So tell me, are you proficient in Crayola?

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I have worked in marketing now for over 15 years; 7 of which have been dedicated to professional services marketing. During this time I have had the privilege of working with some of the wittiest, intelligent and forthright people one could possibly wish to meet.

Unfortunately, my work has also meant that I have had the displeasure of meeting a flood of pompous individuals who, professional knowledge aside, are pretty thick.

At a recent professional services marketing event held in London, I overheard two middle men aged talking about the marketing departments in their respective accountancy firms (it was fairly obvious that these guys were accountants) when one quipped to the other “Marketing in my firm is commonly referred to as the paper and crayons department!”

I have a couple of issues with this comment. First, if they have such a disdain for marketing why bother attending a marketing event in the first place (aside from free refreshments and a temporary escape from their own boring jobs) and secondly, this attitude highlights a rife misunderstanding in professional services firms that marketing is only about designing communications – which of course, it isn’t.

I wonder what reaction I would get from these two professionals if I announced that I was swapping my marketing job for a lifetime of accounting – after all, it’s only adding-up and taking-away – and I have a calculator that can do that!

Is advertising a dirty word for the online community?

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I was reading an article recently and, according to the Advertising Bureau’s annual report,  Facebook saw its year-on-year display advertising rocket by 27.5% in 2010. This now means that Facebook accounts for almost 25% of the UKs online advertising revenues which stand at £4b. Research in advertising trends now shows that £1 in every £4 spent on marketing and advertising by British companies is spent online.

After reading the article online, I continued down the page (as I always do, but by now should know better) to read the various comments posted in response. I was amazed by the rancour aimed at people who had ever dare click on an advertisement – and also the level of superiority of those who had resisted the advertisers best attempts at luring them in.

There were literally 100’s of posts from the ‘morally superior’ describing people that click on ads as morons.

Here’s the thing. I am not defending online advertising as I often find it irritating and, as a fairly heavy internet user, don’t recall clicking on an adertisement to further my interest in any product or service.  As a marketer I have not invested much in online advertising as campaign ROMI has been achieved by using other elements of my communications mix – although I wouldn’t rule it out as in the words of Richard V Benson “There are only two rules in direct marketing. Rule 1: test everything. Rule 2: Refer to Rule 1″ A maxim that should be applied to both the message and medium in my opinion.

However I don’t view the people clicking on advertisements any lower in class, social standing or brain power than me. However I do hold the view that people making such derogatory comments are pompous twats – who spell their anti-commercial/capatalist revolutions with a very small r.

The thing that really irritates me with this smug bunch is that they don’t seem to appreciate that 100s of online services, including Facebook, are paid for by ‘dirty advertisers’.  I would be very interested to see just how high their morale ground is, and deep their pockets are, should Facebook and others start charging say, £300 a year, for the privilege of having an advertisement free service!

Tesco Law and change management

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Last Wednesday I attended a seminar in London organised by Hubbard One, the law firm customer relationship management people.  The seminar was all about business development in law firms and covered a range of marketing topics most of which I found helpful, particularly the section on improving website conversations and new client acquisition – something law firms always struggle with. Anyway, I was speaking to the marketing manager from law firm Dickinon Dees on thesubject of managing change and I mentioned an article I had published in Legal Marketing Magazine towards the back end of 2009. She seems to like my opinions on the subject and also Flint Bishop’s approach to changing its marketing mix and portfolio of services in response to Alternative Business Structures.

To be honest it’s pretty old now, and I don’t have time to rewrite another up-to-date version, but I thought it might be helpful to share it – so here it is:

Mastering change management

Carl Weston on the actions regional firm Flint Bishop has taken to safeguard against the introduction of alternative business structures.

