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. 

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Charon QC

We were all delighted to see the inimitable Charon QC's return to Twitter this week, after a long spell offline due to sickness. He assures us all he is on the way to a full recovery, although not quite there yet.

Of course as you'd expect with any legal sage, his mind has been busy over the last six months or so of his recuperation. I was keen to know if he had any particular observations he'd like to share after this extended period of reflection, on the legal Twitter- and Blogo-sphere in particular, on legal education (given we are at the start of a new academic year) and on the legal profession and its future more generally.

"It's such an interesting time for me to be coming back into the fray. I've been watching from afar how the influence of our favourite legal bloggers has
steadily grown, even in just the last six months.  The legal blogosphere itself has contracted, but the influence of those leading the field has grown.  And it's interesting to see how their interaction with traditional media has increased as this has happened.  For example David Allen Green is now blogging regularly for the FT, as well as his regular spot for The Lawyer. Adam Wagner's Human Rights Blog is just amazing, as is Carl Gardner's They are both unbelievably prolific, particularly on Twitter. It's impressive to see the lightning speed with which they both continue to push out intelligent blog content in response to breaking news. Superb.

"I'm also a huge fan of John Bolch's Family Lore blog.  I can't imagine anyone practising family law who wouldn't want to be a regular visitor to his blog.  That's the position he has created for himself.  I also like Alex Aldridge's Legal Cheek. He is most definitely irreverant and likes to live close to the wire.  But his posts are very sharply observed and he is a force for good. It's a huge effort to keep creating fresh content to the extent all these guys do, but it has reaped big rewards for all of them because their stature has grown.  It's taken them to another level of influence altogether and they are now part of the media establishment." (See my Conversation with Alex last year on the increased responsibility that comes with this...)

In case any of you are worrying, Charon reassures me his maverick status is not under threat. He has no ambitions to become part of the establishment, emphatically choosing not to.  He likes the freedom to do as he pleases he tells me, (for which read make mischief).  And his association with Legal Business, where he is billed as a "sardonic law blogger", has very much been agreed on this basis.  

Being at the start of another academic year, and knowing Charon's background as the founder of BPP Law School, I was also keen to know what he thought of the news this Summer of BPP's "university status".  "It's an interesting development, presumably designed to appeal to the extremely valuable overseas market as much as anything else.  In the UK people have a reasonably astute idea how the different legal educators compare, but less so if you're applying from elsewhere in the world and so the word "university" is very reassuring."  Kysen has had a close relationship with Nottingham Law School over many years and I was bold enough to ask Charon where he thought they stood in the ever-increasingly competitive landscape for legal education - despite his allegiance to BPP as its founder.  "There's no doubt that NLS has set the standard that everyone works to, in terms of quality of scholarship and learning experience. Indeed to hey have bred a generation of legal education innovators who have in time moved on to other challenges elsewhere, taking a little bit of the NLS ethos with them wherever they go. Other talent to have been incubated there includes PeterJones, who has an OBE for his services to legal education; and law management guru Professor Stephen Mayson; and Peter Crisp, whom I remember recruiting the during my time at the helm of BPP. NLS created the original template and they are to be respected for that".

Any other stories that livened up his recuperation? Plenty has happened while he's been laid up, particularly the litigation and Legal Aid reforms. I was interested in his take on all of this. Had anything struck him in particular?

"I enjoyed following the heroic efforts of top QC and Chairman of the Criminal BarAssociation, Michael Turner, in scuppering the Government's plans for competitive tendering for criminal Legal Aid - the ridiculous idea that defence briefs even for the most serious crimes be handed out to the lowest bidder. Lawyers up and down the country cheered as our man Turner challenged Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling to a face-to-face showdown, complaining he had failed to engage the politician in proper debate on the matter, despite having invited him numerous times.  Grayling is not a lawyer and at least he had the sense to listen (finally) to someone who is, abandoning this aspect of the Legal Aid reforms.  A good example of what influential committees, and individuals, can achieve."

On the subject of influence Charon, glad you're back to wield some  :)

They say a picture paints a thousand words... Interesting to see how Vine is creeping in to our everyday communications. Did you notice this, tweeted by the press office of the Independent Police Complaints Commission?  A six second video to show the volume of evidence amassed for the Hillsborough trial. 

