As the Alliot Group global conference kicks off in London this week, with members of its alliance from over 36 different jurisdictions attending across the legal and accountancy sectors, it seems a good time to write a blog focused on brand and comms for networks and alliances.
A common misconception across all sectors is that communications and PR consultants provide a service you can simply clip on to what you do. It would take quite a coincidence for the way a business is run and organised to perfectly match the ideal comms plan.
A couple of weeks ago I was preparing to appear on a panel discussion at the AILFN summit in London. The discussion focused on brand and communications for networks – professional services firms who have linked up by association.
Networks are a particular challenge, because each network member retains their own name, branding and culture. It is a challenge to get recognised when the big boys they compete with can push a single, unified brand and message.
PwC and Clifford Chance don’t have this problem.
Consider this also. For the firm leaders within the network, alliance or association, much of their available time is spent on the mechanics of keeping a firm and the group functioning. Unsurprisingly, an important area gets forgotten: the group’s ‘brand’, ie how others, especially clients, target clients and other law firms, see it.
Let’s break down the main challenges that networks and alliances face:
- competition from the large unitary brands already mentioned
- networks and alliances include multiple brands, each with a distinct and divergent profile in its chosen market
- communication within the network or alliance can be poor
- establishing areas of shared culture/ values across different firms in different jurisdictions
- divergent rewards
- different service standards and norms
What is needed is a decent language and ‘narrative’ for the group and its members. Getting this right from a comms perspective isn’t spin – it actually involves some changes in the way things are done at the firms.
A strategy for building a network/alliance ‘brand’ would therefore include the following.
- A clear picture of the way clients see the network and the firm is through their primary contact within the network – so ensure you have chosen the right person within your firm. Client feedback post-matter should be as consistent as possible, and be fully available to the leaders who superintend the network.
- Mapping client legal needs to show key jurisdictions and key gaps. Legal advice coverage will be a key concern for clients – addressing this side of the brand is therefore a useful tool for assessing the strength of the network.
- By their own account, what do the network members share? Why have they come together?
- Appropriate management and partner time needs to be ring-fenced for activities linked to the network.
- Are contributions, rewards and shared rewards clear and accepted among the network’s members?
Building the brand
- The map: advice coverage is key – clients will want to know that the network can handle the instructions they are given, by jurisdiction and practice area. At its most basic, they should be able to look at a map of areas the network covers and be reassured.
- Track record: have network members shown they can work together? This should be as specific as possible.
- Service levels: the ‘mega-brands’ with which networks compete will be aiming for as uniform a client-experience of service levels as possible. Can a network talk with confidence about service levels?
- A shared language: basic shared materials that stress ‘the map’, the ‘track record’, and ‘service levels’ are important. Producing these is as much about educating the network’s members and partners as it is about having glossy materials to show clients at a pitch for work.
- Horizon scanning: predicting future issues for clients is a classic way to add value for clients. Network members should co-operate on this to stress the value of the network.
- The competition: what does the network have that other networks or firms do not? This needs to be spelt out.
A network whose members have gone through this process will have a good and authentic story to tell. For any marketing, business development or PR professional they will be a dream client, because they have understood from the outset what people want and need to hear.