In uncertain times such as these, the need for skilled communications comes into sharp focus. Yet communications is often treated as the poor cousin in law firms, relegated to the back corner while the favourites, BD and client relationship management, take centre stage. But this view of communications is outdated. Used strategically, communications is an integral component any marketing, BD or client campaign.
Our guest in this episode is Sharon de Bomford, Principal at Write Results, and expert in communications for professional services firms.
Graham and Sharon discuss:
- Why comms teams need to be diverse
- Why ignoring internal communications is at your peril
- The ethical dilemma of some LinkedIn strategies
- Why every communication strategy should be a BD strategy
- How being authentic doesn’t help differentiate
- What external clients think of law firm comms
- How to turn staff into brand ambassadors
- Where law firms needs to invest their communications efforts
- How to demonstrate ROI
- Why a career in law firm communications is becoming more valued
About our guest, Sharon de Bomford
Sharon de Bomford is one of Australia’s best known professional services business communicators. She spent two decades working in strategic marketing, business development and communications roles for iconic firms such as E Y, PwC and Baker McKenzie. Her career spans BD, clients and marketing. But it is the written word and the art of communication that is the common thread throughout her career. In 2018, after heading up BD and marketing for leading Australian law firm, Sparke Helmore, she reopened the doors of her specialist consulting firm, Write Results, a business she successfully ran for nine years until 2007. She now works with firms of all shapes and sizes to help craft the perfect content for client and stakeholder communications.
In this podcast, Sharon references:
- The case for plain English contracts published in Harvard Business Review (2018)
- Deep Dive on Inclusion: Inclusive Culture Survey by Wotton + Kearney (2019)
Transcript – Why comms isn’t the poor cousin of marketing
Graham Seldon: [00:00:07] Hello and welcome to A Legal High podcast, that takes a high level view of what’s happening in the law firm sector and the opportunities and challenges facing business development, marketing and communications professionals who work in it. I’m your host, Graham Seldon, and I’m a Director here at Seldon Rosser. We specialize in recruiting, business development and marketing experts for Law firms across the Asia-Pacific region.
Graham Seldon: [00:00:40] My guest today is one of Australia’s best known professional services business communicators. Having spent two decades working in strategic marketing, business development and communications roles for iconic firms such as E Y, PwC and Baker McKenzie. Her career spans BD, clients and marketing. But it is the written word and the art of communication that is the common thread throughout her career. In 2018, after heading up BD and marketing for leading Australian law firm, Sparke Helmore, she reopened the doors of her specialist consulting firm, Write Results, a business she successfully ran for nine years until 2007. And now she works with firms of all shapes and sizes to help craft the perfect content for client and stakeholder communications. Welcome, Sharon de Bomford, to A Legal High.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:01:28] Thanks, Graham. What an introduction!
