With Gordon Dadds’ £44m acquisition of Ince & Co, we’ve already seen the creation of the largest listed law firm in the UK by revenue. At the same time, this year’s Global Alternative Legal Brand Index from Acritas reported on the dramatic growth in the strength of the Big Four’s legal brands, with Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas, commenting: “It’s not just PwC Legal that both old law and new law need to fear. All of the Big Four have seen significant increases in brand strength over the last 12 months.”
These factors have put brand strength in the legal sector under the spotlight, as firms undertake more time, thought and cash investment to differentiate themselves through a post-merger rebrand.
As a specialist in brand management and implementation, we have worked with professional services firms to advise them on cost-cutting, effective brand roll-outs and long-term management of brand assets. The legal sector is unique in its approach to brand as firms attempt to drive consistency across a partner model that is often fragmented – and that fragmentation is increased with a merger on the horizon.
So how can law firms create a distinct and authoritative rebrand without breaking the bank?
Law firms are often set up as ‘member firms’, whereby each firm manages its own P&L business and outreach, using the leverage of the firm they are a member of for scale.
That means a global rebrand project may not have a central funding pot to draw from, so firms have to work out how local member firms each finance the project by creating a central money pot to deploy the rebrand.
Best practice is to have a central point of control on core brand elements, as this reduces possible wastage by centralising sourcing and production, improving consistency and reducing problems at a local level. This all capitalises on cost savings due to the volume at play and ensures that the brand is deployed coherently.
Once a financial approach is established, firms need to consider how to manage the brand rollout and long-term management.
As with any other area of business, too many cooks spoil the broth! At a central level, a core team or Project Management Office (PMO) should manage priorities, timelines, quality and communication throughout. This will greatly improve cost management, coherency and overall quality of the project while removing any potential stress from the organisation. The PMO should tap into local needs, consulting with all parties to make the right decisions while retaining overall control.
As the brand rollout progresses, the PMO will empower local teams for day-to-day implementation – but local teams should still work from central principles to help maintain a coherent brand.
Promise and prove
The firm also needs to hold a broader conversation about the brand’s character. In consumer marketing, strong brands ‘promise and prove’: they make a clear, enticing promise and they prove it in every interaction with the consumer. Law firms should take the same approach when identifying and enacting their unique brand promise, but in truth firms are not known for risk-taking or differentiation.
If the firm is looking to stand out from the crowd, it should start by assessing its strengths and building the brand around those. In the same way that lawyers cannot take a blanket approach for all clients, creating a brand should be a bespoke process that is rooted in the character, culture and location of the business and its employees.
In many firms, the culture and values of the brand already exist in the minds of senior partners – but are they shared across the firm? The key is to tease out those details in a brainstorm before agreeing them in a follow-up session. In that sense, an intelligent rebrand requires time and thought.
A law firm’s brand usually has three components: positioning, behaviour and image. It’s important to engage employees with the rebrand as they play an important role in communicating these components.
Working closely with employees through consultation sessions to assess the culture and values of the organisation will help to secure their buy-in, and employees should also be considered during the implementation stage. In some cases, employees are an untapped resource of ideas, passion and advocacy. Firms should consider how they can secure employees as brand advocates – one example of the importance of this can be demonstrated through the fact that a firm’s online visibility increases when there is an employee advocacy programme in place.
One successful example of a rebrand that engaged clients and employees alike came from Stephens Scown with their ‘love where you live’ campaign. The multichannel campaign focused on its staff as brand ambassadors – the firm’s heart and soul. Based on staff feedback, Stephen Scown reached number 12 in the 2016 Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list. Externally, the brand investment saw 795 clients converted from new enquiries.
Each firm will have their own KPIs to demonstrate success. These should be defined according to organisational objectives and measured continuously.
Key metrics to consider for law firms will include: client conversion, impact on bottom line, levels of employee engagement, external engagement (e.g. via social media) and overall cost savings.
Clear KPIs and monitoring by a central brand team will help to secure the long-term impact of the investment. The central brand team should also monitor how local member firms are implementing their brands. On the other hand, a lack of measurement and vague objectives can lead to badly spent budgets and missed opportunities.
Finally, remember that the implementation of the rebrand is not a snapshot – it’s a continuous process that requires monitoring, agility and future-proofing!