The legal profession is currently facing a seismic shift in the way it operates, thanks to the Legal Services Act 2007 (LSA) and, in particular, the emergence of alternative business structures. And while some firms may have previously thought the impending changes to be of little consequence, the potentially profound implications posed by external ownership and alternative business structures (ABS) should not be taken lightly.
There was a time, not that long ago, when most lawyers doubted that the LSA would change much of the environment in which they operate – now the picture is very different. And while none of us can predict precisely what effect the changes will have, the profession now recognises that this new regime will transform the landscape.
The smart practices are planning accordingly and taking positive steps, particularly in the sphere of marketing, to safeguard their operations against the increased competition that the emergence of alternative business strategies will encourage.
ABS, as enabled by the LSA, permit new possibilities for the more flexible and competitive delivery of legal services. This means that practices will now be competing with the offer of nationally recognised brands, such as supermarkets (hence the popular reference to ‘Tesco Law’) and motoring organisations, among others, which will now be able to own law firms or employ lawyers and offer legal services directly to their customers.
Most lawyers’ attitudes to ABS are determined by whether they see them as a threat or an opportunity. Some fear they will devalue the status of solicitors and commoditise legal services, and in the worst case, even put them out of business. Others see them as a chance to team up with other professionals to create exciting new types of business and to enable growth by attracting new investment into their firms. Those who support the new Tesco Law claim that it will benefit clients and, at the same time, offer attractive commercial opportunities to lawyers and those organisations that wish to go into business with lawyers. Those opposed to its introduction believe that clients will always have a natural inclination to use services provided by names that are familiar to them, even if they may not provide the best or most appropriate level of service to them.
They claim that the service provided by the likes of the Co-op, Tesco and the AA will inevitably be provided by unqualified call-centre staff, possibly outside of the UK, and overseen by an inadequate number of in-house solicitors.
The debate now, however, should not be about whether ABS are good or bad for the industry, but about how the High Street legal practices can ensure that clients, both individual and corporate, can access high-quality legal services from business structures of all types and sizes.

Taking action
The Midlands-based top-200 law firm, Flint Bishop, identified as long ago as 2005 that diversification was vital in order to safeguard its operation against the marketing of legal services by ABS.

When the LSA was published and it became clear that Tesco law would change the way that many aspects of our business operates, decisive action was needed to market our business in order to compete effectively with nationally trusted brands and increase the private client work that the firm generates from outside its traditional geographical area.
An extensive period of research into the marketing of legal services followed. Our findings showed that family law was viewed as an emotional purchase and not, therefore, suitable for the online marketplace; in addition, the online market for personal injury was already saturated. It became clear, however, that there was an opportuniy to expand our operating areas with the launch of a series of ‘commodity’ legal services, such as wills and conveyancing, which could be readily packaged.
This early research enabled us to steal a march on many competing law firms, who chose to wait and evaluate the impact of the change in regulations before deciding to take positive action.
Since then, we have worked hard to capitalise on our key strengths and have launched a series of ‘at a distance’ conveyancing and will-writing services, which have served to extend our client base substantially.
Working with a team of external consultants, we have developed two distinct brands: Flints Direct and FB Wills Direct .
Quality and reputation are of paramount importance to the firm and we are the first law firm in the Midlands to hold ‘Lexcel 4’, the Law Society’s new mark of excellence for client care and customer service. It was essential, therefore, that our ‘at a distance’ services maintained the same high levels of quality and service for which Flint Bishop is renowned. Both brands offer particular advantages over our traditional service offerings and are marketed and delivered using very different methods.

FB Wills Direct
FB Wills Direct is a dedicated wills and probate service, which aims to simplify and streamline the will-preparation process by enabling individuals and couples to prepare a will online, over the phone, or by post without having to visit a solicitor.
Guidance is available via the telephone to advise the most appropriate will for each individual’s personal circumstances and an online application form that can be saved, paused and revisited as needed – feedback constantly tells us how useful purchasers find this.

Flints Direct
Flints Direct is a dedicated conveyancing service, which simplifies the process of buying and selling homes. Clients from across the UK can obtain immediate online quotes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Instant telephone quotes and help are also available around-the-clock (for out of hours calls, telephones divert to a call centre).
A secure online login facility has also been developed to enable clients to access real-time progress reports, while SMS text messaging is available at key stages of the transaction. A comprehensive frequently asked questions and information area is also available.
Detailed research was carried out before the launch of the two services. We made the conscious decision not to market the new operations using typical online marketing tactics, such as search engine optimisation or pay-per-click campaigns; instead, Flint Bishop based its strategy on targeting organisations with no fewer than 5,000 members or employees, thus creating a network of ‘affiliate partners’.
The key benefit for the member organisations was the opportunity to provide its existing target audience with an added resource of discounted legal services via its own individually branded website.
In addition, each organisation can opt to receive either a referral fee (with strict adherence to solicitor’s regulation authority rules), from each matter the website generates, or to pass on the fee to the member as an additional discount. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of our partners have chosen the latter.
FB Wills Direct has been hugely successful within the charitable sector; and given the increasing competition for charitable giving, one unexpected by-product from the launch of FB Wills Direct is the opportunity that it presents for the consumer to leave a legacy to the charity in question.
In order to maintain control over our brand and ensure that we continue to deliver the highest possible levels of service, we elected not to join one of the growing number of alliances of firms marketing private-client legal services.
Clients using our services can be assured that they are marketed and delivered solely by our team of experts. Working with partners enables us to maintain total control over our brand and by owning the whole brand we are able to react quickly to feedback in order to ensure constant improvements to the services we offer.

