Thursday, 27 February 2014

Marco d'Angelo and Serena Bolcano

Marco d'Angelo and Serena Bolcano believe internal communication is as important as external when it comes to repositioning a brand. I caught up with Bonelli Erede Pappalardo's two senior marketing managers during a work trip to Milan (timed to coincide with Fashion Week, of course darling). BEP's roots may be in the Italian business community where it is still by far the dominant player and leads where others follow, but today it is a truly international law firm so its branches reach far beyond Italian shores. It is involved in and leads some of the most high profile cross-border transactions and cases; its award-winning advice on Prada's listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange and its current role in the Panama Canal construction dispute being iconic examples of the type of work its lawyers do at the very top end of the international legal marketplace. 
Bonelli's marketing and communications team is busily focussed on making sure external audiences are fully aware of the firm's position in the new world order of global professional firms. But Marco and Serena insist that internal audiences are just as key: "Our transition to a leading international firm has been as much a matter of internal cultural change as it is about changing external perceptions" Marco tells me. The firm has famously adopted a new remuneration structure that represents a radical shift for the firm and its equity partners, introducing full lockstep for the most senior and, even more unusual for Italian law firms, shared client relationships and group targets. A far cry from the more usual eat-what-you-kill approach of most Italian firms and still leaps ahead of its closest rivals who have taken some steps towards modernisation.
"We are taking our client engagement processes to another level. The emphasis now is on firm-wide ownership of clients and shared client development. We are implementing a new Customer Relationship Management system. At the heart of this is a desire to stimulate client development collaboration among partners, and we need to have an internal culture that supports and prioritises this. It's my job to make sure all fee-earners understand this new way of working and have the necessary business development and team-playing skills to adapt," he says.
"And behaviours around our PR activity need to change also," adds Serena. "It's always hard for busy fee-earners to find time to respond quickly to journalist enquiries and media opportunities, but we are an international firm and we need to behave like one, in the way we engage with the press. We are dealing with a more demanding part of the media now that international news outlets (Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, etc) are increasingly interested in what we are doing and what we have to say. This puts additional pressures on partners (particularly as regards to their time) and it's our job to support them in this."
The partners are behind this transition 100%. They have been quick to recognise the market has changed - not just the pressures on the Eurozone but the more general trend towards globalisation, putting the firm in competition with a very different set of legal players and requiring a new, global firm mind-set. The radical move to full lockstep was voted on unanimously by the partners, and was in fact just the latest in a series of tweaks to the remuneration structure over the last decade or so; this firm has a history of reading the market well ahead. Also firm founders Franco Bonelli and Sergio Erede are still active at the firm, so its roots remain strong whilst growth continues in new directions. 
Until recently the Italian legal market didn't place much emphasis on business development compared to its UK cousins. But being an international law firm over and above its status as Italian market leader, Bonelli Erede Pappalardo is used to setting new standards for other Italian firms to follow. We are proud to know Marco and Serena, the two marketing and communications professionals who are showing others how it's done. 
Lloyd's of London's first female CEO in its 325-year history is taking the (old) boys (network) to task in more ways than one. Inga Beale stepped in to the top role at Lloyd's this January, the latest in a clutch of female appointments to senior finance positions around the world to challenge the established Order. (Think Christine Lagarde, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Janet Yellen, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.) The story I loved about her this month is how she's encouraging everyone at Lloyd's to take the stairs. Its world-famous tall structure and iconic exo-skeleton lifts tell you all you need to know about the challenge she's setting everyone here. But at least she's leading by example - this former London Wasps rugby player apparently carries her own bag to the 12th floor each day. As one City diarist put it, this is one way to consign the once famous long liquid City lunches to the past, alcohol and exercise being such uneasy partners. 
I can highly recommend the new Richard Hamilton exhibition at the Tate, although I have to admit I didn't know who he was before I went on Valentine's weekend. I did recognise a few of his works, and that was the joy. For example, he produced what is generally regarded in the art world as the first ever Pop Art piece to achieve iconic status, his 1956 collage: "Just what is it that makes today's home so different, so appealing?" Why isn't this man more famous! 

