Mad for marketing

Manchester’s legal market has undergone a period of dramatic growth in the past year and some hard-nosed marketeers want a share of the credit. DLA, Eversheds, Halliwell Landau and Hammond Suddards Edge all increased their turnovers by more than 20 per cent, figures that no other regional centre can match. But there is a danger in measuring marketing success simply in terms of turnover and profit. Wacks Caller’s senior and managing partner Martin Caller says that firms must be careful that “this attitude doesn’t prompt a feeling that legal advisers are more interested in their own success than that of their clients”.

This is a concern obviously taken to heart by Cobbetts. The firm implemented a Key Client Management Programme 18 months ago, which picked up speed throughout 2000. Indeed, as far as most Manchester law firms are concerned, client care, or customer relationship management (CRM), is the new rock and roll.

Cobbetts’ marketing manager Sarah-Jane Howitt says: “The Key Client Programme has been a great success.” But in terms of consistent, long-term profile raising, the firm is, by its own admission, “still fairly bad about generating ideas and stories for press releases”. To remedy this it has concentrated much of its effort on specific events – with some success. Last year, it sponsored the Manchester Evening News Property Luncheon and the North West Woman of Achievement Awards.

The biggest marketing coup for Hammond Suddards Edge in 2000, merger aside, was undoubtedly the appointment of Nick Wood as national director of marketing. At a regional level though, the Manchester office has been busier than most. It has been involved in the development of the firm’s key business sector initiatives. The office has also been involved in a series of e-vents – a sort of regional “First Tuesday” affair – and sponsored the annual North West Internet Awards dinner. “A lot of people came and it generated a lot of interest,” says Manchester managing partner William Downs. But did it generate any new clients? “To a certain degree,” he says diplomatically. The firm also indulged in the staple diet of seminars, some of which were more successful than others. Downs says: “You do get the odd one where only half a dozen people turn up, rather than the 40 or so you were expecting.”

According to one industry observer, Davies Wallis Foyster “pulled its finger out big time” with the appointment of corporate property partner Nigel Wallace as business development partner in late 1999. Wallace has succeeded in refocusing the firm’s marketing efforts, with a particular emphasis on client care. It seems to have worked, with turnover up 19 per cent in 2000 to 17m. Another part of this strategy was Davies Wallis’ bold step in scrapping all the firm’s existing brochures and corporate literature. Instead, according to Wallace, the firm produces a firm profile in-house, cutting out the “piles of brochures on shelves that were out-of-date almost as soon as they were printed”. He says: “This year we are going to go for every award going, as we have had a hell of a story to tell over the past 12 months.”

At one stage in the Maltese conjoined twins case, Pannone & Partners was dealing with up to 200 calls a day from media around the world. Director of marketing Deborah Ascott-Jones says: “It was by far the biggest media event that we have ever seen.” And the firm did well to capitalise on this interest, without going over the top. “It was a measured response,” she says. “We could have overdone it with a lot of rubbish.” Talking of rubbish, Pannone has cut back on corporate advertising, preferring to make maximum potential of PR opportunities. And given some of the dubious law firm advertising campaigns of recent years, this is probably a wise decision. Meanwhile, the firm’s CRM programme has achieved both ISO 9000 and Lexcel accreditation, and the message for 2001 seems to be “steady as she goes”. Ascott-Jones says: “More than 70 per cent of my time is spent on internal marketing and it will continue to be that way.”

When it comes to client care programmes, Addleshaw Booth & Co stole the show in 2000 with its victory in The Daily Telegraph/Energis Customer Service Awards. Since director of marketing Carolyn Roberson took up her post four and a half years ago, she has become one of the most widely-respected marketing directors in the country. On the e-marketing front the firm has been rather quiet, but after six months of research and planning, this year should change that. Roberson says: “We did a lot of work on our e-strategy in 2000, and 2001 will be the year in which we roll that out.” Opening a London office is perhaps as big a marketing initiative that a firm can undertake and we can expect to see Addleshaws focusing a lot of attention and resources on its operations in the capital.

The award for most unusual marketing stunt of 2000 must go to Halliwell Landau. As part of the Internet World conference that the firm co-sponsored, partner Richard Boardman spent a week holed up in a Manchester bar, using only the internet for survival. Managing partner Paul Thomas has no doubts about the project’s success. “Just the fact he [Boardman] survived could be seen as a success,” says Thomas.

Much of Halliwell’s exposure in 2000 resulted from a series of high-level partner moves and its supposedly aggressive profit-chasing. While the profit-chasing claim may be down to sour grapes from less profitable rivals, its corporate rebranding did get somewhat overlooked. Soon to appoint a director of business development and client relations, the firm’s e-strategy is also set for an overhaul in 2001.

The intensive competition in the Manchester market means that law firms cannot be shy about marketing themselves. Eversheds’ advertising programme got a lot of positive attention in 2000. Head of marketing Zelinda Bennett believes that “a certain amount of focused advertising is essential”.

The firm is also much more blatant in its marketing strategy and has appointed a sales director. There have been no calls from the Eversheds telesales team just yet, but “new legislation means that law firms can now actually cold call,” says Bennett.

The firm’s Manchester office, currently on split sites, is due to move to brand new premises in April. Bennett says that from an internal marketing point of view this “will be a massive bonus for staff”. One of the firm’s biggest marketing successes in 2000 was its involvement in the Greater Manchester Cares campaign, encouraging staff to be active in the local community.

Berrymans Lace Mawer’s new head of business development Damian Greiff says that changes in the insurance market and a series of high-profile departures meant that 2000 was not Berrymans’ best year. If there was an up side to the turmoil it was that the firm realised that the days when business somehow magically appeared were well and truly over. Unsurprisingly, the firm’s marketing suffered as a result, and most media interest stemmed from partner departures. Greiff says: “There was a certain amount of marketing but not a sufficient amount for a firm in our position.”

One of Greiff’s first projects is to revamp the firm’s website. While recognising that nobody is ever going to appoint a law firm on the strength of its website, Greiff believes that it does “contribute to the overall image of the company”. He says that after the distractions of the past year, 2001 will be “the year in which we focus back onto the needs of our clients”.

Three of the most traumatic things for a law firm are merging, restructuring and rebranding. In 2000, DLA did all three and came through remarkably unscathed. The restructuring of its Birmingham office, the absorption of Garretts’ Leeds office and its own rebranding were highly successful operations.

Perhaps the single most effective marketing initiative though was more of an un-initiative – the decision to pull its advertising out of all legal directories and to focus the resources elsewhere. Director of business development Peter Coleman says: “The time is now right to refocus investment areas that have proven to be most valuable to our clients and prospective clients.” So more on client care and e-strategies then.

Manchester’s law firms have all obviously read the same marketing text books. 2000 was the year of client care. 2001 will be the year of e-strategies – and more client care. In a competitive market, the maxim that it is three times cheaper to retain a client than to gain a new one is particularly pertinent. Silence from Weightmans and a Hill Dickinson that is “just too busy to respond” are proof, however, that some of the region’s firms still have not got to grips with this marketing thing. n