Marketing careers in property can be hugely challenging – and equally rewarding. Rebecca Ellis, Director at Totum talks to Ali Hellewell, Marketing and Business Development Director at property consultants Gerald Eve, about her first two years at the firm and how she’s influencing change in consultative selling and client development.
There is nothing more exciting for a business development (BD) and marketing professional than to join a business that has a fantastic offering to the market and the potential to be even more. Perhaps the business has made modest changes but knows they need help to go further – the brand might no longer reflect who they are or maybe there’s more to be done to improve client development. The specifics may vary but there is one recurring theme: these are roles offering the chance to make a lasting difference.
Marketing careers in property: a background for success
Marketing and BD Director Ali Hellewell saw just such an opportunity when she met the team at property consultants Gerald Eve. She has enjoyed a long career in marketing, including at PwC (when it was Coopers) and then Allen & Overy and Olswang. She was then part of the team that set up professional services consultancy, Kindleworth, whilst running her own business ClientFace specialising in client listening – advising the top-50 law firms.
This set the scene for accepting the Marketing and BD Director position at Gerald Eve in early 2019.
‘Having been a consultant, I wanted to go back in house,’ says Ali. ‘I wanted to work on longer-term projects and see change through.’ Gerald Eve wasn’t the first firm she thought of, but she soon realised she’d hit upon a gem. ‘It was very people focused and honest in its approach. I could see I could help position the partners as leading experts, which really appealed given my background,’ she adds.
The match brought to bear all her experience of working effectively in a partnership, but with the new perspective of real estate rather than law in which she has spent much of her career. There were potential challenges and opportunities, during a period of growing employee numbers and service lines. Ali describes the Gerald Eve team as a mix of long-established and new partners who needed bringing together. ‘Gerald Eve is a modest firm, underplaying client success and ground-breaking consultancy projects. From a brand perspective, it felt quite disparate and lacking a cohesive brand and tone of voice,’ she says.
But Ali felt immediately comfortable in her new home and could see an opening to deliver a more consultancy-driven, targeted approach to business, supported by the firm’s ‘empowering’ leadership.
Creating the foundation for marketing success
Initially, Ali describes masses of engagement with the business including surveys and research with partners, which helped determine the firm’s goal: to become a high-end full-service real estate consultancy, with a reputation as “leading experts” across a number of specialist areas. Ali could now develop a framework to position the business to achieve its aims:
- Branding the firm as leading experts – consistent/professional in everything it does
- Looking after clients/client service – enhancing the key client programme and creating value
- Identifying clients’ changing requirements and delivering new services – client listening/innovation
- Winning Better Business project
- Underpinning everything with a strong ethos in sustainability (ESG)
- Investing in a well-respected marketing and BD team
One of Ali’s first jobs was to work on the brand, collaborating closely with the internal graphics and digital team to launch a new website and other materials for the firm that would last the test of time. ‘It was a tiny budget but out of it came this very modern brand design that transformed our reputation in the market,’ she says.
Across the department, there are others enjoying marketing careers in property. Ali lays much of the credit with the hugely talented in-house graphics and digital team and investing time in finding the right design agency who understood what they were trying to achieve and were not put off by the limited budget. ‘The graphics are like works of art: we’ve gone out of our way to really stand out and it’s brought us huge benefits. If you want to be a high-end consultancy, a leader in your field, you have to look and behave like leading experts, it has to be clear in everything you deliver to your clients.’
Key client programme
The brand, however, is only as good as the service behind it. Client development, therefore, has been vital to Ali’s broader strategy. The past year has been a strange one, in which so much has changed, particularly in real estate. But this hasn’t stopped Ali’s work on the firm’s key client programme, which is focused on delivering innovation around value-add services, helping clients plan for opportunities despite uncertainty, and using new data tools and flexible resourcing.
‘Previously, partners would advise their client, and they’d do it really well,’ explains Ali. ‘But there wasn’t a sense of working as a team across the business.’ Taking a few partners to champion the client programme, she has driven a more holistic approach, with the aim of increasing the value of the work Gerald Eve delivers and investing in long-term, trusted adviser relationships.
