Friday, 29 June 2018

Jonathan Ames



There’s no one I can think of who produces more legal news stories each day than The Times’ Jonathan Ames. With an average of 12-15 stories per day, (ok he takes a break at weekends, but still...). To achieve this level of output, he currently does two shifts daily, starting at 7am and finishing at 7pm. Gruelling! But no wonder The Times’ email bulletin The Brief has been such a huge success.

The words “brutal” and “relentless” are mentioned when I ask Jonathan about the pressure of filing so many stories every day. But he’s clearly relishing the role and rightly proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved. “It’s a lot of work, no doubt about it. But it’s very satisfying to look back each day, week, month, and see how much we’ve produced. We aim for as wide a spectrum of legal stories as possible, combined with a bit of gossip and some opinion. And about 80% of our news stories are sourced by ourselves, rather than responding to press releases. The Brief is all about old school newspaper journalism, but in a digital context.” [Great soundbite Jonathan!]

I spoke to Jonathan just days before The Brief is to be housed on the main Times Law website. At a time when newspapers and magazines are struggling to monetise content, given there’s so much information available free online, and in an era when most newspapers have been reducing their legal coverage (The Telegraph dispensed with a full time legal correspondent,  and The Guardian its legal  editor role, as far back as 2009) I was keen to know how his paper  has managed to make a success of bucking the trend and expanding legal content. 

“The Brief was launched in October 2015 as an experiment, The Times wanting to see if they could take a specialist subject the paper was already well known for and create some added value”, he tells me. The Times' legal editor is none other than Frances Gibb, the pre-eminent legal editor amongst all national newspaper editors, so The Brief is starting from a strong base in this regard.  Frances oversees all legal content in the main paper as well as in the Law section, in hard copy and online. “The idea was that the new specialist email bulletin, free to anyone who signed up for it, would remind specialist audiences about The Times’ excellent coverage of legal issues, and reel more subscribers in to the main paper.” Three years on, it’s been a huge success. Job done! Jonathan, all that hard work has been worth it! 

It has to be said that The Times has form in this area: The Brief was based on the highly successful Red Box bulletin that worked the same way for its political coverage. As Jonathan put it, “The Times is famous for grabbing commercial enterprise on the web by the scruff of the neck”. [Wow this  man IS good for a soundbite! Made me wonder if he'd ever consider a job  in PR. But knowing Jonathan as well as I do, I wouldn’t dare ask for fear of the expletives!] “There was a lot of scepticism when we first installed the paywall. But now, arguably it’s the healthiest Fleet Street paper online, along with the Mail and the FT.”

“This next stage”, he tells me, “Is about bringing The Brief closer in to the main Times brand. From Monday [2 July] The Brief will still be sent out as a daily email bulletin as usual, but the content will be housed on the main Times website, in the Law section.”

So does this mean it will no longer be free to non-Times-subscribers?  “Existing Brief subscribers will need to sign up and pay for a Times subscription if they don’t already have one. But for a certain period we’re offering a special deal for these readers, to reward them for their loyalty to The Brief.”  

Don’t miss out! If you haven’t done it already, sort out your Times subscription this weekend! 

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Next week sees one of the best women-in-law events yet: First Women of the Supreme Courts in Conversation. UK Supreme Court president Baroness Hale will be joined by former Chief Justice of Ghana Georgina Wood, Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin and Chief Justice of Australia Susan Kiefel, to talk about the experience of women in law. The event is hosted by Gray's Inn and sponsored by our friends at Serjeants' Inn Chambers (among others).  It forms part of the First 100 Years of Women In Law project, in association with Spark 21, (the charity that celebrates, informs and inspires future generations of women in the professions).  

I assume everyone is now aware that 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which enabled the first women - initially four, each with a first class degree from Cambridge - to pass their law exams and be admitted as lawyers for the first time.

I'm planning to catch up with First 100 Years founder Dana Denis-Smith at next week's event and will be writing up our Conversation for this blog, so watch this space...

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What an amazing coup for The Lawyer Awards: snaring star comedian David Mitchell as the evening's entertainment.  Fantastic!  He regaled the Grosvenor House Hotel audience of solicitors, barristers, legal marketers, PRs and journalists with a tale of a disastrous mini-pupillage he did as a youngster, when a client was refused the return of a driving licence after a ban because the judge mistook Mitchell for the driver and decided he didn't look trustworthy enough.  

For me personally, as regular readers of this blog will know, it was particularly cool seeing Mr Mitchell as only a month ago I was lucky enough to catch his Peep Show partner Robert Webb at the Hay Festival, discussing his book How Not To Be A Boy.  Now I have the set!



