Mishcons’ Elliot Moss believes Action Leadership speaks louder than Thought Leadership. Chatting over coffee at the Holborn Dining Room (clearly his second office, the staff are so familiar and slick in how they usher guests to his table), I’m struck by his energy and his lack of fear for anything new. Indeed his hunger for it.
It was a passing comment he made at our previous chance meeting that had stopped me in my tracks and inspired me to coin the phrase “Action Leadership”. And that also prompted me to invite him to interview for The Conversation. We were swapping notes on our philosophies of professional services marketing, and as I described my own theory of how Thought Leadership needs to be truly leading, (otherwise surely it’s Thought Followership), he interrupted with a challenge to my premise that it had to be about Thought at all: “Isn’t it far better to DO stuff in the marketplace, and then talk about it afterwards?” I was curious to know more, so demanded examples. There are many. And they are impressive. For one, the firm curates a business programme on Jazz FM called Business Shapers, interviewing “shapers of the business world, people who, like the musicians on the station’s Jazz Shapers programme, have defied convention and gone on to achieve great success”. Elliot hosts and interview subjects have included Jo Malone, Cobra beer chairman Lord Bilimoria and Ann Summers CEO Jacqueline Gold, to name a few. And who in the legal world could forget the firm’s ground-breaking initiative with De Brett’s, the world’s authority on manners, working together to define the new etiquette for the modern world around divorce: De Brett’s and Mishcon’s Guide to Civilised Separation was published in 2012, so pre-dated by two years Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling”. Very ahead of the game.
This puts me in mind of one of the best ever descriptions of marketing I have ever come across, from legal entrepreneur (original founder of Rouse International) Peter Rouse: “marketing” is an action word, similar to “gardening”, he told me; "however attentively you read your gardening books, sitting with your cup of tea gazing out of the kitchen window, your garden will come to nothing unless and until that point where you actually step outside of your cosy house and go into the garden and start digging, actually getting some earth under your fingernails.”
I can list on one hand (OK, being realistic maybe two) the number of business development directors in the professional services world who have ever sold anything to anyone. Elliot is most definitely one. This is perhaps his own biggest Point of Difference and what sets him apart. He spent 15 years he at the top of the advertising industry, before he even entered the legal world, and at one point was responsible for half his agency’s revenue. He began at LeoBurnett, one of the most creatively awarded communications agencies in the UK, progressing from management trainee to Account Director in just his first four years, and his senior roles there including stints in Mumbai and Mexico as well as London. Not your typical background for a BD role in a law firm. He moved on to become MD of Leagas Delaney (clients included BBC and Nintendo), and while he was there was introduced to Mishcons. He was invited to give a talk to their Partners in 2007 on the subject of “brand” and famously pitched the whole session on why brand ISN’T important. You can see how good he is at getting people’s attention!
“I was making a serious point though”, he tells me. “In a people-oriented business, your brand is your service. Contrary to what many lawyers think, brand is not about the colours on your website. Your brand is your “promise” and the people in the business are the ones who convey it, not the website or your marketing literature. To put it simply, if your promise is that you “know the local area”, then any person in the business that a client deals with needs to embody that… and know local stuff!” Two years later in 2009, the firm asked him to join their staff.
Elliot and I talked at length about our experience of explaining some of the more subtle aspects of branding to professional services firms. I also often talk about brand as a promise, the strength of the brand depending on how well a client’s experience of the company matches up to that promise (or, in the case of a weak brand, doesn’t). So Elliot and I discovered we are very much on the same page.
“A brand is a summation of experiences and values. The trouble is though, that in the legal profession in particular, everyone pretty much says the same”, he says. “So your point of difference has to be about how you translate all of what you say into actions”. So THAT’S his point about the prioritising actions rather than words. “When I first crossed over to work in-house at the firm, in those early days I talked to them a lot about Why the What Isn’t Enough. I wanted to change their thinking and their insistence that What they did was the key, directing how they presented themselves to the outside world. Over time I convinced them that clients were far more interested in How law firms deliver their services.” Lawyers are notoriously mistrustful of such an approach, because it focusses on “soft” issues, which they see as by definition less important. So how do you convince a lawyer to look at something differently? By presenting evidence of course. “We used feedback from 150 clients in an Acritas survey to show to the lawyers what it really is that clients value. A common theme emerged, around clients appreciated how much our lawyers empathised with them, to a level beyond what they’d experienced elsewhere, and a sense that our guys were “in the fight with them”. One put it as strongly as “When I bleed, they bleed”. Words the lawyers couldn’t ignore … and it certainly showed that soft issues can sometimes be anything but soft!” So it was this process that led Mishcons to their wonderfully bold positioning statement: “It’s business. But it’s personal”, very cleverly describing in one pithy phrase both the What and the How … and the wit!... of the firm.
You can take the man out of advertising, but you can’t take the advertising out of the man. Nice job Elliot! It’s not just Mishcons that is lucky to have you, but the rest of the profession too. We like the standard you set.
It's been fascinating working on the story of Continental Elite law firm BonelliErede's rebranding. I've often spoken about the innate challenge for professional firms in understanding how "FMCG" concepts around branding apply to service-oriented (rather than product-oriented) businesses. And I'm also well aware that the professional services market in continental Europe has had far less time to get to grips with all this, compared to those of us on this side of the channel, simply because their professional practice rules have prohibited them from marketing and promotional activity until much more recently than their UK counterparts. (The deregulation that kick-started our evolution from dusty professional practices to slick legal businesses began as long ago as 1987.) So imagine my surprise at BonellieErede's sophisticated approach to its rebrand: client and market-facing communications planned meticulously in advance and timed to coincide precisely with internal communications. Also the story of the rationale behind the brand overhaul was nuanced to speak to two very different audiences simultaneously: both domestic Italian and international.
When you look at the pedigree of those in the marketing team responsible for the project, it's no wonder: between them they have backgrounds at FMCG giants Benetton and Canon Europe, and at international law firm behemoths DLA Piper and Simmons & Simmons, plus a Masters in International Affairs thrown into the mix. They're the perfect team. Marco, Serena, Francesca, given you're impressing the sophisticated UK legal marketing community, just think of the waves you must be creating in your Italian home market. Nice job!
My excitement at the release of the new Terminator film, Genisys, just goes to show you're never too old to get carried away by the magic of the Silver Screen. And for this latest iteration of the famous Sci-Fi franchise, don't you get the feeling that reality is starting to catch up? We've worked on so many topics around AI and the law recently at Kysen: issues around liability for accidents in driverless cars; the investigation into the killing of the German factory worker crushed by a robot; the venture capital house that made its key investment algorithm into a director of the company. The film is now going to have to work really hard to keep the "science" fiction. Makes me even more eager to see it!