If you like your art entertaining, stimulating and thought-provoking in equal measure like I do, you'll love this exhibition. It's multimedia, colourful and really very exciting. It's on until May. Do make time to go!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Gemma Lindfield

Gemma Lindfield has a lot to say about media warping of extradition issues and Government interference. We chatted as we travelled to and from Sky News' studios at Millbank when she was invited in as an expert talking head on the Boulton & Co show, taking part in a live studio discussion on the Italian Amanda Knox verdict and whether US authorities would be likely to honour an Italian extradition request. While we were waiting in the "green room", (actually a small sofa in their reception), the story of the Dewani extradition broke, so Gemma was neatly on hand to answer questions about that at the same time.

Gemma is an extradition expert at 7 Bedford Row.  Publicly she is perhaps most famous for representing the Swedish authorities on the Julian Assange case, and other high-profile cases, such as her current involvement in a Rwandan extradition request for 5 men accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Professionally, she is best known for her work acting for judicial authorities, governments AND defendants in extradition proceedings, and the near-unique 360 degree view this gives her of the issues that can arise from any angle. She has worked on some of the most legally and politically complex cases to date.  There are few people in town who can beat her expertise in this area, so no wonder Sky have been keen for a while to have her as a guest.

The point she talked to me about with such passion as we travelled to the studio and back is how media reporting of unusual, high-profile extradition stories can skew public perceptions of the issues, with politicians then stepping in to quell their fears and start posturing… on issues that just aren’t that relevant.

"Theresa May's recent "intervention", [her eleventh-hour amendment to Immigration Bill to make it easier to deport foreign-born criminals] is a classic example. It comes on the back of the public's hostile reaction to difficulty the UK Government faced removing convicted terrorist Abu Qatada from our shores” [coined the “The Abu Qatada Problem”].  “This type of law reform is playing to the public gallery. But these high profile cases are exceptional and that's why they attract the media attention they do; by definition they are classic "man-bites-dog = interesting" stories, in contrast to the much more common run-of-the-mill "dog-bites-man" cases.  And of course the problem with changing the law as a knee-jerk reaction to a few freak, high-profile cases, is that it will be applied to the much larger number of cases going on below the radar that most people never get to hear anything about ...and this makes justice that much harder to achieve.  There's a reason our constitutional law places such great emphasis on the separation of powers, i.e. making sure our Executive (= political), Legislative and Judicial authorities are independent from one another to provide for natural checks and balances; it's dangerous when misinformed public opinion has unchecked power to direct new law.

"I remember the plight of a young mother I represented, wanted by Poland for possession of 5 grammes of amphetamine from her troubled teenage years. I came on board at the appeal stage and noticed when my client reached for a cup of tea that she had self-harm scars. Gently exploring the background to them revealed a very difficult childhood where drugs provided an escape. This young mother had turned her life around in the UK and there was a real risk that her son would be damaged by her extradition and that history may repeat itself. Near tragedy was averted, her extradition was scheduled for her son’s first birthday after a successful application to the European Court of Human Rights for what is called Rule 39 relief, an interim measure to prohibit extradition where the court feels there is a merited application that will be made.

"I do believe the European Court of Human Rights is an important check on government excess. And that it is also important legal aid is preserved and quality representation afforded by those who have a specialist knowledge of human rights. Surely this is something a fair and just society should provide."   

Other topics we covered in the taxi back from the studio ranged from social media, her passion for shark preservation (the irony is not lost on her) to shoes. I'm delighted to tell you that Gemma has joined the legal twitterati, her profile describing her as "barrister with sparkly shoes". You can see why I like this woman so much.
So almost 20 years after The English Patient, Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas reunite for another great love story: The Invisible Woman tells the tale of Charles Dickens' secret mistress.

Fiennes and Scott Thomas sizzled on screen for us in 1996. Is The Invisible Woman a return to their romantic form? Not quite: although Fiennes plays the part of lover with the usual reserved passion that sets his female fan base alight, and to critical acclaim I'm told, Scott Thomas' performance on the other hand has far less romantic conviction... because she is cast as Dickens' mistress' mother! Tells you all you need to know about the difference between the casting possibilities for men and women past the age of 50. And Scott Thomas has not been shy to speak out on the topic. Read here ....