Graham Seldon: [00:01:32] I’d like to talk to you really about how you see how law firms, particularly, how their communications have changed in the past decade, but also how they’ve stayed the same.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:01:44] Well, I think it’s very kind of you to limit it to the last decade, firstly. But they’ve changed enormously, as you know.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:01:51] And I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do full justice to this question because the changes over that last decade are enormous. So, to give you a sense of it, 10 years ago thinking about it, I started at Baker & McKenzie to manage their internal communications nationally. And as I was being walked around the office, (as you did back in those days, introduced to everybody) they said, what’s internal communications? They had no idea. So you’ve gone from a point in time where there was really very little understanding about it as a discipline to a point in time where I think it’s actually a highly valued discipline by leaders of law firms. So that’s probably the biggest single fundamental change in the law firm context. But of course, there’s also the channels to market and the communication channels that’s involved. So if you think about it, ten years ago, Linked-In started in Australia and within a year it had one million users. Today it’s got 9 million users. Intranets were a very strange kind of thing, but now they’re incredible sources of information and collaboration platforms. I even think about trying to get in touch with the media. Back in those days, we were literally sending out press releases in the mail often. I mean, extraordinary. And now you’ve got journalists monitoring Twitter feeds and the like. So the changes are just incredible.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:03:19] One of the other communication channels that has really changed is the use of video and in all of the forms in which it can be applied. Ten years ago, it was eye watering how much a video would cost. And I remembered when I was thinking about this interview, I remembered a video clip that one of the Big Four had produced in Europe to promote their grads and the grad program. And these grads were driving around in the brand new Volkswagen that they’d been given as part of the attraction to the firm. And there was a helicopter shooting the scenes of all of these grads driving into some central German location. And I just remember thinking, I just don’t think that’s for us.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:04:04] But now you’ve got comms teams with iPhones who are editing content and using it really, really successfully. So those changes are enormous. But what’s stayed the same is the value that incredible communications can bring to any firm, particularly around brand enhancement, client engagement, staffing engagement. And the list goes on, really. And I think the other thing that stays the same is what that takes. So you really need to kind of follow Steven Covey’s advice to seek to understand first and then be understood. So if people stop and think about their purpose, they think about their audience, they think about the best way to get those messages across. That should have been done for the last decade. I think originally it was more instinctive and it was potentially the remit of the Managing Partner’s secretary or the HR team or the marketing team. But now it’s being done strategically and it’s aligned to the strategic purpose of the firm.
Graham Seldon: [00:05:09] I mean, you paint the perfect picture. I’m gonna just tease into a little bit, because one of the things I think that law firms are struggling with is with all of the opportunity that you’ve mentioned, they were a little bit, I think, behind the eight ball a decade ago when it came to content creation and communications. And I don’t really believe that very much has changed in terms of the structure of many law firms to take advantage of how they can use all of these different channels and platforms and Twitter feeds and all the rest of it. They have to be on Twitter for their Twitter feeds to be read. You know, they have to have somebody who will take video on their iPhone and know how to edit and all the rest of it. Taking a whole of market view of the legal sector, honestly, do you feel that they are really embracing it as much as they can? Or do you think there is a way to go?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:06:01] There’s an enormous way to go from a big picture perspective. I think the big firms are doing well. I think the mid-size firms are doing okay. I think the rest are just ignoring it and focusing on other priorities.
Graham Seldon: [00:06:14] Yeah, I know. But I would agree with you. And actually when you think about that in terms of logistics for smaller firms, have an opportunity to do this better. Really, because if you’ve only got, say, for instance, 20 partners in your business and you’ve only got one office, surely it’s easier to put together a content communications strategy than if you’re a global firm with 50 offices and, you know, 300000 staff. I mean, what are your comments on that?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:06:42] Well, that’s right. I think one of the problems is that they think they can do it themselves, but it’s like any other discipline. There really is a specialism associated with this. So I think it gets put into their bucket of ‘we can tackle that and we’ve got finite resources and we’re going to put them here because we can’t tackle that’. I think that’s what happens.
Graham Seldon: [00:07:03] Yeah. Okay. Let’s talk about structures of law firms, because you have had several positions in your in-house life where you led national teams for major law firms. Thinking now about the structures of those businesses and also what you would do in an ideal world if you had that job again, what do you think is the best structure for BD marketing communications team?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:07:28] You show me the perfect law firm and I’ll give you an answer to that.
Graham Seldon: [00:07:31] I’m still looking.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:07:34] I think that, typically, if you’re talking about internal communications, it either tends to sit with HR or with BD. And my strong view from my background is that it should sit with BD unless there’s a compelling reason otherwise.
Graham Seldon: [00:07:50] I agree totally.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:07:51] And the reason for that is that it’s absolutely a fundamentally integrated skill set and discipline with all of the other BD and marketing activities that are happening. So if you can do that in an aligned way, you can leverage a finite resource pool much better.
