BD & Marketing event report


Welcome to the spring issue of Totum’s dedicated BD and marketing newsletter. Rebecca Ellis, Georgia Girling and I recently attended a PM Forum event at Bird & Bird’s offices. The event was held in conjunction with Meridian West (MW) and included a panel of industry leaders, showcasing and debating findings from MW’s sixth annual Marketing Director Benchmark.

The Benchmark tracks changes in marketing priorities and activities. This year the focus was on:

  • Priorities for 2018, and what this means for investment in client development initiatives, technology and key account management.
  • How marketing leaders are responding to opportunities and threats posed by marketing automation.
  • How the skills portfolio of the marketing team is changing, and what this means for future career development. 

The panel included a range of BD and marketing directors: Jill Warren of Bird & Bird, Samantha Bisson of Buzzacott, Jon Gibbs of Moore Stephens and Daryl Atkinson of Howard Kennedy.

PwC’s CEO Survey 2018 reports a feeling of “anxious optimism” amongst the world’s CEOs for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. A similar sense is evident amongst professional services firms’ marketing leaders, according to MW’s research.

Research and discussion highlights


For professional marketers there exist big challenges ahead in the shape of lower-cost competitors, Brexit and GDPR. A third of respondents said that improving client experience was their top priority whilst 49% are investing more in technology than last year. The key reasons for doing so are to improve client experience, offer more cost-efficient client delivery, and to improve time efficiency. 75% of marketing leaders say that they do not feel adequately prepared to address the impact of automation and artificial intelligence (AI).

As far as skills and talent are concerned, the top three areas in which leaders need to upskill and develop existing teams are digital client experience; ‘big data’ and analytics; and delivery model innovation. How do we accelerate skills development? Leaders lean towards building a team of specialists rather than generalists, whilst there is still a preference for individuals with professional services experience. There needs to be a good balance of strategic thinkers and tactical executers. Surprisingly, given the focus on technology, there is a preference for persuasion and influencing skills over technical expertise.

Marketing budgets are up by 2.3%, headcount is up by 2% and salaries have risen by just under 3% in the past 12 months. Modest increments but things are moving in the right direction.

Priorities 2018


For Jill Warren at Bird & Bird, her focus for the year ahead is firmly on technology. Given the markets in which Bird & Bird operates it is essential that they are a genuine leader in law firm innovation. Jill did however emphasise that it is not about trying to do everything, and that a lot can be done with a little technology. Jill talked about collaborating with clients to develop software applications and the firm has created a sub-brand around these client solutions (see for more info on this). In terms of talent, Jill thinks that the most important attribute when hiring is emotional intelligence.

Samantha Bisson at accountancy firm Buzzacott is focusing on further aligning and embedding every aspect of their business process with the brand. For Samantha, a holistic approach is essential for the success of the business so the year ahead is about ensuring that information is shared/communicated more effectively across all areas of the business, working closely with HR, IT and Finance, as well as with senior management.

Jon Gibbs at Moore Stephens commented that their marketing function is now much better integrated with the firm’s other functional areas and he is focused on driving this holistic approach. He spoke of the need to utilise the vast amount of data the firm is sitting on to challenge the partners to think more strategically and commercially. As processes become more automated they will have less time in front of client as a result, and it is imperative that they re-invest this time in coming up with new ways to add value.

Daryl Atkinson’s focus for the year ahead at Howard Kennedy is to define and communicate the brand internally and to their clients. He also spoke about a positive experience of using a machine learning tool, which has increased cost-efficiency for aspects of their real estate work. Given the macro-economic trends and risks ahead, he added that it is very difficult to plan beyond the next 12 months to three years ahead. Instead, he advised taking a view at the time but being agile enough to respond to changing marketing conditions: it is vital to not lose sight of what the firm is trying to achieve.

From our perspective it was fascinating to hear the views from the panel and understand more about some of the burning issues and challenges that lie ahead in 2018 for legal, accounting, and other professional services firms. Cautious optimism indeed, but also a steely determination to overcome challenges and achieve success.

James Rosenthal




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