Amongst the saddest news this week was the untimely death of award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, lost to a drugs overdose at just 46. The man who shone in roles such as Freddie in The Talented Mr RipleyBrandt in The Big Lebowski and the very chilling Lancaster Dodd in The Masterwill be remembered for both the depth and range of the characters he brought us. And since watching his Oscar-winning turn as Capote in the eponymous film, I can't help but conflate the two personas, the actor and the character. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, we will miss you. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Paul Cheston

There’s no doubt, Evening Standard court reporter Paul Cheston is one of journalism’s best story-tellers, keeping up readers’ interest in the Hacking trial as he reports from the court week in week out.  I just love how the opening line of each of his news piece gets right to the heart of the most tantalising aspect.  This is text-book story-telling at its best.

Look at these three openers just this week:

“A self-confessed phone hacker today told the Old Bailey how he was hired by editor Andy Coulson over a hotel breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon.”

Jude Law tells phone hacking trial of row with Daniel Craig over Sienna Miller affair…”

“A News of the World reporter signed a sworn statement claiming that he did not intend to hack interior designer Kelly Hoppen’s mobile phone but had misdialed because of "sticky keys"…

And on other cases this week….
“A top investment banker and her stay-at-home husband are locked in an £11 million divorce battle following an argument on a family holiday…”

“Readers always like something new, so I’m conscious they will get bored and not bother with long running cases unless coverage is presented in a fresh way. The Phone Hacking trial is particularly long and drawn out, timetabled for at least six months, while most other trials can be measured in days or weeks. And reporting restrictions are exceptionally tight on this case, so there’s no room for digressing into any interesting themes or issues raised beyond what is exactly said in front of the jury.  The key to writing a different story each day is to find – hopefully - the bit that will catch the readers’ eye and presenting it in a punchy, interesting way.”

Paul is famous among court reporters for being the most experienced in the field.  He’s been working this beat for some 21 years and there’s no-one better.  Because of the Standard’s early press deadlines, he’s renowned for composing his stories in his head and then dictating them straight over the phone, rather than writing them down.  That’s some story-telling skill. 

We’ve worked with Paul on a number of training assignments: media training for clients and good PR practice around court cases for our staff.  And “story” is always at the centre of what he teaches.  “Focus on what people really want to read about.  Take a look at your story and test it: Would you be interested if you read that in the paper?  Have you the key angles upfront? Money always talks, so if there’s a big sum involved, highlight it.  Celebrity sells to Times readers as well as Sun readers. So too sex and football.  The Evening Standard prides itself on its commitment to the arts but if there was a big-money court fight involving a kiss-and-tell between a footballer and a TV star, I would be expected to push women and children out of the way to get to it.”

Paul must have worked on thousands of cases in his time, across all the London and surrounding courts, the Old Bailey, Rolls Building, Royal Courts of Justice, Southwark, Blackfriars, Snaresbrook and most of the crown courts in England, Wales as well as various trials abroad. Consequently there’s no-one who understands reporting rules and contempt of court laws in practice better than him.  He’s also produced a book together with famed court artist Priscilla Coleman Court Scenes: The Court Art of Priscilla Coleman.  But best of all, you can read him in the Evening Standard almost every day.
And the day Jude Law made his appearance in court happened to be the same date @Adele_Kysen had booked to see him in Henry V at the Noel Coward Theatre (just around the corner from our office). How would he recover from the clear emotional trauma of the day? Would the discovery of his relative's mercenary betrayal put him of his stride? I'm pleased to say, the following morning Adele reported his performance was flawless. 

I saw him in this role myself at Christmas and he really is fantastic. One of those rare actors who can make Shakespearian sound like easy, colloquial English. He really stood out. He deserves his celebrity. Go Jude! You have fans here!
Remember "Pre-Crime"? Well apparently it's coming to London soon. Minority Report is one of my all time favourite films and it's central idea about using psychics to track down (and incarcerate) criminals before they commit a crime is an intriguing ethical point: if they've stopped before the crime is committed, how can they be criminals? What would this approach do to the presumption of innocence? 

Based on a Philip K Dick short story (as so many of my favourite Sci-Fi films are), the plot twists on a "minority report" by one of three psychics that casts doubt on the judgment of one character's future crime. The Standard's Martin Bentham tells us that soon a new Met computer system will be used to predict where offenders will strike next, starting with a 3,500 pool of gang members. In the Hollywood version things didn't end well for the authorities. Perhaps I should send a copy of the DVD to the Met...