Graham Seldon: [00:08:07] Yeah. Do you do you think that BD and communications communicate themselves well enough?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:08:15] Well, they did in the teams that I ran, but that was probably because I came at things from a communications perspective. So it very definitely had a voice and a platform in what we were achieving, but probably not always. I mean, I don’t think there’s any definitive answer on anything. But in terms of the structure, I think increasingly as time goes on, it’s important to make sure that the people in those comms teams come from a range of backgrounds because everything is about the audience. And so if I was putting together a comms team now, I’d want to make sure that there was someone who was really very skilled and experienced in a professional services setting because they run different to other settings. But I’d also want to make sure I had a digital native in there.
Graham Seldon: [00:09:03] Yeah, I mean, we’ve certainly seen that because if you think about the organic growth of marketing and law firms because they were behind the eight ball when it came to marketing, the people who’ve got law firm experience or professional services (but let’s look at law firm experience) they weren’t the most highly skilled when it came to looking at ways to maximize channels, etc cetera. So we’ve definitely seen sort of bring in digital people in to the larger law firms particularly. But some of the smaller firms have hit the ground running on this and been being quite successful. It goes to resourcing and how much budget they have to have these people. I mean I think where we see it go wrong is when law firms say, well, we’ll just give the digital piece to that generalist BD & marketing person over there who’s never worked anywhere other than the law firm or professional services firm.
Graham Seldon: [00:09:50] Because actually getting lawyers to embrace digital communications is a challenge in itself.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:09:59] Absolutely.
Graham Seldon: [00:09:59] And often has to come from the top down. So thinking about, I mean, I’m interested to get your comments now on the fact that we’ve moved to a very external client focused market. I mean, it was always a client market. When has it never been a client market? But we’re talking about it more than we ever used to. And I think why we’ve started to see a rise in marketing and communications roles in law firms particularly, is because the client voice and the client experience is now top of the agenda. And firms are saying, well, what do we say? You know, well, what what do we have to talk to them about? We’ve got all these different ways of talking to them but what about to talk to them about? Do you see that, thinking about business development and communications, working more closely together, what effect has this client focus had on communications people? Has it forced them to become bit more commercially aware, bit more sort of externally thinking about what’s going on in the market?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:10:54] I think if they weren’t those things, they were in the wrong job in the first place. I feel really strongly about that. But I suppose the short answer is yes. Everything in law firms these days really has to be client focused or you’re not going to survive. There’s been a massive shift for the market in that way, and I see that communications and BD need to be completely aligned in tackling that. So if you’re running a communications program that has nothing to do with what the BD people are doing, you’re wasting your time, completely wasting your time. And I think that there’s many, many ways in which the BD concepts or the BD activities can harness the communications skill set. So you see this being done really, really well when that’s been done within a client consideration. So let me give you an example of that.
Graham Seldon: [00:11:47] We love examples.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:11:52] So say you have clients for whom diversity and inclusion is a really important point. I can think of a wide range of clients for whom that’s a very important consideration, including governments, insurers and the like. If you work with your comms team as a BD person to try and achieve what Roger du Prix calls a high ‘say/do’ correlation, you can actually position yourself in a market that will then turn around and give you a BD advantage. So Wotton + Kearney have done this incredibly well with the recent Deep Dive on Inclusion survey. Now they co-sponsored this with other insurance organizations and ran it as part of the Lloyd’s Festival. But in getting a third party, a really well-credentialed third party, to write on this topic about inclusion in law firms and other insurance sector organizations, they’ve now got a very, very strong market point about investing in improving inclusion across the market. So that comms activity or you know, where do you call that a comms activity versus a BD activity? It’s completely integrated. And it gives them a really strong market advantage that they can talk to.
Graham Seldon: [00:13:07] Yeah, because from that example, there they are. They’re leading that change around diversity as opposed to just talking about.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:13:14] Yes, they make sure that what they do is aligned with what they say. And that’s critical.
