Today, I had the pleasure of attending (via Skype along with the LMA NJ City Group) the Metro New York’s presentation of “Legal Marketing Goes Global: Maximizing International Success for your Firm.” The session was a panel discussion (with questions from the audience throughout) that featured moderator Bob Robertson, the Director of Strategic Business Development at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, LLP, and panelists, Howard Kravitz, the US Marketing Leader for PwC and Joanne Southern, the Chief Marketing Officer for Proskauer.
Without going through the entire panel discussion (which was excellent), I do want to offer some key takeaways that I thought were particularly poignant and valuable:
- Legal demand has been flat, and as clients globalize, one way for firms to increase their market share is through globalization themselves. This isn’t a new trend, but some of the places that they’re expanding are new (such as Brazil and South Korea).
- Firms don’t face a blank slate though – they’re facing incumbents with longstanding and cultural roots and new competitors, like accounting firms.
- Brand is important: every company and firm is charged with standing for something. This is often created in a certain place and time, and often that’s in its home market. So in an international market, the challenge is how do we tweak it to be relevant? How much does it need to be elastic, and how much does it need to be fixed?
- Even though PwC is a partnership, they operate as a business. Law firms mostly don’t, and so they’ll ask the lawyers what they think about branding, though they’re not branding experts. Often, this happens too because firms consider the international offices to be the local experts – while this is true, they have their own agendas and the lawyers are still not branding experts. However, having a global brand CAN be done at law firms, says Southern. Kravitz said that to achieve this at PwC, they brought together all of their territory leaders and went through the branding rules, so that everyone understood and agreed to them. So now they’re just enforcing these with their process, and they’re bigger than any one person.
- Big data is important – this is another area where PwC is ahead of law firms. They use web and social media tracking because people leave a digital footprint these days, worldwide. Kravitz pointed out that you can’t just collect data though; you also need to use it. Southern noted that data is a problem because lawyers love to challenge it. For her, what’s worked is to get the lawyers to listen to what’s happening in a market and think about “what’s next?” For example, what will what’s happening in Greece mean for the US down the line?
- When it comes to tools, email marketing is becoming less effective, and firms are looking at other options like LinkedIn, blogging, microsites, etc. However, measuring these is messy and not as simple as tracking clicks.
- The topic of US arrogance did come up, and it’s an issue abroad in a couple of ways:
- Producing content: although English is widely spoken around the world, we assume that it’s also always the language of business. This isn’t true. And even when firms do localize content, they’ll often just translate – even when something is well-translated, there are concepts that may not make sense in another language. Firms need to vet content with people on the ground to get local guidance, in addition to language guidance. “Culture and legal systems trump language every day.”
- Face-to-face interactions: Southern used a great example that perfectly illustrated this issue – when the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was first introduced, many US firms wanted to go abroad and talk about it, in countries like China. But it ended up feeling like US policeman were scolding them. Other countries don’t want to be lectured. Things can go horribly wrong when you go to another country with that “head office arrogance.” (I’ve seen this happen, and it’s not pretty)
- Should firms do cultural training for their partners? General consensus was no – it’s better to have people working on something concrete and then use that to have a conversation about how they’ll adapt that to the particular market. PwC is rigorous about their preparation – they ensure that their partners are arriving early for business meetings so that they are well-rested and have time to meet with the local partners on the ground who have experience with the client, so that they are well-prepared.
If there is no local partner, the prep is the same. But instead, look for another client who works there, or someone else who has worked in that location, who can give you the local knowledge and preparation that you need.
- Consider seconding members of your marketing team to other offices to give them the cultural education that working there will afford them.
- There are cultural differences when it comes to best practices for pitching too – for example, in the US, it’s all about “what can you do for me?” Clients want firms to be knowledgeable about their business, demonstrate relevant expertise, and be open to AFAs, while in the UK, personal chemistry is more important – they want to like you.
- Firms need to reevaluate the time they give an international office to be successful – often, they’re giving them two years, which puts pressure on them to dilute the brand by taking any work, instead of the right work. They’re coming into markets with existing strong firms, and having to compete. It’s possible to succeed, but it takes time, creativity, and an edge.
- Kravitz offered four rules that they use at PwC to embrace a cultural balance within the company:
- Spend the money to get together: there’s no substitute for face to face
- Use video conferencing
- Use shared documents that you can edit in real time (not sharing documents by email) – this gives a feeling of collaboration
- Move the times around for calls and video conferencing to be respectful of various time zones – don’t just operate on the idea that everyone uses the 9-5 New York time zone.
Thanks to the panelists for some really excellent insights and takeaways today!