Those of you who know me well are familiar with my passion for words. But equally a continuing fascination is the balance of power between visual -v- textual -v- verbal communication. Vine opens up whole tree-lined avenues of new possibilities. Let's get smart with this medium. And do please send me other good examples of Vine being used to add a new branch of understanding to a story.
Imagine my delight to learn that the Raindance Film Festival will be taking place just around the corner from our Longacre office, in Leicester Square. This is Europe's largest indie film fest and it starts this week, running till 6 October.

Here's the full line-up of treats in store.

Think I should challenge the Kysen team to tweet Vines of their best celeb spots while the event is on in our neighbourhood. Feel free to join in, (#KysenRainDance)... As long as you promise to swing by for a cup of tea while you're near :)

Monday, 16 September 2013

Grant Gordon

Gareth Bale's lawyer Grant Gordon never thought he'd pass up an opportunity to show affinity with a client. But at the Fladgate team's first meeting with Tottenham Hotspur Superstar Gareth Bale to discuss what was to become the most lucrative transfer deal of all time at a cool 85M pounds, Grant thought it best to keep schtum about his life-long fanship of Spurs and his precious season ticket for the West Upper Stand at White Hart Lane

"I found myself in a curious position", he told me once the media furore had died down. "Normally it's the first thing you do when you take instructions from a client: you find common ground, establish a personal connection. But the fact this deal was all about Gareth leaving Spurs put an entirely different complexion on the matter. We had the best team in town to handle the transaction, (Fladgate having been involved in some of the earliest image rights cases, helping to establish the law in this area; having a long pedigree in corporate dealmaking also), and we knew this was set to be market-leading so were fielding our A team, all of us excited and totally committed to make it a success. So I didn't want to spoil this and for Gareth to have even a hint of a thought in his mind that my sentiments for Spurs meant I wasn't 110% behind the success of the deal, that I wasn't unconsciously hoping, not even in a little corner of me, that it might fail." 

I think the result he got for his client shows his professional commitment to the task, don't you? I took the opportunity this week to ask him what he found most interesting. What was it like having such a stratospheric superstar for a client?

"For me what was so fascinating was the fact that this deal was so much about the personal. Us corporate lawyers are not so used to it. It's true at Fladgate we are used to advising high profile sports, media and other businesses on these types of deals." [The firm's sports practice is long established looking after some of the most high profile businesses in the football, motor racing, cricket, golf, cycling worlds, etc.] "And yes, we regularly advise high profile directors on sales of their business, once-in-a-lifetime transactions, that change their lives forever. But this deal took that personal element to another level altogether because so much of the value focussed on Gareth's image rights. And considering the speed of his meteoric rise, he's hardly had time himself to catch up with how his identity has changed. Aside from the legal complexities in this deal, (it involved a heady mix of corporate, tax, regulatory, IP, image and media rights and employment law), there were a lot of soft issues to grapple with as well, as we helped our client think through his position and the financial worth attached, both now and into the future. It was fascinating to help him work through this."

And given Grant and his colleagues at Fladgate landed him a world record deal, seems they did a pretty good job! #i'llsay 
When a very good friend-in-law sent me this choice cartoon from his Dilbert desk calendar, (12 September if you're interested), a number of law firms immediately sprang to mind: conversations I've had with frustrated communications people, their attempts to drag their employers into the digital age continually thwarted by concerns about controlling what people say. There's a serious point here about the need for social media policies to enable the immediacy required in the digital communications environment at the same time as ensure appropriate levels of management control. But that's for another day. For now, let's just enjoy the joke! 
The prize for legal tweet of the week definitely goes to @Wigapedia (aka Hardwicke's Colm Nugent) for this absolute gem:
"Mylie Cyrus gets naked & licks a hammer and its apparently "art". My client does it, and he gets thrown out of Homebase.
As I reached for the phone to call him and ask more detail about his latest, clearly most unusual case, a colleague gently took me by the arm and stopped me, suggesting (again), that I just enjoy the joke. At the time of writing his tweet had 74 retweets and 17 favourites. Nice going Colm!
Thanks for ending our week with a smile!

