In the third piece in our series profiling our five winners from Totum’s Best Business Leaders awards, we are delighted to talk to Brooke Johnston, Head of Communications and Reputation Management at DAC Beachcroft (DACB).

Talking about the importance of innovation in law is easy. Agreeing and articulating the process of innovation in a meaningful way internally and externally is much harder. This is why Brooke Johnston stood out as one of our Best Business Leaders, for spearheading one of DACB’s most successful ever campaigns that transformed the firm’s approach to innovation. The campaign – dubbed Noisy Innovation – was full of firsts for DACB, and was powerful in influencing and changing firm-wide behaviours.

‘These awards stood out for recognising people at our level,’ says Brooke, talking about her selection for a Best Business Leaders award. ‘We see a lot of awards for rising stars and those up-and-coming in their careers, which are fantastic for providing motivation. And then at the other end, you get the lifetime achievement awards – but you have to wait a long time for those! And there’s this big gap in between. While I couldn’t have achieved anything without the team, it’s great to be recognised for the work I have done over the past year/18 months.’

Stars aligned: law and communications

PR/Communications wasn’t Brooke’s first career choice. Growing up in the US, her destiny was to be a lawyer; she fully intended to go to law school after taking a degree in politics, even working in a law firm every summer during university to fulfil her dream. But the decision to take a year out after graduating to ‘see something of the world’, led her to Japan to teach English. She stayed for three years and her world view shifted.

‘I didn’t speak any Japanese and was wholly reliant on the media and reading the news to know what was going on in the world,’ explains Brooke. ‘I could see how important media is, how it shapes views and experiences and the language barrier only highlighted that all the more for me. After that, I decided to move to London to do an MSc in media and communications.’ She never looked back.

While she started her career in financial PR, it wasn’t long before she moved into a professional services agency. Working on law firm accounts fuelled her continuing interest in law and when an opportunity came up to move in-house at a law firm in 2012, she didn’t pass up the opportunity to achieve her legal ambitions – just in a different guise of PR Manager.

‘My interest in law helped and I’d had experience of working with firms, but it was still a shock to go from an agency into a partnership. Back then it felt like there was a huge gap between the lawyers ‘doing law’ and those of us who didn’t. But a lot of that has changed over the last few years – lawyers have to be all-around business advisers now and younger lawyers and trainee development focuses much more on learning skills like business development, sales and understanding data.‘

Leadership in communications

Following several productive years in law, Brooke moved to DACB in 2018, moving up from a manager role in PR and communications to her first ‘Head of’ position. It was a role in which she would soon be making a name for herself. In 2021, the Managing Partner and CEO of the firm’s claims business tasked her with delivering a campaign to make some noise around innovation.

‘Innovation is very important for clients so the campaign was very much led by them; they wanted us to come to them with ideas and solutions – and we had to respond effectively. We knew that as a firm we were quite innovative but no one knew how to talk about the innovation we do,’ she explains.

The result was Noisy Innovation, which included an internal communications campaign to equip colleagues to talk confidently about innovation, followed up by an external marketing campaign entitled ‘What If?’, which featured a 360-degree augmented reality experience – described as the first of its kind for a UK law firm.

‘We intended it to be marketing campaign but realised early on there was an internal comms job to do to get everyone prepared internally. It was all about ‘Making Noise’ – getting people confident in knowing what we do as a business and what we can talk about with clients, including what innovations we have developed,’ Brooke explains.

Execution of the internal plan took a multi-channel approach across email and intranet, Workplace, blogs, games, awards and a 24-hour ‘hackathon’ on the firm’s internal crowdsourcing platform, which generated 168 ideas and over 1,100 votes in response to three questions, including ones posed by clients easyJet and Network Rail. During the Noisy Innovation campaign, more than 400 new users joined the platform and 335 ideas were posted – 59% of those in 2021 alone.

This all then fed into a marketing campaign to showcase innovation at DACB with a web-based augmented reality platform at its centre. Clients and contacts could scan a QR code, open a 3D portal on their mobile phones and physically immerse themselves in DACB’s world of innovation.

Learning curve

‘Overall, It really tested my project management skills,’ says Brooke. ‘It was such a big and time-consuming campaign, with lots of moving parts. I knew I could do it on smaller scale, but to put it together quickly and try things we’d never done before and manage all of that on a large scale taught me so much, not least that I could do it, even if not everything went right. I learned that you need to build in time to fail, and to pivot if things need changing. You have to learn from your mistakes. This is the innovation process. It’s what innovation is all about.’

From here, Brooke knows the bar is set high. The continuing challenge will be to communicate the accelerated pace of change and bring people along on the journey, she says. ‘In a world focused on ESG, communications are so important – businesses have to be more transparent than ever. If you’re not talking to your business and your clients openly and honestly, then you’re missing the point.’

With a passionate belief in the power of communication, it’s surely not the last we’ve heard from Brooke or her team of innovators.

Huge congratulations to Brooke and to all our Best Business Leaders award winners. Thanks also to all those who submitted such fantastic nominations and to our judges who had the difficult job of choosing our winners.

Click here to read our winner’s profiles on Stacey Rickford at Travers Smith or Elizabeth McGarrity at Fragomen.

If you would like any more information on our Best Business Leaders awards, please contact [email protected]