Monday, 30 September 2013

Marianna Valletta

Italian legal PR Marianna Valletta believes that fortune favours the brave. She told me this at the launch of her new agency Valletta Relazioni Pubbliche in Milan. I was curious to know about the market opportunity for specialist legal PR support in the domestic Italian market and what this might tell me about the trajectory of Italian law firms as commercially-oriented legal businesses. How developed is the demand for professional standard communications support? I am familiar with the story at the very top end of the market through our friends at leading Italian firm Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, but I was inquisitive about the rest of profession surrounding them. Marianna's launch gave me the perfect opportunity to inquire. 

"In Italy the game changer for legal communications was the Bersani Decree of 2006 giving law firms the right to advertise for the first time. Since then there has been a revolution in how the legal profession and the firms within it approach relations with their various publics, and of course the support they need from communications professionals in doing this."

This took me back to my own early beginnings with legal marketing in the UK, my big opportunity being a junior support role to the first ever legal marketing professional to be employed by a law firm after Law Society rules relaxed in 1987 allowing law firms to advertise and market themselves for the first time. Once I realised I was in at the ground level of a brand new strand of marketing and PR, I chose to consolidate my opportunity by studying law part-time evening (five years to complete my LLB... ouch!) Similarly, Marianna chose to position herself as a leader in the legal PR field in her country, following her graduate degree in cultural sciences with a Masters in Communication, dedicating her final year dissertation to the study of legal marketing and PR. She then worked at leading Italian business-to-business marketing agency Marketude for a numer of years before setting up on her own this month.

"I really do believe I can add something new and fresh to this field of communications. The profession is so new to it and so many aspects it doesn't understand. For example there is little appreciation of the difference between marketing and PR amongst professional firms over here, and although the more sophisticated are building some in-house marketing capability, they do not see PR as a separate discipline.

"More than anything, though, what I can bring that's different is a communications-led creative approach. Italian legal marketing so far seems to have attracted ex-lawyers, economists and researchers. Undoubtedly these disciplines are extremely valuable to a profession getting to grips with such a new and alien branch of knowledge, but creativity is also important. So people like me who come at it from a communications background have a lot to add to the mix. In Italy there are in fact very few of us who are communications specialists first, legal marketeers second, so the opportunity for me is to influence the blueprint."

Marianna's creativity is visibly evident in her choice of street graffiti artist Kayone as special guest at her launch party. His energetic, colourful works decorate her new offices in via Compagnoni, a visual metaphor for all that Marianna can bring to the Italian legal profession. in conversation with her clients and friends at the party, the enthusiasm for Brand Valletta was clear: her creativity, her emphasis on warm relationship with clients and her colourful approach to doing business (and yes, I am talking about her passion for shoes - we have so much in common Marianna and I!) This woman will go far I am sure. Good luck Marianna! And remember, you promised to pay a visit to Kysen Tonic in London soon!
Legal Cheek has treated us to a round-up of the real pioneers in the legal Blogo- and Twitter-sphere this week. Social media is now by and large an accepted part of the legal marketing mix, even though the profession's understanding of the medium leaves something to be desired. But you don't have to look back very far to see this familiarity with the new digital media world, such as it is, wasn't always the case. The Cheekster took us on a trip down memory lane, reminding us of those oh-so-innocent early days and some of the nervous first tweets from the now confident Granddaddies (and Mummies) of social media. 

Here's one priceless example:

In last week's blog Charon QC described how some of the most distinctive legal voices on social media are now just as famous IRL (In Real Life). Sweet to remember these tweeter's first faltering forays. Kysen (tweeting since 2008) saw it all first hand. How things have moved on!
I have a new favourite haunt - and it's in Milan. It was lovely to take the opportunity to catch up with Bonelli's Alberto Saravalle whilst I was visiting the city and we arranged to meet at Savini in the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle II right next to the Piazza del Duomo. Not only is this bar/restaurant one of the oldest in Milan, and the galleria one of the first ever shopping centres in the world, but it is the most fantastic spot for people watching. And Milan being the fashion capital of the world, what amazingly stylish people you get to watch! Before meeting Alberto I spent a couple of hours earlier in the day working at one of the tables and I promise you not a single uncoordinated outfit or imperfectly accessorised individual passed by, let alone a scruffy tracksuit or even a single pair of trainers. This city deserves its reputation as one of the world's best dressed. 

I returned there later that evening for a drink with a colleague and also had a chance to sample the menu. @saysitstraight, this is definitely one for you to review! I for one will most certainly be returning. 

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