60 Seconds with… Lee Grunnell, Founder of Thirteen

We grabbed 60 seconds with Lee Grunnell, Founder of Thirteen, here's what the man himself had to say about Legal, Marketing and Virgin... 

Which areas do you feel legal marketers should be concentrating their efforts on in 2015?

Ultimately marketers need to focus on the same things in 2015 too often we get excited by the medium and forget about the message.

Specific things that have become more critical in the legal market and I think we, as a profession, need to get better at are:

  • Defining a clear market proposition about what it is that makes your firm distinctive.  This is where marketing intersects with firm strategy.  What’s your story?
  • Producing, sharing and communicating creative and insightful content that supports your market proposition.  Think about how you recycle and share everything - both internally and externally.
  • Using data more effectively.  The value of data - big, small or in between - is the just the same as it’s always been.
  • Moving beyond pure key account management to focus on client experience and understanding ,what it feels like to be a client of your firm.  At every possible interaction are they having an experience that is specific to your firm or could it be any other firm?  Their experience with you needs to be distinctive.

How has the evolvement of consumer technology helped or hindered your marketing efforts over recent years?

I don’t think it’s either helped or hindered our efforts because we haven’t properly adopted it yet in the legal market generally.

How do you see this affecting your marketing focus in the future? 

Looking specifically at the legal market I think there’s a huge amount that B2B firms can learn from the B2C firms like Slater & Gordon and Irwin Mitchell, for example.  The things that they do to understand who their customer base (actual and potential) is and how to target them are really impressive.  They’re also streets ahead in terms of customer experience.

Linked to this, one thing I would like to see more of in the future is people coming into legal marketing from professions outside of the law.  We seem to have this obsession that the only marketers who can succeed in a law firm are those who already work for one.  Ultimately there’s a danger that this will lead to a lack of creativity and mean that we don’t have people bringing in new skills and ideas.

It’s not just about having the latest technology.  It’s also about having the right people in place to use it.

Who is your go-to brand for inspiration?

Virgin. 

On the face of it they’re a completely random business involved with everything from planes to gyms and broadband.  However, it’s all very well thought through and bound together by a clear brand identity and set of values that they adhere to ruthlessly. 

Their core brand is ‘consumer champion’ and they have six values; fun; value for money; quality; innovation; competitive challenge; brilliant customer service.  Virgin will enter any industry where they can make a difference to society and the consumer and where they can apply the majority of their values.

I think you can measure their success in two ways.  First, whatever Virgin business it is, you instinctively know it’s them.  You might not know what, but you know that you feel something - and that something is always distinctively Virgin.

Second, when you look at the annual lists of the biggest companies in the world, most of them are single focus businesses apart from Virgin.  Virgin is pretty much the only business that big and successful that operates in multiple sectors.  For me, that’s because they have such a transparent, well defined and rigidly adhered to brand identity. 

What’s been the biggest learning curve for you over recent years?

There are probably two things.

First, the importance of internal communication.  Spend as much time with partners and lawyers as you can both to understand how they're feeling and to challenge them.  Never be shy about shouting about the great work that you’ve done.  Partners are incredibly competitive - if a peer has something they’ll want it as well.

Second, don’t be afraid to say “no” to things.  The resources that marketers have are finite and they know best how to use them.  As a profession, we often complain about partner behaviour but, at the same time, we encourage it.  If you know the annual TUPE update seminars they want to hold are rubbish, then don’t run them.  All the time you keep saying “yes”, they’ll keep asking.

What’s the best example you have seen whereby a legal firm has succeeded in standing out from the crowd?

Slaughter & May and Mission de Reya.

Slaughter & May is an organisation that instinctively gets the importance of culture and personality in driving consistent behaviours.  There’s a clear and consistent Slaughter & May ‘way’ that I just don’t think you get in other firms. 

They’re also really clever in the way that they develop and promote their people; for example, last year was the first time they ever made lateral partner hire, which was in Asia.  I also admire the fact that they simply don’t do routine work.  They’re only interested in the most prestigious and complex projects and, as a consequence, that’s what they’ve become known for.

Mishcon de Reya has experienced amazing growth over the last few years.  A lot of that is down to their managing partner, Kevin Gold. What defines Kevin, for me, is his bravery and sense of conviction, both in terms of the work that he wants the firm wants to do and the culture that he wants the firm to build. 

Part of that bravery was recruiting Elliot Moss, who came from an advertising background, as marketing & BD director.  That’s a pretty good challenge to the idea that only people who are already working in a law firm can succeed as legal marketers.  Consider also that Slaughter & May appointed their first ever marketing & BD director only recently, which should give us all pause for thought.

Potential clients for the legal firms have changed how they “shop” in recent years, where’s the first place you would look to make changes for those who haven’t yet moved with the times?

I would encourage potential clients to be smarter about the way they put together requests for proposals and invitations to tender. 

So much work is now procured through formal tender and neither buyers or law firms are particularly happy with the outputs. 

If law firms received briefs that they felt had been put together with more attention, care and focus on what really matters to the buyer then lawyers would approach them differently.  But perhaps that’s wishful thinking…

Is there one mistake that people make time and time again when it comes to defining their marketing proposition? How can they avoid it?

There are three things I would highlight:

First, they don’t look hard enough - neither inside or outside the business - for what really makes them distinctive.  Too often people think it’s about having an idea, when actually it’s a process of discovery.  It’s about digging and digging and digging until you uncover something.

Second, if they do find something they don’t articulate it very well.  When you come up with something ask yourself three questions.  Is it relevant?  Is it authentic?  Is it distinctive?  If the answer to any of these is “no” then start again.

Last, the proposition isn’t always communicated well enough, either internally or externally.  If your market proposition isn’t properly understood by both your people and the market and isn’t delivered consistently then it will fail.

Ultimately I think it comes down to a question of conviction.  The whole point is to stand out, to contrast rather than compare and people need to be a bit braver.

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