Graham Seldon: [00:13:20] Yeah. I mean can we go back to internal comms. I’m fascinated to talk about internal comms. Because you and I both know everybody knows how important internal comms is. You know, it’s important because if you think about a firm just from a BD perspective, in terms of cross-selling, you know, a good internal communications strategy where everybody who works for a firm understands why they’re there, what they’re selling, who their clients are, associates, etc. are gonna perform. Better yet, in the legal industry, internal comms roles, dedicated internal controls are woefully short on the ground. Why do you think that is?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:13:57] Resourcing.
Graham Seldon: [00:14:01] We’ve just explained that it’s like a map. It’s a priority. Here’s the here’s the irony. Why haven’t comms people been able to communicate effectively that internal comms is important.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:14:13] I think in law firms particularly, it’s because lawyers work in words. That is actually their skill in trade and they think they’re really good at it. So I think that it’s not necessarily valued as highly as it might be in other settings for that reason, because they’ve got a degree of training in this and and some skill. I think that’s the short answer. I also think that in law firms, BD teams, which are usually incorporating their communications teams, are running lean and they’re running hard and they all suffer from what I call the magic putting effect, which is the more you eat, the more there is on your plate. And so when you’re looking at that from a budget perspective and you’re making a decision as a director, as I’ve had to before, where are you putting your energy and your dollars? Is it on making sure you can deliver the tenders? Is it on making sure that you’re ramping up those client relationships? Those things are probably more critical in the short term than some of the internal communication pieces, but you ignore them at your peril. Absolutely.
Graham Seldon: [00:15:17] And I think where the advantage is now is if you can’t afford a dedicated internal communications resource, you can leverage everybody else in the business to do internal comms for you.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:15:28] That’s right. You need somebody coordinating it. No question. And ideally, you’ve got somebody who’s strategically driving it and not just coordinating it.
Graham Seldon: [00:15:40] I often talk about Aurecon when I talk about communications & marketing, because I think that what they’ve done in the last five years has been so amazing in terms of harnessing their employees to do the work for them in selling their brand. They do it via Linked-In channels and videos and all the rest of it. But they get real people who work in the business. Talk about working out the business and they do really, really well. I don’t really see a lot of law firms doing that as successfully. Is it just culturally or is it just because they haven’t yet got to a point where they can structure themselves and embrace the fact that they want to let their lawyers speak out publicly about what it’s like working there?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:16:21] I think lawyers by nature are somewhat risk averse. And so letting individuals off the leash to do their thing is slightly uncomfortable. I also think that you’ve got the pressure around the billable hours achieved in each day and where people can spend their time, you know, relative to getting home and having a meal. There’s so many different factors that come into that. And also, as we’ve said, that the communication teams tend to be very, very lean, coordinating and driving.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:16:51] I’d love to see it happen. And I know that many, many firms are trying to make that happen because it just makes sense. But the other piece you need is an incredibly good culture. That means that all of your employees are instinctively brand champions, because if they’re not, they’re the last people you want to go to market to talk about you.
Graham Seldon: [00:17:10] Let’s talk Linked-in, because Linked-In has absolutely become the platform that everybody is on talking about absolutely everything that’s gone too far do you think?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:17:24] Sure. I think so. I think with any communications, what you really need to do is provide something useful to your audience. You know, it comes back to that pit that I said hasn’t changed, which is about understanding your purpose, understanding your audience and then giving them something useful. That’s what makes them engage with the communication. A lot of what I see on LinkedIn does not do that. And in fact, I might start crying when I see another photo of a conference taken from the back of the room. You know, it’s not adding a lot of value to my day. No. At all?
Graham Seldon: [00:17:57] No. And so and also, I think what you see often and maybe it’s because my feed is full of marketing people. This is why I get a skewed view of the world, because I don’t have I’m not connected to a lot of lawyers, surprisingly. But, you know, why would I be, I’m a marketing recruiter! But but what I see a lot on my feed is marketing people talking about yet another conference they’ve put on how fantastic it is with absolutely no insight into why they did it in the first place and what value it’s got for clients. It’s almost become just a place for marketers to talk about how great they are at marketing.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:18:32] Yeah. And so it’s not really working.