Friday, 15 June 2018

Fay Gillott




Fay Gillott believes internal marketing is as important as external marketing. Particularly so in the case of law firms and barristers chambers. In fact she goes so far as to say the success of your external marketing depends on getting the internal bit right.

I caught up with Fay during the Hay Festival so I had a good opportunity to quiz her about her 20 years’ experience as head of operations and business development in legal businesses.  (In her time she has covered a variety, including a silver circle law firm, a patent attorney and two sets of barristers chambers.)  She is famous for leading successful revenue enhancement and change management programmes, so when she offers her pearls of wisdom on the practical and tactical points that really make a difference between “nice in theory” and “success in reality”, you listen!

“The markets for legal services are more competitive than ever before.  This means there is a need for a professional approach to marketing and more paid-for activity.  But lawyers are “on a journey” to understand this.” [Nice euphemism Fay].  “Those who "get it", use marketing effectively, but with others you need to work hard to bring them along with your thinking. Internally lawyers put the barriers up: advertising is tacky, they say, and social media is not just tacky but dangerous too!  It takes quite some persuasion to show that if these communication channels are used the right way, they are completely capable of communicating messages about the business’s expertise, imparting knowledge and offering  something serious and valuable, in a way that is wholly consistent with a top law firm / chambers brand.”

I was particularly keen to hear Fay’s thoughts on how the rise of social media as a mainstream channel is shaking up the professional services marketing mix, given the study on this topic Kysen is currently working on with New Law Journal

“Many lawyers don’t yet accept social media as a fact of business life.  Some still dismiss it as merely something that students do, not believing that it projects a professional image. And with some the resistance is not just to Twitter and Facebook, but LinkedIn too.  More are comfortable with LinkedIn, it has to be said, and some get professional help with their profiles and use their LinkedIn accounts for creating a regular blog.  But Twitter is seen by many as a scary frontier to be avoided altogether.  So you can see how much work there is to do in a firm or a set, to convince lawyers that a properly managed social media stream is necessary for the business, before you even get on to what they might do as individuals to support the corporate channel, eg posting and tweeting themselves.”

This social media example is just one illustration of how the success of internal marketing directly impacts the effectiveness of the external effort: with everyone engaged and working together with the central marketing team, the traction in the external marketplace is going to be so much more.  You can extrapolate from the following and apply the same principles across all the other areas of the marketing mix…

“Time needs to be set aside and sessions arranged to present the planned approach for how the business is to engage with their audiences through social media, using reasoned arguments and lots of evidenced examples as to why it is important and why the particular approach has been chosen.  It needs to be an interactive session, so people engage properly, as this encourages buy-in.  These sessions also need to cover what the role of individuals and teams is within the programme, so everyone is clear not only what the business-wide plan is, but what their own role is within this. And of course, very importantly, support needs to be offered, to skill up and encourage those individuals and teams as they give to the programme what is being asked of them.

“Once you’ve cracked this internal challenge, the rest of the marketing effort becomes easier.  Not only is everyone in the business clear about what they need to do, but also the more understanding they have of the rationale behind the strategy of the professionals they employ, the more lawyers will listen to them and let them get on with their job!  The sum total of all of this is that the marketing actually happens, rather than being half-done.  Lawyers are always keen to ask about Return On Investment in marketing.  To my mind, the most important factor in maximising the ROI, is making sure that that the marketing activity prescribed in the strategic plan actually happens in real life!”

From my own experience working 12 years in-house in law firms, I have to say I completely agree:  at the end of the day, strategy is delivered through people, and particularly so in a legal business. This is why investing time in making sure everyone is clear about the strategic plan for developing the business, and their role within it, will reap dividends.

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Image result for robert webbA personal highlight at the Hay Festival was Peep Show’s Robert Webb talking about “How not to be a boy”, promoting his book of the same name. He challenged the audience with some very interesting thoughts on the unhelpfulness of gender assumptions and how ‘The Patriarchy’ is as bad news for men as it is for women. I was inspired to buy the book and I read it in just three days. Very entertaining. A definite recommend.  Favourite bit: his little daughter talking over the family breakfast table about “the trick [she meant the patriarchy] that makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs." That about sums it up in my book!

You can buy "How not to be a boy" here

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Image result for racoonHere’s Adele’s favourite story of the week: the racoon that scaled a skyscraper in Minnesota over a period of 20 hours.“Just look at his little face”, she says.

On a serious point, she went on to point out what it says about viral memes. This story was broken by a small local radio station and was soon livestreamed and was trending on Twitter (#mprraccoon) – all major news outlets covered it around the world (which is mad). It's interesting, she says, how the news agenda is set more than ever by what the people want, rather than what newspapers think people should know about.