Monday, 28 January 2013

Josh Halliday

I heard it from The Guardian's Josh Halliday first. Josh is the Guardian's media and technology reporter and writes prolifically - as well as tweets constantly - on the subject.  Ironically I was working from home on a presentation designed to educate a group of lawyers about how people's changed (and changing) news consumption habits  are transforming the debate on the relative value of online versus hard copy press coverage, when I saw Josh's tweet: he was preparing to publish a Guardian article revealing the Financial Times' new "Digital First" Strategy.   

Where did you find this out? I asked him.  Are you at a press conference?  "No, I've got hold of a leaked email from editor Lionel Barber to all staff."  Bet the FT loved that.  "They are in the throes of a 25 net reduction in headcount, after hiring in 10 new journalists for digital roles.  The email explains this is "a big cultural shift" for the business daily.  The internal email sets out the paper's new position as "serving a digital platform first and a newspaper second."  According to Josh's full story posted later that day, one of the world's most iconic newspaper brands is "reshaping for the digital age". 

Particularly interesting in Josh's story were Barber's comments that his challenge is "to secure the FT's future in an increasingly competitive market, where old titles are being routinely disrupted by new entrants such as Google and LinkedIn and Twitter. The FT's brand of accurate, authoritative journalism can thrive, but only if it adapts to the demands of our readers in digital and in print, still a vital source of advertising revenues." 

Reading this put me in mind of The Lawyer magazine's announcement earlier this month (did you see the full page advert on the inside front page of the first print edition this year?) detailing how it is changing the way it calculates circulation figures, combining hard copy and online for the first time to put the focus rightfully on "people not platforms".  It is clear we can no longer justify the idea that online media is somehow a poor relation to its hard copy cousin. 

Before he joined the Guardian in 2010, Josh worked on a number of cutting edge / entrepreneurial projects, for example taking a role as Digital Media Assistant at Sunderland AFC (he studied Journalism at Sunderland University), founding Euro Collegejourn and also setting up the award-winning "hyperlocal" news site SR2 Blog.  This new year he was listed as one of the media industry's 30 To Watch, an annual spotlight on top up-and-coming media talent.  This man has a passion for the revolution in journalism, and a killer instinct for being first with a story.  So if you want to be ahead of the curve, make sure to follow his stories in the Guardian stories - and follow the man on Twitter.

For more information on how consumption of news via TV, Radio, Newspapers and Internet has changed, click here for a Click here for a detailed report by Ofcom.
Loved Creative Cow's modernist rendition of Sheridan's 18th Century "masterpiece" The Rivals (think white crinolines and bloomers without the fabric to cover them, and wigs made from paper).  I caught up with the touring production at Windsor's Theatre Royal this week.  What a treat!

Reading up about Sheridan  after the performance, I was intrigued to learn of a stomach-churning alternative to court action for defamation claims, which was apparently quite the norm three centuries ago.  When Captain Thomas Mathews wrote a newspaper article defaming Sheridan's soon-to-be wife, the acclaimed playwrite famously challenged him to a bloody dual. A simple matter of honour apparently and quite the expected course of action in those days.  The first fight ended uneventfully enough, but a rematch resulted in some serious injuries on both sides and a lot of blood being lost.  We may complain of the ridiculous sums paid out in damages for defamation today, but this tale puts all that into perspective: when we compare with the common practice in Sheridan's day, we could have it a lot worse!
Well done to our Sophie, for making the voluntary PR team for Dulwich Arts Festival this May.  Competition was fierce for the role as it is a big year for the Festival: its 20th anniversary celebration.  Sophie was keen to get involved and give something back to the community.  

I'll be making space in this blog for Sophie to detail what the Festival holds in store and how she's enjoying working with a rather different part of the broadsheet and broadcast media than she's used to - the arts and culture sections rather than the business and weekend money teams.  

We'll have to organise some Kysen outings to the Festival too.  Just to show our solidarity of course....