Graham Seldon: [00:18:36] So it’s not really working, is it? How can it work? Because let’s say if you were engaged by a law firm and they said to you, look, we’ve got 20 law firm partners and we really want to promote them on LinkedIn. We want to get them to promote themselves on LinkedIn. Is there a particular way you tackle that?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:18:53] I come at this from a strange position for a communicator because I actually have an ethical issue with what you’re talking about. And the reason for that is that a LinkedIn profile belongs to the individual. Now, if you think about it, every law firm will have a social media policy, and that’s going to be full of things about what they can’t do to protect the firm’s reputation. It tends to be devoid of what they must do to boost the firm’s brand. So they’re not in any way required to do that when they sign up to a firm.
Graham Seldon: [00:19:32] It’s everything you can’t do.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:19:35] So that profile belongs to them as individuals. So ethically, in my Jiminy Cricket kind of way, I go what right does the firm have to say you must do this on LinkedIn for me? Having said that, it’s getting trickier and trickier and trickier for firms because I’ve seen recently a number of companies say we don’t want to see CVs in a proposal. We want you to give us a list of your LinkedIn hyperlinks. Now, that’s a problem for a firm who’s trying to control the uncontrollable. So how do you do that? I think you have to ask nicely.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:20:08] You have to ask nicely. And you have to make it as easy as possible for those people to achieve the purpose you want to achieve. So say in that scenario, make sure that the right sort of credentials are being shown to the client coming in from an external point of view. You’ve got to make it easy for them to do it. You might draft it. You might show them some of the things they could do to boost their profile and give them a how to guide. But you can never, never, never demand that they do. From my perspective, I don’t think that’s appropriate. And so if they don’t, then you need to find work arounds, so maybe profiles on the website or something like that.
Graham Seldon: [00:20:41] I mean, it’s really a can of worms, isn’t it?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:20:43] Yeah. And then you’ve arguably got the need to have somebody monitoring what everybody with any possible connection to the firm is doing 24/7 and the ability to respond straight away. I just think you lose control. And that’s why a lot of law firms don’t love it because they can’t control what happens in the social setting.
Graham Seldon: [00:21:18] So do you think, I mean, we see job descriptions for communications managers where that where there is a bullet point saying, you know, to raise the profile of our lawyers on Linked-In. So that’s a KPI for a marketing person to do that. Do you think that firms should even be investing in bothering in that as as a as a bullet point in job description? I mean, do you think that Linked-In is something that you should wcwn be worried about?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:21:44] Yeah, I do. I think it’s really powerful. But again, I think it needs to be done on a buy in option, not a you must option. And there are a lot of things you can do to really help with that. So making sure that the profile is written appropriately, that there’s a good photo, you know, there’s a whole science around it that can actually make a profile work better for you. But it’s about all of those connections and it’s also about the opportunity to show interest in your clients. So if you know you’re a lawyer out there and you’re not following your top five clients, I’d have to why not? So there’s some really simple things you can do there.
Graham Seldon: [00:22:23] And then so it’s using a communications platform as a BD strategy. It sounds so obvious, but that’s the first time I’ve actually thought about Linked-In in that way.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:22:33] So I think every communication strategy can be contentious should be used as a BD strategy.
Graham Seldon: [00:22:40] No, I love that. I don’t think it’s contentious at all. I just don’t think that sometimes law firms see communications and BD working as closely together as they need to. That’s what we need to try to do.You know, the reason why I wanted to do this podcast with you is coming from a broad background of business development, clients, marketing and communications. You see that whole. You know, how it all operates really brilliantly together and what the advantages are.
Graham Seldon: [00:23:03] But there are often many BD Directors whose whole background was sales and business development. They didn’t come from a comms background. And it is a missing part of, I think, they’re missing a trick if they’re not investing as much in communications as maybe industry sector specialization and all the rest of it. Because ultimately what happens when they start to go down that path of doing, for instance, an industry sector approach, which is a sales-led approach, and a client-led approach, then they hit this wall off. But what do we talk to our clients? We have to have something to talk about. Then it comes back to communications! Where do we get the content from? It’s all linked.
