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Strategy before structure.

By Leor Franks.

Cut through the noise by focussing on clients.

Brand, Communications, Marketing, and Business Development. Four individual separate functions, or all part of one joined-up team? There are a vast array of configurations of these teams in professional service firms.

Brand and marketing are sometimes conjoined. Or marketing and communications could be integrated. In some partnerships, marketing and BD are one, with communications separate, with perhaps brand on its own, or linked to a digital group if one exists.

What is the optimal arrangement to cut through the noise caused by the pandemic, where most firms are using fewer, similar channels to market? How do you ensure good governance, value for money, alignment to practice priorities, and effective coordination? The answer from my experience is simple. Put strategy before structure and avoid silos.

A good example of the risks of failure and opportunities to improve is, perhaps unpalatably for some, to be found in the experience of the US military. For much of the twentieth century, the US would have been considered the world’s foremost superpower. US military spending was ahead of all others, and they had a clear technological advantage over competitors. Their armed forces were feared and revered and considered a model for others to learn from. The conflicts of the 70s and 80s are, however, said to have shone an unfavourable light on their structure, with the example of Grenada often cited. Whilst the US had overwhelming superiority, the conflict did not progress as planned. Loss of life was sadly greater than expected, and budgets and timescales were not met. Analysts often cite siloed thinking, inter-force discord, and poor communications as the causes.

To set things right, President Reagan’s administration commissioned a review that led to the Goldwater-Nichols Act. This fundamentally reworked the command structure of the military to focus on strategy, not silos. In previous conflicts, the four individual armed services (army, air force, navy, and marines) would each have had a leader with their own strategy, priorities, and idiosyncrasies. This was identified as disabling to effective operations. The new structure implemented by the Act was to have one unified line of control, a single ‘combatant commander’. This one leader would manage all four forces, first and foremost setting a clear, cohesive strategy, and then communicating unambiguously both up and down the chain of command. Whilst each branch would continue to recruit and train personnel, action would be coordinated by one General, with the various elements unified as one holistic team focussed on the specific operations at hand.

Whilst obviously a far cry from the day to day of law firm go-to-market activity, this case study is a helpful parallel to the debate on structure of brand, comms, marketing, and BD. Picking up on the learning around a combined strategy, the Favourability Journey toolkit can be used to identify what a firm requires. In the same way that the US now combines all its forces to focus on a particular mission, the Favourability Journey model encourages a combined approach across all four disciplines to help win work in a competitive environment. And it directs leaders to consider the perceptions of clients as a source of intelligence for decision making. The tool is best brought to life with another story, not this time of battles and battlefields, but of wine and wine bars! Instead of army, air force, navy, and marines, we have four strategies: recognition, reputation, relationships, and revenue.

Focus On Clients

Recognition. You go to a bar to meet a client for a drink. Thinking about what to order, you see 60 bottles on the shelf, none are known to you. How can you select without recognition of the brands? Looking at the labels, eight are from a region you are aware of. You’ve arrived at the first milestone of the Favourability Journey: ‘Recognition’. However, without further details, eight is too many to pick from.

Reputation. There is no bartender in sight, so you go behind the bar and take a closer look at the eight. In the absence of awareness of the quality of these, how do you choose? Six of the bottles show an award certificate on their label. This gives comfort that they are of good calibre. You’ve arrived at the second milestone of the Favourability Journey: ‘Reputation’. But six is still too many to pick from.

Relationships. A bartender greets you. They ask about what you like to drink. Understanding your preferences, they advise that two of the six bottles you are looking at might suit. You’ve arrived at the third milestone of the Favourability Journey: ‘Relationships’. Two is a sensible range to select from, but what of price?

Revenue. The bartender tells you one bottle is $125 and the other, $25. You think about what will look best to your client – the rather pricey and ostentatious option, or the lower cost, but potentially risky choice. You’ve arrived at the final milestone of the Favourability Journey: ‘Revenue’. Considering anti-bribery concerns, you decide on the cheaper bottle!

In a short period, you’ve journeyed from unaware and uncertain, without recognition of the brands, to being confident about reputations, and with advice based on a relationship, you can now make an educated selection, to give revenue to one brand over the others. This type of experience is likely familiar for personal buying decisions. It may also ring true as the kind of journey clients go on with purchases of legal services.

Evaluate Favourability

Before formulating strategy and deciding on structure, an evaluation of clients’ favourability to your brand is the first step. Examples of some typical actions for this process are below and will depend on your available budget, re- source, and firm profile.