Monday, 21 January 2013

Nick Root

Taylor Root founder Nick Root has discovered that law firms have very different ideas about what marketing actually is, compared to their clients. Given law firms are marketing to these clients, surely this is a bit of a problem. So for example, clients will say that some of the most effective "marketing" their law firm does is the provision of secondees to their legal departments, also generosity with time and free advice on off-the-cuff small enquiries - as much as well-targeted, tailored and well-thought-through events or thought leadership. Yet firms put these activities in entirely different boxes just because some are done by the marketing team and others by partners and fee-earners; an arbitrary and inward-looking separation.

I spoke to Nick, still a partner at Taylor Root and now also at sister company Carter Murray, after reading his survey of client attitudes to law firm marketing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (and The Beautiful), advertised in The Lawyer this week. I was keen to know more. "There's quite a gulf  between law firms and the people they are marketing to, most commonly in-house lawyers in big corporates, in terms of understanding what makes a positive impact, a meaningful connection and takes a lawyer-client relationship forward, and what is a complete waste of time - or worse, actually has a negative, distancing effect. Hence our title, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly...etc. It's an emotive subject too for busy Heads of Legal; I sent out about 300 personal emails to people I know well in senior in-house legal roles in big corporations and was staggered not only by the speed of response - a good number within just hours, some within seconds in fact - but the sheer numbers who took the time to answer. Even though we limited ourselves to two very targetted questions - what law firm marketing works for you, and what doesn't? -  we were surprised by a response rate of over 25%, a long way over the 5% we had been told to expect.  People clearly feel strongly about this issue. 

"What clients particularly dislike is generic, untailored, irrelevant content, whether lawyers not doing their homework in preparing for sales meetings, or blanket untargetted mailings, or updates that don't tell the client anything or are overly academic - or, as one General Counsel put it, "being inundated with reams and reams of irrelevant rubbish all the time."

Well, that's clear feedback!  This disconnect is unhelpful to say the least. And Nick believes there's one key change firms could make to bridge this gap.

"I've never really understood why firms are so reluctant to let their marketing people speak to clients. They always hold them at arm's length. So how on earth can they hope to get close enough to what clients want, to be able to advise their firms how to market to them! Partners are very nervous about "letting their marketeers loose" on clients, afraid of what they might say or the impression they might create. But surely the point is they should take care to hire people into these marketing roles that they rate enough to put in front of clients in the first place."

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (and The Beautiful) is a very smart piece of marketing in its own right: Carter Murray specialises in senior in-house legal marketing roles, and Taylor Root in the placement of senior in-house lawyers, (as well as private practice roles), ie the target of much of the legal profession's marketing budget, so the survey neatly demonstrates the consultancy's extensive network of contacts in both worlds, and a nuanced understanding of its own marketplace in all its subtleties. Talk about practising what you preach!

Nicely done, Nick.
Some news this week left a very bad taste in the mouth. Yes, you've guessed: I'm referring to the story that horsemeat has been found in Tesco value burgers.  It was one of those stories that inspired some wonderful lampoonery and punnery.  Here are some choice cuts from Twitter (#horsemeat) and The Times' market report (thanks Gary Parkinson) describing how investors are "deserting Tesco at a canter for fear of consumer reaction":

“Reading the label on these Tesco burgers,” one broker says, “it turns out they’re fairly low in fat, but surprisingly high in Shergar.”  Another sometime wordsmith muses that “hamburgers” are an anagram of “Shergar bum”. A third, warming to the theme, suggested that in spite of the recent news, Tesco’s burger sales remain stable."

Best of all though, was The Times' cartoon (pictured above with kind permission of the wonderful and multi-award-winning cartoonist Peter Brookes).  Enjoy.
An off-stage legal drama for Ex-New Order's Peter Hook has been influencing the musician's on-stage banter. At a gig this week at Camden's Koko (previously the Camden Palace for those of you old enough to remember) a Kysen director witnessed the legendary bassist introduce his rendition of one New Order classic with the words: "My barrister Mark told me to reclaim publicly what is rightfully mine".  He then dedicated the song to his  adviser. Anyone know who this lawyer is? Answers to the blog please!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Katy Dowell

Katy Dowell is "up for 2013 and raring to go." At least that's what she told me when I spoke to her just as her Top 20 Cases hit the streets in The Lawyer's first print edition of the year. I was keen to hear the story behind the story as it were: just how does The Lawyer go about compiling this seminal piece of reporting on the litigation market? Just how do they manage to find out so much information about cases coming up in the year ahead, whilst most other publications are content merely to review the year that's past? 