The outcome
Since the launch of the schemes back in 2007, more than 30 high-profile organisations have signed up to become an affiliate partner. They range from regional financial organisations such as the Loughborough Building Society, the Earl Shilton Building Society, the Dudley Building Society and a user group of more than 450 IFAs, through to major national and international organisations including The British Medical Association, The Land Registry, Breast Cancer Care, Marston’s brewery, The Children Mutual, Voice (previously The Professional Association of Teachers) and, most recently, Oxfam, the world’s third-largest charitable organisation.
This gives us a total audience of more than five million people – more than any of the current alliances, which have been forced to unite to market their services.
In fact, our ‘at a distance’ services have generated in excess of 500 transactions per month – and from a geographically remote client base that would otherwise not have used the services of Flint Bishop.

Going forward…
Not content to rest on our laurels, however, we will shortly be extending our portfolio of brands, with the launch of a UK-wide fixed-cost employment law solution targeted at the small-to-medium-sized enterprises market, which will also be marketed online.
In return for a fixed monthly fee, registered users can download a whole host of employment guides and documents drafted by our lawyers. There is also the option to contact a lawyer directly where required.

In summary, I believe that the legal profession needs to ensure that it is ready to face the challenges of the new legal marketplace. And providing that like Flint Bishop, firms continue to plan and are prepared to expect markets and conditions to change, then it will be equipped to face change.

According to Bob Bly we might see more advertising tosh!

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I was discussing the topic of my first ever blog post with a marketing colleague of mine this morning – the fact I think the Halifax ISA Baby TV advertisement is tosh of the highest order. However she made a very good point and one that marketing, and particularly advertising folk, forget all too often. That is, it doesn’t really matter what I think of the advertisement. All that counts for the Halifax is how successful the advertising campaign has been at generating enquires for its ISA products. In the words of advertising copywriting guru Bob Bly

“The goal of advertising is not to be liked — it is to sell products. The advertiser, if he is smart, doesn’t care whether people like his commercials or are entertained or amused by them. Commercials are a means to an end, and the end is increased sales — and profits — for the advertiser”

Based on Bob’s quote I guess you can be assured that, if the Halifax processing department is currently knee deep in applications, the ISA Baby advertisement won’t be the last incarnation of their dreadful mock radio show campaign!!!!!!!!

Marketing Awards: Are they worth it and, if so, 6 tips on things to consider before applying.

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There appears to be no shortage of marketing awards that businesses can apply for these days. Whether they are specific to marketing like CIM Excellence or ones that fit into a marketing category of an industry awards, for example the UK Broker Awards.

I guess like most things in life winning will make you happy. Add this to the glut of tangible benefits below and you’re probably thinking entering awards are a no-brainer.

Tangible benefits:

  • Make your boss and senior management think you’re doing a fine job (which I’m sure you are)
  • Generate positive public relations
  • You can inform your clients that they are working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • You can inform your prospects they could be working with an ‘award winning firm’
  • Its sticks two-fingers up to the competition who didn’t win
  • Staff can be thanked for doing a great job (this of course has additional business benefits as according to marketing professor Sally Dibb  ‘organisation performance is increased with satisfied, happy and motivated employees’)

However don’t just rush off and start downloading the application forms just yet as in my humble opinion, many business awards are simply not worth the effort.

Please don’t think my opinion is based on sour grapes (in fact I have been involved in projects that have won several awards, and in an act of shameless self promotion click here to take look at a professional marketing one) it is because there are so many awards that are totally obscure.

In addition the submission process can be lengthy and is often dropped onto the overstretched marketing team. However, if applying for awards is part of your marketing strategy, not to mention a true reflection of your obvious marketing genius, below are some tips on how to decide which awards are worth applying for.

Is the award ‘valued’?

Be honest with yourself. Before you read the finely crafted marketing communications piece tempting you to apply, had you ever heard of it? Usually if the answer is no, steer clear. To test an award’s value consider whether you would be impressed if one of your competitors won it. Would it make you envious of them and would you perceive the competitors brand to be enhanced by the accolade?

Also look at the previous winners. Have you heard of them and/or do you admire and respect them?

Does it represent a good return on investment?