By way of example, Ali describes a client for whom they were doing lots of work, but it wasn’t always profitable. ‘We needed to align ourselves to the right bits of their business. We had to be open with them,’ she says. ‘So our key client partners went to the client’s very talented procurement team and we laid out the areas where we thought we could make a real difference. And we were also honest about those aspects of work where we thought we were not best placed to help, and where others might do a better job.’
In lockdown two, the marketing team was proactive in meeting with the client to ask how Gerald Eve could help through challenging times, helping them to make sound commercial decisions within a backdrop of continued uncertainty. And a bonus is that where Gerald Eve has referred work on, it has led to highly effective relationships with other “leading experts” advisory businesses too.
‘It’s about harnessing the firm’s resources and talents to interactions that are high-value and positive. With that approach, we gain a deep understanding of clients – of what their future success looks like – and we deliver the solutions that help them get there,’ says Ali.
Winning Better Business
Success in the client programme has been closely tied to Ali’s other project: Winning Better Business, which helps partners to shift to a more consultative selling approach. The project has four elements to winning business: targeting the right clients and projects, engaging and investing in the ongoing relationship, creating value within clients’ businesses and then onboarding new clients, with a focus on excellent client service and a seamless and dedicated client team.
As part of this, Ali wanted to ensure that any partner could get hold of really good and relevant content to share with clients. ‘We already have a great research team, provide insightful training and workshops and our briefings and updates are highly valued. But we wanted to go further and integrate that into the client-facing side of the business.’
The idea was to bring all the firm’s content and research together, including many bespoke case studies, and brand and format it all in a professional/consistent way. That has been followed by the development of a central portal through which partners can access tailored content and Gerald Eve branded templates. ‘In the past, partners have found it easier to go off and do their own thing,’ says Ali. ‘You’d get differences and variable quality, whereas with this, every partner can go in and get highly personalised content that they can use to deepen their relationships with their clients.’
Purpose and sustainability
Underpinning all of the above is an all-encompassing belief in the importance of sustainability, people and good governance (one of the firm’s straplines is ‘driven by ethics’). Ali describes three areas of focus here: making sure Gerald Eve is a sustainable business (paperless/recyclable); helping clients to be sustainable in their business activities; and ensuring Gerald Eve is contributing to the wider green agenda debates of the day.
The firm is held to account via green supply chain charters, which means they have to adhere to strict rules around how the team delivers services and works alongside clients. ‘Sustainability is always on the agenda with relationship meetings, either sharing best practice or joint initiatives. Our clients are investors, developers or occupiers and it impacts them in slightly different ways. The client-facing aspect of this is huge.’ It’s also an issue that comes up repeatedly in client pitches – being able to prove your sustainability credentials is vital for successfully moving business forwards.
Developing BD & marketing careers in property
At the same time, Ali has focused on her team’s structure to ensure it is in the best place to support change and the ongoing development of the business. In the first six months, she was keen to deliver clarity on specific roles and the direction they were moving in, so spent a lot of time looking at the workings of the team to enhance its capabilities.
The result is a high functioning central team focused on internal and corporate comms, research, info services, bids, graphics and digital, plus consultants who help in areas like PR and copywriting. And this year the firm is working with Totum to expand BD and marketing roles out into the teams – a step that marks the function’s increasing influence on all aspects of the firm.
Ali has far more she wants to do in the months and years ahead – including further championing diversity, an area in which Gerald Eve sees itself leading the property industry. But she’s clearly delighted to have taken all her experience into the real estate sector, where she can put it to good use in a firm that she describes as a ‘wonderful case study of a collaborative partnership that isn’t afraid to do things differently.’
There is so much going on in this marketing and BD function that it is hard to keep up. With Ali’s work across the team, we look forward to seeing where this firm goes next.
If you have any questions regarding this article or to discuss any aspect of BD or marketing careers in property or the professional services sector, please contact Rebecca at [email protected] Or take a look at our current opportunities across all business services functions in professional services.