Graham Seldon: [00:23:43] It ought to be linked. Why is it not? Hire Sharon immediately!
Sharon de Bomford: [00:23:49] We had a sort of pre question around the idea of whether you can achieve an authentic voice in the market.
Graham Seldon: [00:23:56] Yes.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:24:01] And I’m going to say, yes, you can be authentic. Right. Which I know a lot of people don’t think you can be, but you can be authentic. It’s just that that is unlikely to be a differentiator.
Graham Seldon: [00:24:12] Right.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:24:12] So, there’s two pieces there.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:24:16] And I’ve seen, you know, back in the day, going back 10 years ago, you know, you had these global firms who had taglines like ‘leading the way’, ‘standing out’. And, you know, I would say that at best they were aspirational because that’s not what happened. And also, it’s completely internal focused. It’s not client focused, you know, but you can see that sort of authenticity achieved where (and I was talking about that say/do correlation), where that exists, you can achieve that. So another great example is Hall & Wilcox. So they claimed that smarter law space a long time ago. And in doing that, they kind of got the jump on all the firms around innovation. Now, we know firms have been investing in innovation for a long time and a lot of them are doing it really, really well. They just haven’t claimed the market space as well as Hall and Wilcox have with smarter law. And in part, that’s through people like Peter Campbell, who’s the director of the client solutions team over there, and the work that he’s doing in communications, bizarrely. So, you know, they’re out there sponsoring things. They’re putting awards submissions in. He’s out there talking at conferences like Chile IQ And he’s really active on LinkedIn, whether it’s his own content or whether he is commenting on other people’s content. So that curation through Linked-In can be a really powerful tool. Because what he’s actually doing is saying, this is my audience, this is my space, and here’s something useful. So if he’s been to a conference, what he’ll do is say, look, here’s my top ten takeaways from this. How incredibly useful for somebody who didn’t get to go to the conference. So it can be achieved if it’s true.
Graham Seldon: [00:26:03] Yeah. Well, I mean, if you go into it as a good example there of where we talked before about marketers spruiking their own seminars and conferences: “so proud we’ve had this conference for our clients”, whatever, they could very easily go “the top three things we told our clients was this.”
Sharon de Bomford: [00:26:20] That’s exactly right.
Graham Seldon: [00:26:21] I banged on about this before in another podcast. And I’ll bang on about it again. It’s two years since I think we’ve been banging. Because honestly, marketers out there, if you’re writing posts on LinkedIn, could you just please ask yourself the question, why is this important? What I’m telling you? What is it? What information am I imparting that’s gonna make a difference to the clients in the world?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:26:41] Well, I think making a difference to the clients is where it starts and ends. It starts and ends there from my perspective. And I do come at it from this skew of clients and BD as well. But to give you an example of how far things have come recently, I got a call from a law firm that I’ve not worked with before, from a lawyer at that law firm who said that we write results and this law firm had a common client and that client needed a suite of documents prepared. But they actually wanted me to work on that suite of documents with the lawyers as part of the legal service that they were getting. I mean, that’s extraordinary. From 10 years ago. From where that was. So I think that, you know, as you know, plain language is a passion of mine.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:27:38] So I think plain language is an area where you can really get some strategic boost with clients. I’ve been involved in many, many, many client listening programs. And the topic that I’ve heard unprompted raised as an issue by clients more often than any other is around communication. So whether that’s drafting or whether that’s the way in which they’re communicating with their clients about the progress of the matter. That is the single highest unprompted comment across the board. And we need to be paying attention to that as an industry. Pay attention to that. So you’ve got people sitting in your businesses, whether they’re internal comms people or external comms people who are really, really good at improving that client experience. So they should, you know, use that. And again, you see this with empirical evidence. There’sa Harvard Business Review article that was produced in 2018 that I talk to a lot and it talked about GE aviation. And over three years they rewrote their suite of contracts in plain language. And at the end of the three years, they were doing deals 60 per cent faster. They didn’t have one dispute over wording and the client’s response was universally positive. I mean, you can really make a big difference to business by harnessing some of these skills in a client focus. I think there’s a lot of other ways where communications can boost firm strategy.