Recognition. Question ‘how well is our brand known by our target market’? A client survey, preferably conducted on an unattributed and unprompted basis, is an effective tool. A digital review, including search engine rankings, can supplement this.

Reputation. Question ‘what does our target market know about us’? As well as the methods in the recognition audit, it is useful to add third-party sources, e.g. directory rankings or award providers. A media sentiment analysis, whether using technology or a PR consultant, can also be used.

Relationships. Question ‘what do our existing clients think of us’? Input from the above processes should be supplemented with CRM data. Ideally, client service assessment reports should be added, as can input from fee earning staff.

Revenue. Question ‘how do we perform on specific opportunities’? An evaluation of win / loss rates on pitches should be undertaken. Feedback from past clients is also helpful. Additionally, analysis of tender processes and pricing, e.g. by consultants, can be illuminating.

Data from this review can be used to categorise clients based on their favourability towards your firm. This will help clarify on which of the four strategies focus is needed to move them along the journey – recognition, reputation, relationships and revenue. In light of this insight, you can now begin to identify the resources required to deliver, and overlay a structure to effectively manage these. Before this is chosen, you should consider what skills are required for each selected strategy, to ensure your activities can cut through current noise in the market.

Identify Required Skills

Recognition. Raising awareness in today’s digital focussed marketplace requires a strong online presence. This includes not only an accessible website, but also one that is optimised for search engines, e.g. Google. Further, with the continuing importance of directories and league tables, it may be prudent to ensure you have capability to maximise your firm’s profile in these important areas.

Reputation. Building visibility has traditionally required a mix of good content production skills, e.g. articles and blogs, and also public relations to proactively place material and gain media coverage. With the increased focus on thought leadership during the pandemic by many law firms, it is more important today than ever to ensure material produced is not only timely, but also that it is somehow differentiated and addresses your clients’ critical issues, in the context of ongoing uncertainty.

Relationships. With the advent of lockdown, many traditional methods of building and sustaining client relationships have evaporated. Today most efforts are online, with a huge surge in Zoom meetings and webinars. Skills to effectively organise, publicise and implement such events are essential. Additionally, similar content development skills to those mentioned above are necessary to ensure your online events stand out and are not lost in the noise of a saturated market.

Revenue. The final set of skills required around winning revenue are often assumed to be focused in two traditional areas: CRM data, and pitch production. These are both essential, especially in a remote virtual world. Some firms are, however, increasingly considering broader sales skills, including client and market intelligence, to ensure that their approach to targets around specific opportunities is ahead of the curve, not behind it.

Select Structure

With an understanding of where clients are on their journeys with your firm, as well as insight into what strategies and skills are needed, the next piece of the puzzle is structure. No two firms are the same in terms of client base, resources, and appetite, so there is no one size fits all prescription. The key in my experience is to check that resources are closely aligned to client touchpoints.

This could be your practices, or any number of cross-firm groups. But to ensure cost-effectiveness, it is often helpful to have certain shared functions centrally (e.g. events and PR), and others externally (consultants), al- lowing these specialist skills to be recruited or engaged and called on only when necessary.

Whatever the exact mix of skills required, and however you chose to configure these, it is of paramount importance that there are structural incentives to collaboration. One combined team with a single leader is in some situations, the most effective option. Ideally, the barriers of silos should be minimised as these can delay communication and create confusion, as the US military found in the 70s and 80s. In making these decisions, a focus on client favourability to your firm is critical, and this should be re-evaluated on a regular basis. Many firms will have done this as the pandemic unfolded. Some have uncovered a need to flex structures and change the mix of resources to cut through today’s noise in order to drive client favourability. Others may yet wish to consider doing this to take advantage of the potential upcoming economic upturn.


About the Author

Leor Franks leads the Business Development & Marketing and Knowledge & Information functions for London based Kingsley Napley and is a member of the firm's Board. He has spent over 20 years in the professional services and legal services industries including in Marketing, Communications and Business Development Director roles at Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), and FTI Consulting, and most recently as Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of legal services firm Augusta.

Leor sits on the Advisory Board of the University of London Queen Mary Business School and the Pro Bono Committee of the Commercial Litigators’ Forum. He is Chair of the Managing Partners’ Forum Marketing & Strategy Group and the Metropolitan Police Cannons Ward Panel.


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