London is highly congested with law firms. How do the 100 or so US firms stand out?
When added to the myriad of local, national, European, international and global firms – most squeezed into the Square Mile – London is one of the most densely populated cities in the world for law firms.
As a result, the power of the brand can make a crucial difference to growth plans, especially when it comes to recruiting high quality laterals and partners. US firms with respected brands in their domestic markets often don’t have the same prestige in London or other European markets. Most look and say the same things. Unless this fact is recognised, it can spell trouble for even the most ambitious growth plans.
London is unique. Culturally and professionally, it is an international city. It is also world-renowned for art, media, film, digital, and expectations and demands for creativity are high. The creative economy is highly sophisticated and different to that of say Washington or Atlanta, or even New York.
With its combination of internationalism, competition, culture and creativity, London is a unique proposition for US law firms looking to expand. The challenge for firms is to recognise this and to adapt accordingly.
However, many firms fail to do this and produce their online and offline branding for London and other overseas markets from their American HQ. US marketing and creative people often have their own legalese and marketing speak, and a different appreciation of what works creatively in London. In some circumstances this leads to clichés – pictures of Big Ben, Tower Bridge – or in other instances, Americanized text – globalization, not globalisation, color, not colour; but most of all it leads to a ‘conservative’ approach. These outcomes may be understandable and conform to central style and brand guidelines, but nonetheless such things can subtly emphasise distance from UK clients, and this is not helpful when you are seeking to build relationships with them.
Whether US firms are culturally more conservative than their UK counterparts is open to debate, but adopting a conservative approach rarely works if firms want to raise their profile in the London market. Whether to attract clients, the media, laterals, graduates, recruitment consultants, prospects, intermediaries and the legal market in general, firms expanding in London require a bold and inventive approach.
For firms planning to raise their profile in line with growth plans, or simply re-tune their brands for the London market, here are a few tips for how you can harness the power of creativity.
London is a different market in many ways. While we speak the same language, the similarity ends there. Be sensitive to the cultural and creative differences; listen to your local partners, marketing and business development teams who are much closer to the market.
The more established and larger US firms often have their own local marketing and business development professionals supporting their London, European and International practices. They are more in-tune with the demands and eccentricities of the London and European markets and audiences – give them greater freedom to develop brand communications that are relevant to the market.
Be mindful of localising your messaging. While all communications should be on brand – such as those expressing the top line messaging that distinguishes one firm from the next (e.g. the depth, breadth and reach, commitment to quality-type messages) – potential new recruits and local clients want to get a feel for the personality and distinguishing features of the London office. They want reassurance from the corporate messages, but be sensitive to the local information needs of both the sender and receiver.
Guidelines come in different shapes and forms. Some are quite loose, others quite restrictive. When conceiving guidelines or managing their implementation remember that markets are different. What works in the US, might not necessarily work in the UK. Build this difference into your creative briefs.
Even when firms adopt a more creative approach to their London-centric communications, don’t make them a ‘one-off’ initiative. Real traction can only be established by developing on-going communications to help to build a clear and recognisable profile.
The market for creativity in London is second to none. It is the home to many high quality agencies pushing the envelope of creativity. This leads to an expectation even within the legal market for high levels of creativity. Be prepared to be innovative even it means stretching your guidelines and the patience of your managing partner in London, and CEO in the US!
Either in collaboration with your own internal resources or external agency in the US, work with a local agency. They too are closer to what works and what doesn’t work and can help translate your brand into the London market.
Clearly, good creativity only goes so far, attempts to build a distinct profile is more effective if developed alongside a programme of publicity, conferences and events, and other thought-leadership activities.
London is unique and with British legal talent, expertise and services highly sought-after, US firms able to underpin their development activities with relevant and distinctive brand communications will be better placed to take full advantage.