic
  • 1/2 are uncertain

Overall more positive than the past with lots of opportunities for change.

Highlights from the Marketing Leader’s Benchmark Report 2020

1.   Competitive and changing industry backdrop

  • Government interest in Big Four accounting firms and the structure of audit
  • Ongoing acquisitions and consolidation across professional services
  • Post Brexit news positive as well as challenging
  • Convergence of the professional services offer – e.g. accounting + law etc.

2.   New service models and technology dominate strategic priorities
Top-three anticipated activities over the next year:

  • Develop new services offerings or propositions – 92%
  • Invest in technology to deliver client services more efficiently and effectively – 88%
  • Hire individuals or teams from other firms (lateral hires) - 82%

3.   Feedback comment: “…initially a charge into AI technologies, followed by a pushback from clients who want quality and the human touch. A lot of smaller or mid-sized firms will go or merge...”

 4.   One in four say their focus is to relaunch the brand
Top-5 activity priorities for 2020

  • Relaunching the firm’s brand – 24%
  • Improving client experience – 16%
  • Obtaining client feedback – 12%
  • Skills training for fee-earners – 12%
  • Launching new services - 12%

5.   Feedback comment: “Innovative new competitors who use process, tech and data analytics to challenge the law firm model, which isn't just a marketing issue but is something that will transform law firms and, as a result, the way they manage marketing. It will be a case of changing the way law firms engage with marketing or fail as businesses.”

6.   Feedback comment: “Consolidation in the market is likely to continue due the increasing significance of scale. The larger firms become, the easier it is to lose sight of the client experience…”

7.   However, budget increases remain modest
Anticipated change over the next 12months

  • Overall marketing budget – 2.3%
  • Marketing function headcount – 2.2%
  • Marketing team salaries – 2.2%

 8.   Technology adoption                                                                           

                                                                Today   By 2022   change
• Website analytics                                     96%    100%      +4%
• Social media monitoring                           82%    94%        +12%
• Content management                               74%    92%        +18%
• CRM system                                            69%     98%        +29%
• Paid/targeted adverts                               61%     77%        +16%
• Client listening tech                                  27%     64%        +37%
• Predictive marketing analytics                   10%     55%        +45%
• Chatbots to answer client queries               4%      29%        +25%

9.   Which KPIs do you measure today?
Top-four measures

  • Pitch conversion rates - 77%
  • Client satisfaction / NPS - 65%
  • Client retention rates – 65%
  • Sales leads generated from marketing campaigns – 63%

10. Feedback comment: “We will see the industry moving to a more personalised marketing approach…”

Panel Q&A Session, chaired by Alastair Beddow

The following are a set of discussion questions that formed the basis of the Q&A. The single theme that emerged above others was that of the ongoing impact of technology and its effect on the businesses and roles for professional services marketers.

1.   Which initiative in the last 12months are you proudest of?

  • Ed – Insurance key client programme. Team have driven transformation in winning new business
  • Katy – Employee engagement awards. Particularly nomination increase of 50% across categories. Reinforcement of ‘who we are’, ‘where we want to be’
  • Sam – Newly refreshed and relaunched brand. Gaining approval and launching challenging creative ideas. Volume of digital collateral created
  • Nicole – Visibility of the marketing team with the ‘C-suite’ globally. Ambitious budget plans (+25%), new technology (CRM and Finance), on-boarding new skill sets

2.   How important is data in 2020?

  • Sam – Very important for client management systems. Need more skills as well as more data
  • Ed – Need to translate data into insights. New roles for developing understanding and creating insights
  • Katy – We have data across the business and it is an important differentiator. Helps with cultural change and internal communications

3.   What are you doing to innovate the business model?

  • Ed – RPC have acquired a management consulting business. Really important addition, with strong fit to our core insurance sector business. Innovative and very different, with a start-up mentality and different culture/language

4.   Is there an increasing unbundling of services, into more commoditised services delivered by technology? (Milan Dalal – Brook Intelligence Centre)

  • Nicole – T&T are working hard to magnify the fee earners effectiveness so ensuring that highest value added for clients. Need to make sure the support is there through alignment of marketing and technical teams

5.   Is lower investment in digital/social a sign that they are now embedded in marketing? (Charlie Green – Tml Partners)

  • Alastair – much of the initial tech adoption is now integrated in the everyday role of marketers, ‘digital’ is modern marketing
  • Nicole – Senior leaders on a journey with digital/social. First education, then stats, then impact. Now focus on what is driving new work. Process of: convince – embed – prove – next innovation. Everyone is digital now…
  • Sam – digital is now just part of the toolkit. Need commercial skills alongside digital. Next generation of marketers are fully skilled digital natives
  • Katy – digital more impactful than ever. Client experience is demanding it

6.   Is the ‘human touch’ always value adding/positive? (Clare Rodway – Kysen PR)

  • Clare – is human touch overrated? Should be see AI as a positive to be working alongside lawyers
  • Ed – our (human) behaviour as a business must align with our brand and client needs at all points (to create a positive experience)

7.   Brand development – what are the lessons from a brand refresh/change?

  • Sam – move to a single brand with a brand architecture change. Real challenge for ‘egos’ as lots of other sub-brands have to disappear. Brand has to evolve over time and the guidelines should act as a framework and not a straitjacket. Underestimated the sheer number/expense of digital assets needed to cover all comms channels. The change is all about the people in getting the fundamentals of the brand understood, embedded and repeated – be that ‘broken record’ as a marketing leader. We started with culture and values and built up from there, with a lot of testing with key stakeholders

8.   Are the timelines of measurement/KPIs (e.g. 12mths) and sales cycles (5yrs) aligned?

  • Ed – ‘No’, this has been and is always a challenge in professional services!

9.   Are we going to recruit more commercial (non-qualified) managers as Partners in law firms?

  • Ed – very rare for marketing to sit at the most senior level or on the board
  • Katy – in contrast, we have Finance and Marketing Partners sitting on the board (as non-law qualified, non-fee earners) 

10. What’s the relationship between CTO and CMO, and how many data scientists do you have?

  • Sam – we (with CTO) have a good relationship as many projects/objectives can span across both. Helpful to have two budgets to contribute to some areas
  • Ed – very new CTO, and no current data scientists. Early days
  • Nicole – head of IT is a Partner. 10% of Partners are non-lawyers. Significant internal investment in technology, with data scientists (not in marketing…) 

11. Final question: Do we feel more positive about the next decade?

  • Nicole – ‘Yes’, there are many more things we can do to continue to transform marketing
  • Sam – ‘Yes’, integrate marketing further into the business, add unique skillsets
  • Katy – ‘Yes’, so much going on. All about technology
  • Ed – ‘Yes’, going to be better than 2008/9. Exciting things going on, with good engagement and feedback. More competitive than ever going forwards

Suzanne – I want to give a final big thank you to Alistair, and to all of the Panel for an engaging and thought provoking meeting.

Here’s to embracing the opportunities presented in all of the change ahead in the new decade!

Miles King
Strategy and Marketing consultant