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| 9 minutes read

CMO Series EP37 - Lee Watts of Ashby & Co. Consulting on the power of personal branding in legal marketing

For anyone seeking legal counsel there are a whole host of highly capable firms on hand to help. But increasing competition and evermore sophisticated BD and marketing strategies make it essential for lawyers to set themselves apart and gain prominence in their field.

Social media and content marketing present a whole world of opportunity for legal CMOs and their lawyers when it comes to leveraging networks and enhancing their personal brands.

Lee Watts is someone who knows all about this. With 20 years’ experience working in legal marketing, and most recently 8 years as CMO at Smith Gambrell Russell, Lee has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to differentiating your brand in the market. 

Eugene McCormick is lucky to catch up with Lee to hear about her latest endeavour as an independent marketing consultant, and her own experiences in developing personal brands, from lawyers to her own.

Lee and Eugene cover:

  • Lee’s journey as a legal CMO and how she arrived at the decision to set up her own independent marketing business 
  • The challenges and successes Lee has experienced since setting up her own consultancy
  • The power of networking and building relationships when to comes to developing your personal brand 
  • Advice for CMOs looking to make to take that next step in setting up on their own


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series. 

Eugene: Hi, folks. Welcome to another edition of the Passle CMO Series podcast. And I'm absolutely buzzing today because we've got fantastic Lee Watts joining us. So just as a brief introduction, Lee has the best part of 20 years experience working in legal marketing across a variety of rules, including eight years, most recently at Smith Gamble and Russell as chief marketing officer. Alongside all that, she's also managed to set up her own consultancy, which has been flourishing over the last five and a half years. And Lee is just on the verge of going out on her own as an independent marketing consultant. It's a topic which is really interesting because so many people that we speak to dream of doing this, being their own boss, being your own consultant, what made you start? What made you take the leap? And can you tell us a little bit more about your journey, please? 

Lee: Sure. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. I'm really excited to talk about this topic and also just to share with you all, it's always great when I see you all at trade conferences and trade shows and all of that. So it's great to be on the podcast today. But I started my consulting firm, as you mentioned, over five years ago. Actually, it started off really as just a little side project, something to keep creative juices going, something to just kind of do and have fun with people that I networked with and went to Church with and friends that I knew were starting businesses. And I just felt like I love hearing people's stories. And I thought, okay, well, let me just try to start this as a little business on the side. And also, quite frankly, one of the reasons I also came up with the desire, I guess, to start something on my own. I grew up with my father being a pretty high level executive at a big company many years ago. And I remember seeing him get laid off from his company. They went through a big reorganisation, and I remember how it impacted him. And I still sometimes see the results of that. And I always kind of remembered or thought I never want to be in a position where I'm going through a reorganisation or get laid off. And I am starting from zero and I don't have a fallback. So there was a little bit of me that always felt like no matter what, I'm always going to be able to stand on my feet and move forward. So it was also kind of a safety net for me. So that's a little of why I started. 

Eugene: It's very aspirational, very entrepreneurial, but it's not actually that easy in practice. As you mentioned, you've been running this consultancy for over five years. What steps did you take to get yourself ready for this next stage of your career going out solely on your own. And what were the easy bits? What were the harder bits and what advice would you give to anyone in your position? 

Lee: Well, again, it started off pretty slow and easy. And in business development, I always knew that relationships are everything. So even over the past five years, I believed in the power of networking, the power of sometimes doing things for free, whether it's speaking or reviewing something for someone. So I was always building relationships. The growing of it actually was very organic, very natural, and I always consistently put myself out there. So in addition to networking, I was always active on social media. I always believed in putting out some type of thought leadership, whether it was my podcast or writing for Forbes Communication Council or I do a lot of public speaking. So I think the mixture of leveraging your relationships and always just kind of showing up. The easy part for me was getting clients, to be quite honest. 

Eugene: Wow. Okay. 

Lee: But that was when it was part time as well. Coming to this point was actually not completely voluntary. I knew that I was getting overwhelmed. I was basically working two jobs, and literally at night when I came home, and I have children, and they knew it too, it was like, okay, mom is going to her second job now, and I go in my office and close the door after I throw some dinner together. And I'm in my office until like eleven or twelve. And so I knew I couldn't sustain that. But I didn't think I was ready to do it full time because that's a big leap. But I spoke to my current employer about it, and through just a lot of conversations, both easy conversations and hard conversations, I think we all came to the point where this is probably something you need to do and just move forward and do it fully because they're a business as well and they're growing and they have aspirations to do more in marketing and business development. And it's like, can you really do both? It was a hard conversation and it was a hard self realisation that I can't do both. So I had to make the choice to choose myself and to take a chance on myself. And that's how I got here. And I don't know if that answered your question completely, but that's how I got here.