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:29:07] So it’s not even just about BD. It’s, you know, looking at this from a firm-wide perspective. How can you really, really, really lean into this discipline and get some market edge out of it? So apart from the plain language thing, which I think is critical, any firm that is contemplating any merger and acquisition activity has to invest in this strongly because there is evidence that shows that the thing that’s going to bring any merger unstuck is where the two cultures don’t blend appropriately in the following days, months, weeks, years. If you don’t have a change management program around that and really strong communications, you’re going to fail in what is a really expensive market activity. There are other change management activities that similarly need a lot of support and other major projects within firms that need a lot of support. If you think about any I.T. upgrade rollout, if you don’t do that well, you’re not going to get the efficiency gains. And you get you get people losing engagement with what they’re doing on a day to day basis. You can also use internal comms or external comms to really enhance your brand proposition and make it more authentic by doing some grunt research at the back of it.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:30:26] So I’ve done a big employment value proposition program for a company that’s actually not a professional services firm, but the process is the same. And by doing that bit of work and really understanding both what the firm’s aspirations and strategic objectives are and what the employees experience of that is, what their truth of it is, and kind of find that Venn diagram bit in the middle. That’s your employee value proposition. And then all of a sudden, once you’ve done that, people will go, ‘that’s true’. And once they see that, that’s true, but also a little bit aspirational kernel of truth in it, then they start to become brand ambassadors, then they start to boost engagement. And as we know, that drives productivity and bottom line. Yes, bottom line. Bottom line, bottom line. And there’s one other thing that I have to throw in here, which is it’s not just about opportunity, right.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:31:22] If you need to manage your risk, you need communications people on board. And every firm needs to manage their risk. I’ve been involved in more crisis management activities within firms than I care to remember. Some of them have just been downright horrible. So, for example, the Bourke street massacre, just hideous. But you’ve got to have people who understand how to communicate with people and do it fast and do it well, or you’re going to have real problems within the business.
Graham Seldon: [00:31:54] One of things you said there that I pick up on is that you’ve got to have people who know how to communicate with other people. It’s a skill, isn’t it? You can’t just assume everybody in your business is gonna be a good have good interpersonal communications.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:32:08] You can’t. And I think a lot of people also don’t understand this fundamental truth, which is you have to communicate with people where they are, not where you want them to be.
Graham Seldon: [00:32:19] I love that. That’s so fantastic.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:32:22] Well, I just think that it is right at the heart of things. And that comes back to that Covey point of, you know, seeking first to understand and to be understood, because if you if you start kind of communicating with them in some optimistic world, you are going to completely miss the mark.
Graham Seldon: [00:32:37] Yeah. You’ve got so much experience, you know. Do you think there is a lack of maturity in communications in the legal profession? Or asked another way, do you think firms invest at a high enough level of seniority and communications to really get what they need out of it?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:32:59] A few do. But not many, because we’re expensive, right? And it’s got to be about return on investment. A lot of these are perceived as soft skills. But I think if they had the right sort of metrics in place, they would really start to understand the correlation between good internal communications engagement levels through engagement surveys and the like. Productivity levels, retention levels, recruitment activity, lateral attraction, all of those things are connected. It’s just that it’s very difficult to associate communications with positive things. Although I have seen it done with the negative.
