If you were going to build a top-end law firm finance practice, one capable of transacting complex synthetic securities transactions, you would not – with all due respect to that redoubtable city – build it in Belfast.
Law firms have created outsourced centres in places like Belfast, Glasgow and Manchester to transact all sorts of day-to-day work because they can recruit reliable, decent-quality lawyers at a lower cost than in London.
But you would not do it with high-end finance because Belfast is not a ‘recruitment locus’ for high-end finance lawyers – they are nearly all in London.
So why do law firms think they can outsource other things where the primary recruitment locus is London, without affecting the quality of the output?
Take the creative professions – graphic design, copywriting, film-making – and many of the communications disciplines – journalism, social media, communications technology, even good old-fashioned PR. There are plenty of graphic designers out there, for instance, but fewer who can do digital animation and fewer still who are competent at creative film-making in a business context. While many people think they can write, the best creative copywriters and journalists stand out a mile.
The recruitment locus for all these people is, you guessed it, London. And not – with due respect to the valiant boroughs of Wimbledon, Bromley or Havering – outer London, but central London.
The Shoreditch effect
In that feverish place where technology meets design such as at the bleeding edge of web, social media and advertising, the industry epicentre is the erstwhile London Borough of Shoreditch, straddling the postcodes EC1 and E1. What was once a run-down hotch-potch of crumbling warehouses and council estates in the East End is now the capital’s development hotspot. ‘Buzzing’ scarcely does it justice – it is exploding with talent and opportunity.
Google knows this. Amazon knows this. Facebook knows this. That’s why all three companies are situating themselves in Shoreditch, along with thousands of others, multiplying the recruitment potential for bright young things interested in creative careers.
So if you are going to have an in-house design and comms team, take a guess where you are going to get the best people for it. And if you are going to use an external agency, guess where you are going to get the best outcomes?
There is no doubt that London is a more expensive solution but, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Secretarial services in Leeds are no doubt every bit as good as they are in London because the skill – and it is a skill – is commonplace and spread fairly evenly across the country.
But the more specialist you get with anything, the more you need to seek out the key recruitment locus for the best results.
Articulate your culture
Now, you might think your firm’s brand is something of a sideshow – less important than, say, partner recruitment. If you do you are, I’m afraid, a complete idiot.
In a sector plagued by service confusion, where clients find it practically impossible to distinguish between dozens of providers all saying the same thing and charging the same – funny, that – successful branding is more, not less, important.
“You might think your firm’s brand is something of a sideshow. If you do you are, I’m afraid, a complete idiot”
It needs to be sensitive. It needs to be appropriate. It needs to blend history with forward thinking – it needs to articulate your culture better than you can. Every time rubber meets road – business cards, logo, brochures, website, social media, presentations, letterhead, office reception areas – it needs to leave the viewer/listener in no doubt about what you stand for and your ability to deliver it.
So next time your head of business services comes to you with a wizard wheeze to outsource your design team to Southampton, Hull or Newcastle (due respect etc) or decides to use an agency in Wellingborough, Bath or Carlisle (due etc) to cut costs, think carefully about whether you want your firm’s external expression handled by people outside their own industry’s centre of excellence.
Or is it just your finance lawyers you want to be excellent?