Many awards charge a small administration fee to enter – and some are even free. Be warned though as this if often a bit of a ‘sprat to catch a mackerel’ strategy by the organisers. For instance, should you make the shortlist for the award you’ll no doubt want to collect it in person so you can have your very own Oscar speech moment. To do this you’ll need to be at the ceremony and most businesses tend to reserve a table for 10 guests; usually mixing some clients with your well behaved work colleagues. Costs can be anywhere from £100 – £300 plus per head not including alcohol. On top of this is the travel expensive which can be significant. To give you some idea I recently attended an award ceremony inLondon(traveling from theMidlands) with nine colleagues and the train and accommodation cost £2550 – and we didn’t go luxury as we stayed in the Premier Inn at Kings Cross!!!!

My rough math calculates that your marketing budget is already down £5,500 before you’ve even had a beer!

The Judges and sponsors – Who are they?

This might sound a little trivial but it isn’t. For instance there are legal awards whose judging panel consists of partners and senior managers from law firms. Now I might be accused of cynicism here (or undermining the professionalism) but in the real world, is your fiercest competitor likely to vote for you?

Have a look at who is sponsoring the awards too. Again if one of your rivals has ploughed marketing money into sponsoring the awards is it really likely that you will walk off with the prize?

Are you the current ‘holder’ of the award?

Several years ago I once entered a submission for an award that my firm was the current holders of. However we didn’t actually win the second time round and when I asked one of the senior judging panel why (it was about 2.00am and we were both pissed at the after-party) he simply replied “because you’re the holders, and it doesn’t look fair to the others if you win it two years running!”

Will it matter to your clients?

As mentioned above a tangible benefit of winning an award is having the opportunity to tell your clients. Not only is this a great topic for your client communications mix (although remember communications is about them not just you) this also reassures clients that they are working with a good firm. It is also an opportunity to invite them to the actual ceremony to further increase relationships – or just get drunk!

Will it help you turn prospects into clients?

On its own, no, of course it won’t. However it is another topic for your communications mix and if the award has value and is recognized by prospects it will certainly add to your quality perception and brand positioning.

Can your time be more effectively spent?

In my experience senior management often decide to apply for an award but the real work involved is pushed onto marketing. Award submissions can take weeks to get right; from drafting the application, researching and finding supporting poof, testimonials, sticking to maximum word limits and the endless re-writes and amends.

So yes, without doubt your time and money can be more effectively spent.

My conclusion

As long as you do your research before applying to evaluate the awards value, have the time and money to invest in the submission and organise a communications plan to announce your well deserved victory, then I guess some awards are worth winning.

Buy 0, get 2 free…Now that’s great customer service

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As most marketing folk know, good customer service is as the very heart of marketing. Even if your actual product is fantastic, if you deliver it in a shoddy manner without much thought for the customer service experience, you’re far less likely to have loyal customers spreading the word about how great you are – which is surely the holy grail of successful business.

A man who clearly understood this concept was Julius Rosenwold, the driving force behind Sears (official name Sears, Roebuck and Co) becoming the worlds largest retailer, who once said: “My ambition is to stand at both sides of the counter at once.”

Another firm who also understand this appears to be Tesco. On Tuesday this week I bought some toothpaste from my local store. The rational for my brand choice was simple: it was buy-one-get-one-free!

However when I checked my receipt on the way out (I had brought some other items too) I realised I had been charged full price for both items. As soon as I complained about this to the very friendly customer services lady, she apologised and said that when such mistakes happen with Tesco’s price scanning technology, both items are free!

To coin a well used strap line, every little helps – and it certainly did in this situation. Tesco, I doth my virtual cap to your customer service!

I love advertising but……….

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I love advertising. TV,  press, outdoor, online viral etc. I guess its becuase I work in marketing (to be precise, legal marketing). I don’t have a particular favourite marketing comms mix element as I’ve seen fantastic (and sometimes crap)  creative work across all channels. But no matter how creatively brilliant, dull or just downright  irritating I have found an advertisement I have never felt moved enough to take pen to paper, or fingers to keys, to complain to anybody about it. Although it would appear there are  people who do just that as the Advertising Standards authority (ASA) have recently published the top 10 most complained about UK advertisements of 2010 – and public enemy No1 is Ireland’s biggest and most successful bookmaker Paddy Power.

I’m not sure if the Halifax ‘ISA Baby’ TV advertisement fits the date criteria for the recent ASA list but if it did, surely it deserves the No1 spot for just being utter shit. Crap concept, dreadful acting and very, very irritating.