Eugene: Definitely. It's that sort of personal journey. And we always say at Passle that things sort of have to break for you to build them back better. You have to push things to a point where there needs to be some form of change. Did you find it hard? Because when I've spoken to you before, you've spoken at length about inclusion, diversity, you talk about personal branding, social media, marketing strategy, communication. Is it hard to brand yourself or have you found your niche yet, or are you still experimenting on that?

Lee: I know what I like to do, but it is hard to find your niche because again, one of the more difficult parts in transitioning is you don't want to turn any work down because this is new and you don't know what it's going to look like in three months or you know what you can handle, what you can't handle. So I'm really working. That's probably the hardest part right now, or I'm really working on what is it that I know for sure that I don't want to do anymore? And the stuff I really want to be known for, the things that I'm really passionate about is I'm really passionate about personal branding. And I know that's not always a great topic when you're talking to lawyers because they're really smart people and they want to believe that that is what gets them work. But it's something I'm really passionate about because I think that impacts everything and that we're living in a world today where we have a lot of smart people and we have the Internet. So how do you set yourself apart? How do you get people to trust you, believe you want to buy from you, want to spend time with you? And so I believe that all kind of rests on personal branding. So I'm really passionate about that. And I'm really passionate about helping people to strategize and not do random acts of marketing and random business development. And so I love doing that. And I love, like, honestly sitting on this podcast, I could do this all day. I could say, Eugene, okay, what are we doing next? What are we doing? I love teaching and speaking and facilitating and all those things. So I am really working on how to kind of narrow it down and know exactly what I want to sell to people. I think that will come. I'm working on my last week at the firm and transitioning, and I think having a few days of just only having one company to focus on will really be helpful for me. 

Eugene: Yeah, I'd say so. It sounds like you're working three jobs built in being a full time mom as well. So that's incredibly impressive. And it's an easy thing to sort of look back on and cherry pick the things that you might have done differently. If you were saying to someone in your position, a very experienced chief marketing officer may be contemplating a lifestyle change as well as a career change and wanting to do the consulting piece, what two or three tips would you give them? 

Lee: So if they were considering it, well, first of all, I would give this advice to anyone, whether you think you want to do it or not, is to nurture your relationships and your network. I was recently speaking to someone who's pretty seasoned, and I think she's somewhat of an introvert, which is completely fine because I am, too, believe it or not. But I sense that she doesn't really leverage her relationship. She's not into LinkedIn and all those kinds of things and my advice is do that no matter what Because you never know when your desires will change, when your job will change when something happens and you can't just wake up one day and start to want to be friends with people like you need to be doing that now and regularly and as consistently as you can and then I always encourage people to find those two or three topics or things that you're passionate about, Talking about, Writing about, posting about, speaking to others about. Because again, going back to the personal brand, you have to build your personal brand no matter where you are in your career Because it will follow you and it will literally lay the groundwork for whatever you want to do next. So not forcing anyone to make any decisions about what they want to do next. But in the meantime, leverage your relationships as much as possible and know your personal brand, know what you want to be famous for. And one of those things I love too, with my clients, I'm always encouraging them to know who you are a  dream come true for and that means they see you, they see what you bring to the table, your work and they're like, oh, my gosh, where has she been all my life? And that sounds a little dramatic and it's meant to sound a little dramatic but you should feel like a breath of fresh air to someone and if you don't know who you are that for, Then that is something you should be working on. 

Eugene: You saying that reminded me we had a former colleague, David Kirk, who used to say to me, every interaction that person should come away wishing that you worked with them or for them. 

Lee: Oh yes, I love that. 

Eugene: Okay. Lee, I just want to say thank you. We're going to wrap it up there and this has been really informative and I'm sure so many of our audience are going to really benefit from this. And very quickly, where can people reach you at LinkedIn and all the usual channels? 

Lee: Yes, all of the usual channels. I am there. I am posting. And if anyone wants to reach out to me directly, it is: 

Eugene: Lee, thanks a million for your time and speak soon.

Lee: Thank you.

I always encourage people to find those two or three topics, or things you're passionate about... you have to build your personal brand no matter where you are in your career.


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