"We do see this as one of our signature features and so we're prepared to throw a lot of resource at it" she tells me. As her editor Cat Griffiths points out in her Leader this week, The Lawyer's Top 20 cases has become "the essential guide to the biggest and hairiest disputes in the English courts" and is unique in being "anticipatory rather than retrospective research". "We start work as far back as mid-November," Katy tells me, "contacting more than 100 of our best contacts amongst the top clerks, all the major sets and top litigators in the big-hitting firms, asking them what they have on their books for the coming year. Selecting which cases to highlight was particularly difficult this year as there was so much to choose from - much more than last year. As I said in the feature, this is the year when credit crunch litigation is really starting to break through and that will bring with it problems for the banks". Almost half her Top 20 involve suits involving banks or financial institutions. "At the start of the credit crunch, in 2008/9, people were scared to sue the banks because they relied on them for financing. Also it was less clear at that time exactly where claims might lie. As time has moved on the true picture is starting to emerge and people are more adamant about bringing banks and financial institutions to account where they see a case to answer." 

In terms of other trends, Katy points out two: "the continuing rise of CFAs is interesting - the multi-million pound suit against Britain's richest man, steel tycoon Lakshimi Mittal, is being funded by a CFA. Also the continuing rise of the litigation boutiques - firms like Stewarts Law, Peters & Peters, Kingsley Napley and Enyo Law. In the days of the corporate boom" (remember those?) "litigators were the poor relations. But in these straitened times, this is now their moment: litigators have everything to play for and they don't want to be hamstrung by the sensitivities of their corporate colleagues and blocked from acting on the best of the cases in the market because of client conflicts. These boutiques have stepped into this space, particularly setting out their stall as being brepared to take on the banks. When you compare Stewarts' PEP of £926,000 with Clifford Chance's £933,000 it's clear they are on to something. 

"Of course for some, the thrill is still about being part of a cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional team advising the top global corporates and the world's leading financial institutions. But for others the freedom to specialise in litigation and not worry about conflicts has more appeal (excuse the pun)."

Top 20 cases is one of the most well-read of The Lawyer's features in the year. This is not only the result of all the hard work from November by Katy and the team (Joanne Harris and Sam Chadderton provided additional reporting) but also the time and energy she invests in building relationships with the Bar throughout the year - her contacts book in this part of the legal world is second to none. Moreover she is clearly in her element and has emerged energised and excited from the task - presumably licking her lips at the thought of all those juicy litigation stories she'll be writing as the year progresses.
Well, we love reading your feature Katy – and look forward to your lively write-ups as each of your Top 20 opens in court. 

Good news for sex and age equality in the Oscar nominations list, out this week. Do we see signs that attitudes to older women are changing? (A subject very close to my heart!)

The Times' arts correspondent Jack Malvern reminded me of the story how Meryl Streep once famously illustrated the problem of institutional sexism and ageism in the film industry depriving fine actresses of good parts by telling how as soon as she turned 40 she was offered no less than three roles as a witch! But this year, two actresses spaced apart more than 70 years have both been nominated for Oscars: 9 year old Quvenzhane Wallis for her role in Beasts of the Southern Wild and 85 year old Emmanuelle Riva for Amour, respectively the youngest and oldest person ever to appear on the Best Actress shortlist. Are the times a changing? Now that would be a good start to the New Year.   

It looks an exciting year ahead in the arts world generally. Sumptuous reading this January as the papers set out the treats ahead over the next 12 months. I'm particularly excited about the Lichtenstein exhibition opening at the Tate Modern this February. Bound to be a busy exhibit though, as its comic book quirkiness has mass appeal across the generations. 

Click here for details of the exhibition.