Graham Seldon: [00:33:36] My final question, just thinking about the future of law firm communications more broadly. I mean, you’ve you’ve gone back into Write Results, you’ve invested back into that consulting business. What are you thinking is going to be like the two or three things that law firms are going to want to be investing in or should be investing in comms over the next two to three years?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:34:00] Client experience. I think they really need to be harnessing communications to improve client experience and collaboration because those two things are connected somewhat. Because if you can do that, you’re going to have happier clients, you have more stable client base, you’re going to be able to expand the business because people are talking to each other, they’re sharing opportunities, collaborating in the way it’s meant to happen. But the client experience of that is also improved. And I remember once having listened to clients about some of the issues, this really, really simple thing, which was I went and worked with the finance team to change up the automatic billing descriptors because clients were really getting upset with their bills because the descriptors attached to it, which was just some backend finance function, really put them off. They didn’t feel like they were getting the value that actually they were getting. Simple things looking for those every touchpoint with the client and kind of improving it based not on what you think, but on what the client wants. That’s the key.
Graham Seldon: [00:35:08] Yeah. And so from a communications perspective, if you were a communications manager going into a new law firm, you would be asking to see every communications touchpoint with that client.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:35:20] I’d be starting with the clients and I’d be starting with the big clients to make sure that where you’re putting the energy is giving the biggest return on investment to the business. You know, yes, I have a comms background, but I also have a very hard nosed BD background and I understand that unless you’re delivering value for the clients and delivering value for the firm, then really you’re wasting your time. Things like brand enhancement are very important. They’re important to this sort of generic positioning of the firm. But to me, it’s all about how you can harness communications and get more value for your clients. That’s where the edge is going to be. And how are they going to achieve this? Well, I do wonder whether it’s not meant to be completely self-serving, but having been in-house and as a consultant, I think grabbing that grey hair experience.
Graham Seldon: [00:36:14] Yours is so beautiful, blonde.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:36:14] I know, but it’s so dyed.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:36:24] Because if you do that on a sort of consulting model, you can pick and choose the bits where you need that really pointy experience and then you can get your digital natives and your more junior people to fall in behind and move things through. You talked a bit about content. I think content was king five to 10 years ago. It’s not now. The monarch of communication is the client. It’s the audience. So you need to start there. And in terms of getting that content, there’s plenty of content being produced by law firms. You’ve just got to be smart about the way you repurpose it, the way you tailor it. And that’s where you can get you more junior people in doing the background work to make that happen more efficiently.
Graham Seldon: [00:37:06] Yeah. Final question. I know my last question is my final question. But I could literally you talk to you all day. Do you think there is a future in careers for communications people in law firms? And if we often get asked from people come in looking at the legal sector, you know, why would I go to join a law firm as a communications manager? What’s the career path? What do you think about that?
Sharon de Bomford: [00:37:29] You’ve just given me the perfect segue way to bang on about one of my personal things that I want to champion. I think that when I started, the answer was almost no, even though bizarrely, I have done that.
Graham Seldon: [00:37:46] You’ve had an amazing career
Sharon de Bomford: [00:37:47] It was completely accidental. But I think that the answer now is yes. And the single reason for that is that I am starting, starting, starting to see the demise of what I call functional discrimination in law firms. And I use those words really purposefully. People like me have seats at the table and the firms that are actually going to their specialists to help them run their businesses are going to be the ones that are still here in five, 10, 20 years because the people that often run a law firm are really good lawyers. Are they really good business managers? Sometimes. Sometimes not. But they’re smart enough to surround themselves with the right people. And now they’re saying, which kind of takes me back to where we started. They’re seeing communications as a professional discipline in its own right. And I think they’ll start to see the real value of it.
Graham Seldon: [00:38:46] Well, they will after they’ve listened to this.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:38:48] I hope so.
Graham Seldon: [00:38:49] Thank you so much for your time, it’s been brilliant. Anybody out there who’s thinking about a career in communications is definitely going to throw their hat in the ring, I’m sure. But more importantly, I think most of the audience of a Legal High are people in generalist BD, marketing & communications roles. And communications is the last thing they get to. And hopefully the last half an hour listen to you will help them elevate that internally. So thank you so much for coming in.
Sharon de Bomford: [00:39:13] Thanks so much for having me, Graham.