Monday, 9 September 2013

David Hunt

I never knew about RadcliffeLeBrasseur's David Hunt's secret film career. Like me he is a "vintage" legal marketeer and I have known him since the late 1980s we used to man neighbouring stands for our respective law firms at the Pub Club & Leisure Show in Birmingham's NEC. I remember now the Penningtons' balloons and the young "welcome" ladies in their logo'd t-shirts. In those days legal marketing didn't get much more exciting. But in all the (ahem) 25 plus years I've known him - he's since had roles at Berrymans Lace Mawer, Vizards, Price Bailey and now RadcliffesLeBrasseur - I had not a hint of his other life on the silver screen. 

He is signed up to the Casting Collective, an agency that casts extras and every once in a while he'll be called to appear in a film. What a dark horse! A fitting moniker given his role in The Dark Knight - because we're not talking about obscure indie films here. Big blockbusters are much more his thing: The Golden Compass, Johnny English, you get the picture. A prize for the first person to pick out David's face from this Dark Knight clip and send me a still.

We met to reminisce over 20 years of legal PR, in the same week that Legal Business published its retrospective. Like me, his strongest suit in the legal marketing deck is communications and our philosophies have much in common: "I have a particular beef about assumptions that sales and marketing is about talking. The gift of the gab etc. In my view it's far more about listening and this is where so many professional organisations go wrong," he tells me. "It's as critical on the communications side: how can you know what messages to place if you haven't listened closely to your target audience? Your communications need to be finely tuned to their concerns. To what's keeping them awake at night. Delivering messages that get to the heart of what people are really bothered about is the best way to get their attention after all.

"And listening is just as important internally. It's key to successful collaboration with colleagues and team working" (this echoes Neil Mullarkey's thoughts in The Conversation last week). "It's particularly important in a partnership environment; you need to understand where different views are coming from so you can bring them all together into one strategy." No wonder David has such good track record with the firms he's worked for, and retains friendships with so many partners and staff from his previous roles. 

I have to confess though, once I stumbled across his "extra"-curricular hobby, all business chat was dropped! I wanted to hear all his stories: glimpsing Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig In Real Life (still distanced by their entourages of course); about a sweltering afternoon's filming in Lincoln's Inn, buttoned up in velvet and fur Victorian garb for The Wolf Man

What was the greatest fun he had? "That's a hard choice. It would have to be either at Brocket Hall playing a golfer for Rowan Atkinson's Johnny English, where my job was to sit outside drinking gin & tonic all day long. The scene took quite a few takes to perfect, I'm sad to say" he winks. "Or it would be one of my first, a role in Michael Winner's Parting Shots where I worked alongside a whole host of 60s and 70s stars: Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Gareth Hunt, Chris Rea. All I did was play a doctor opening a door for a (very young and forever pert) Felicity Kendal. Unforgettable!"

Well, as I often say, people can be so surprising. For a man who believes communication is key, David Hunt is very good at keeping a secret!
I have been thinking about money this week. A trip up to Liverpool to see our friends at Weightmans provided the perfect opportunity to pop into the city's Tate at Albert Dock and catch photographer Moyra Davey's "Copperhead", part of her Hangmen of England exhibition. Copperhead Grid is inspired by the financial crisis and focusses on the devaluation of the British pound by profiling hundreds of old US pennies, in varying states of decay. She invites us to think about the psychology of money and "the varieties of decay brought about by the passage of time". Deep stuff. Definitely thought-provoking. 

And the connection to Hangmen of England? Well er... none really, apart from it's the title of just one book that appears in one photograph in another part of the exhibition. When quizzed the curator told us the exhibition arrived untitled and it was the Tate that suggested the headline. Well it got us through the door. That's smart communications for you!
And a similar money theme features heavily in Woody Allen's new film Blue Jasmine, which he has been plugging this week. The story explores meltdown of a New York socialite in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Reports so far are that it's Allen on absolutely top form. And of course Cate Blanchett (in the lead) rarely disappoints.  I've marked the UK release date in my diary. 20 September, can't wait! 

Monday, 2 September 2013

Neil Mullarkey

Kysen's Serious Night Out at The Comedy Store set me thinking (between chortles) about the "improv mindset" and what we could learn about workplace team-playing. After a Twitter exchange that evening, I spoke to Comedy Store Players co-founder Neil Mullarkey, (who was once the comedy partner of Mike 'Austin Powers' Myers no less), about the comedic skill of riffing off another person.  There's a reason so many comedy acts come in pairs: if you think Mitchell & Webb, Armstrong & Miller, etc, it's clear that today double acts are less about a stooge and a funny man, and more about two comic heads being better than one. And seeing how much the improvisation skills displayed by the Comedy Store Players in the various skits and games they laid on for our entertainment relied on their ability to read team mates' minds and together act as one single comedic body, the link with team-working in the office is clear. (And yes, we do expect work at Kysen to be this much fun.)

