Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Liz Whitaker

Legal marketing supremo Liz Whitaker thinks social media has completely changed the role of “traditional” PR.  

A firm’s relationships with the media used to be much more “intense” in the days when they were the only conduit for pushing the firm’s stories.” Liz has been marketing and promoting law firms as long as I have, and we both remember the days when (ahem, this really shows our age...) when lawyers didn’t even have websites, let alone any social media channels. So at that time, apart from direct mail, press really was the only way to get their news out there. And that could be quite a challenge if the story just wasn’t that interesting to journalists (but hey, that’s where we honed our creative skills, finding interesting angles to turn boring news into something intriguing and  publishable), or if the journalist allocated to cover your firm had a very different perspective on the story from you. In contrast, Liz says “Today, if I have an appointment story for a firm, I can get it out to more people and more quickly on social media than I ever could via a press release. And the timing and wording are both within my mine and the client’s control: I could push a story out this afternoon if I wanted to and get it in front of 1000s of people.”

I’ve had several chats with Liz about this recently, in the course of Kysen’s joint study with the New Law Journal in how social media is impacting the legal marketing mix. (See more below.) Our conversation began at a PM Forum conference at which she was speaking on Return On Investment and talking about her forthcoming book “The Power of Personal: how to connect, convince and create exceptional client relationships”. The book is a distillation of Liz’s 25+ years in professional services marketing, (including four years in-house at KPMG and nine at Wragge & Co, now Gowling WLG) and, she says, “identifies 100 reasons why organisations spend time and money on marketing and communications activity but not achieving the ROI” and includes Liz’s pearls of wisdom on how to make sure marketing spend does reap dividends. You’ll have to wait until November to buy The Power of Personal from a bookshop, but you can pre-order your copy here.

The next chat we had was at a quaint tea shop in Ledbury, and the third over a beautiful dinner under the smile of the Malvern Hills. Liz’s home is just a few miles from my Malvern cottage, which is a lovely coincidence. Malvern is one of England’s hidden gems for sure: most people haven’t heard of it, but anyone who’s been there will wax lyrical about its magic.  The hills and surrounding landscape were the inspiration for CS Lewis’s Narnia after all.  

Given her preference for the control that disseminating news on your own platform allows, I was curious to know if Liz thinks there is no longer any value in traditional media activity, or raising profile in the press. Certainly I would argue that stories placed through the press have more “influence”, precisely because audiences know you don’t have control. You appear solely on merit. The press act as “gatekeepers”, only giving lawyers space if they’re convinced they are expert and authoritative. Indeed this is precisely where the value of media profile is: the third party endorsement, so an independent party confirming your lawyers’ expertise and authority on a subject. In other words, if the BBC or the FT choose one of your lawyers as the best person to be explaining to their viewers/readers what the implications of a major court decision is, then that’s a brilliant endorsement of their market standing. But does Liz think has completely changed in the new social media environment? 

“Traditional media still has its place. Absolutely. For example press coverage can create a great impression about a firm if a potential client is looking for information about it and googles the firm.  Also thought leadership achieved by pushing expert comment out via the press is still a very important tool for professional services marketing, but the point is today it’s no longer the only one. Previously when putting campaigns together, media coverage was the be-all and end-all, but that’s no longer the case as there are so many other channels for pushing out content.”

Liz also had some interesting things to say about how digitisation has changed law firms’ attitude to visual communication: “Firms now have a far more sophisticated approach. For a long time clients were way ahead of firms on that one. Indeed professional 
firms were significantly behind the curve. But they have now caught up. The Big 4 accountancy firms do it particularly well. Some law firms do it well too... and most make a good effort. Generation Y in particular has grown up with good visual communication as the norm, and now these are the people in decision-making positions in firms.”

Liz also believes that the channels you choose for your marketing mix say a lot about you, even before you get to the content of what you’re saying. “The main point of my book is that with all professional services marketing there is in reality only a small number of people you want to talk to. So why waste time talking to anyone else? Just talk to them! And why limit your communications to arms-length media like the press, instead of writing to them direct? At the very least you should be reaching out to them in person, before they see things in the press from you on the same subject. If you get this right, these people then tell others and your work is done. Word-of-mouth communication and recommendation are more powerful than ever. Both can be managed.”

This echoes our experience at Kysen where over the last few years we’ve seen our work expand into multi-channel campaigns, where it’s the “chiming together” of press with other profile-raising and business development activity that delivers results. We love this new way of working, not least because it means we work more closely with in-house BD managers as well the PRs. And of course the other plus of working in a digital environment is that results are far more transparent. And that’s very satisfying for us as well as our clients.
Today ...*drum roll*... New Law Journal and Kysen announce the launch date of their joint "Social Impacts" survey of law firms and chambers - investigating how social media is shaking up the legal marketing mix.  The survey will open this September, with the start of the new legal term.  

Since the start of this year Kysen has been conducting a series of in-depth one-to-one interviews with lawyers and legal marketing professionals, asking how the rise of social media platforms as mainstream communications channels for lawyers had changed how firms/chambers are marketed.  You will have read extracts from some of these interviews in this blog.  Through these interviews, we have identified a number of common themes, which we are now preparing to test statistically with this quantitative survey launching after the Summer break.  

Questions include: What social media sites does your firm/chambers use? Do your lawyers post on social media?  What's your own first port of call for the day's legal news? Is social media changing the way firms / chambers use visual props in their marketing?  Have you heard or seen new business leads come in directly from social media?

If you would like to take part in the survey, and you are a lawyer or communications professionals in a firm or chambers, you can register your interest here and we will send you a link to the survey questionnaire as soon as it’s live. Otherwise you will be able to access the survey via the New Law Journal and Kysen websites after the Summer.   The survey will remain open throughout the September and October, and the results will be published at the end of the year....  blogged about, tweeted and posted on LinkedIn of course!
We're over the moon to see our good friend Nicola Sawford listed in Cranfield Schoolof Management's 100 Women to Watch, just out.  We worked closely with Nicola for many years when she was Chief Exec of Serle Court chambers, before she "retired".  As you can see, she's arguably busier now than ever!  We keep in regular touch and I hear about her various trustee and non-exec-director appointments.  How wonderful that her post-career career has taken such a stellar turn.