Digging in to the background to the Comedy Store Players' improv routine after the show, I was fascinated to learn that Neil runs improv workshops for businesses specifically to promote better teamworking, in addition to his glittering TV and film career (this former Cambridge Footlights president appears in two of the three Austin Powers films, International Man of Mystery and Goldmember). Makes total sense!  When he told me his philosophy about how much people and teams in business have to gain from embracing the improv mindset, and when I realised that clients of his training business include professional firms such as Deloitte and global corporates such as Google, Microsoft, GlaxoSmithKline, not to mention Walt Disney ... I was all ears.

"Working with others in improv situations is all about collaborating and highly attentive listening", he tells me, "which is why the skills are so relevant to the workplace environment and can be so effective in transforming teams. In creating "Super Teams" in fact. But other key aspects of improv are more alien to business culture, for example concepts of "being in the moment" and "vulnerability". It's an entirely different kind of thinking, as much about instinct and intuition as about cerebral activity. We encourage people and businesses to embrace their creativity and enhance their communication skills in new ways.

"Improv actually started in the Chicago of the 1920's with Viola Spolin who was working to enhance the language skills of deprived children. Only decades later did it evolve into the type of theatre performance we know now. What I and others are trying to do (in the Applied Improv Network) is return to the roots of this ethos to help even the stuffiest and most diffident (and those who don't know they are suffering from over-confidence) to become more creative communicators and leaders."

This showreel will give you a glimpse into the sorts of things Neil covers in his workshops. The sessions are designed to improve participants' skills in listening, influencing, rapport, assertiveness and presenting, so individuals can learn how to tell a story in a far more engaging way. It also teaches them how not to get thrown by the unexpected, but be nimble enough to use it to their advantage.

My favourite of the improv games we saw at The Comedy Store was a storyline created by random suggestions from the audience for setting, plot, theme, characters, etc (Winston Churchill and doilies seemed to be a recurring motif), with the comedians taking turns to improvise a line each to take the story forward, the compere pointing to direct the switch between comics mid-sentence and sometimes mid-word, and doing this faster and faster as the game went on. The best, most hilarious lines came as a single sentence was shared between three or four people, and as the actors had less time to think. Interesting how sometimes the best team-working comes when there's no time for individuals to think independently at all!

Now that's an inspired take on best practice teamwork. F
un too :)
Another fun highlight this week was testing out our PR learning game, SuPR Powers, with good friends Julie Gingell and @VictoriaFay from @SA_Law. The idea is to use the concept of SuPR Heroes to encourage developing PR professionals to see "difficulty" as an opportunity to show off skills, rather than an excuse to give up and think it's Game Over. Super heroes are defined by adversity.  After all, if Clark Kent had never faced Lex Luthor, he would never have leaped in to that phone box to put on his Superman costume. 

The learning starts by asking participants to share and discuss classic scenarios that commonly threaten their best ideas for profiling their clients.  

They are then asked to turn these into "chance cards" for a board game that will either send players backwards or forwards a number of squares depending on how the challenge is handled. 

Did Julie and Victoria enjoy the game? We all did, most definitely.  Helped by The Hospital Club roof terrace and some rare sunshine!  But Julie topped my idea by suggesting a Christmas Special version where players are invited to dress up in SuPR Hero costumes themselves and move round a person-sized board (think Twister) using giant dice. What a great idea! Perhaps I should start making plans for a special December Tonic event. Are you up for this? You need to tell me if you are!
And just in case you're thinking it's all play and no work at Kysen, I should mention our Comedy Night Out came at the end of a review of an outstanding three months since our new team members arrived in the Spring. 

Not sure we've ever had such an impressive book of cuttings and video clips at Kysen - and such quality results delivered by so many different members of the team, new and old: regular showings on BBC and Sky News channels, and across all the broadsheets on a regular basis as well as the leading trades. And all tightly focused on where clients' need to be placed to make PR work hard for the needs of their business. 

Well done Team Kysen! I'm proud of you all. A great summer finale before starting a new term!