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| 12 minutes read

CMO Series EP53 - Archana Venkat of Trilegal on the role of marketing and the CMO in today's firm

The role of marketing in the legal industry is experiencing a series of radical changes. Our guest on this episode of the CMO Series is here to discuss the changing role of the marketing function and what that means for CMOs.

Charles Cousins is lucky to welcome Archana Venkat, Chief Marketing Officer at Trilegal to the podcast to share her journey to CMO and the transformation she is seeing in the world of legal marketing.

Charles and Archana explore:

  • Archana’s journey into legal marketing and her path to CMO
  • How the role of the marketing team and the CMO has changed over the course of Archana's career
  • How well the role of CMO is understood in the legal industry now and how the role of the CMO is currently defined
  • The key drivers for change in legal marketing
  • Advice for marketers and CMOs who are having to adapt to the shift in the demands of their role


Intro: Welcome to the Passle podcast CMO series.

Charles: Hello and welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast, where we talk all things legal, business development and marketing. Today we're covering the role of marketing and the CMO in today's firm. The marketing team's role in the legal industry has gone through and is going through a series of radical changes. Our guest today is Archana Venkat, CMO at Trillagal, and she is here to discuss the changing role of the marketing function and what this means for the CMO. Welcome to the CMO series, Archana.

Archana:  Thank you, Charles. Thank you so much. It's an absolute pleasure to be a part of your CMO podcast series. I look forward to our conversation today.

Charles: Thanks for coming on, Archana. Although you've worked in marketing for several years, it's not always been in the legal space. So what was your journey so far in legal marketing and how did you become CMO at Trilegal?

Archana: You're right. My experience in legal marketing is relatively limited. I have over a decade of experience in the professional services marketing space. I have previously worked at Deloitte and KPMG in marketing operations and other leadership roles. At Deloitte, I customised and ran the Global Legal Officers program for India, and that gave me an opportunity to interact very closely with lawyers and understand their business needs in the context of risk and growth management. So when the opportunity to become the CMO of Trilegal came by, I was able to understand and appreciate their expectations better and prepare myself to take on this role. It has been a year since I joined Trilegal and since then my team and I have been very busy and it has been a very interesting stint so far.

Charles: So it sounds like obviously your time in professional services, Deloitte PWE, it set you up and you're able to transfer that across into the role at Trilegal?

Archana: Yes, to a large extent, and specifically because I have been a part of the financial advisory services practice in Deloitte and prior to that, the risk consulting practice in KPMG. These are practices that typically worked closely with law firms and lawyers. So I had a fair bit of understanding of what it would be to work at a law firm.

Charles: So in terms of your time in the marketing function and your time in the marketing team, how have you seen the role of marketers and the team and the CMO change over your career?

Archana: The professional services industry has generally been a slower doctor of corporate functions such as HR, marketing strategy, finance, and information technology. The industry has grown organically. It remains driven by immediate needs and in many cases continues to have a very near term outlook rather than a long term one. Let me give you an example. So if client facing teams are unable to handle the demands of, say, billing, you would then hire a finance and admin team. If that team was unable to handle billing and collections. Then you sold an advanced ERP team and then hired an It team and so on and so forth, right? And when it comes to marketing only firms with a very futuristic outlook tend to hire marketing teams. And even there the expectations from the marketing team are often very narrow and they are limited to promotions and PR. Now, I feel this is due to a very limited understanding of what marketers can do and being a little uncomfortable about exploring any further. It's also a result of what type of marketing professionals want to work in professional services. Marketers outside this industry tend to have very clear job roles, authority budgets and fairly well tread growth parts. And they tend to prefer that over being a part of an industry where one has to chart one's own course. Right? But in the last decade the large global consulting firms and law firms have been trying to change the status and they are increasingly hiring marketers, including marketers from outside the professional services space because they want to grow holistically and want to make an impact on clients and communities that they work with. And any Indian subsidiaries and local firms that are affiliated with these global firms are following suit. So I'll give you another example. About a decade ago, most accounting and consulting firms in India were operating as some sort of a loose conglomerate of several promoter led firms under just one brand name, right? So the firm's clientele, its people, growth rate, client experience, everything varied from partner to partner. Data was maintained in Excel sheets, closely guarded by each partner and collaboration was really dependent on the partner's personality. Client acquisition and client relationship management were therefore entirely partner driven. Now, I've seen a paradigm shift in client acquisition and relationship management is viewed from the organisation's lens and it is driven by the organisation's larger purpose. This means that most firms today have adopted global best practices when it comes to identifying and serving clients. They have organisational CRM systems with comprehensive real time data. This is shared between partners to facilitate collaboration and drive more value for the client. Now, when it comes to managing people, many firms now follow global talent standards and provide opportunities for mobility and skilling. So whether you work within the firm as an employee or you work with the firm as a client, the brand experience is consistent. To support such a paradigm shift you will need marketers who have experience across the entire marketing mix of thought up, place, price and promotion. So while those with PR and promotional skills will continue to focus on those respective areas. But firms will need to hire specialists and generalists who can help with blue ocean thinking, white space analysis, go to market innovation, key account management, marketing automation, digital marketing and other new areas. I feel the legal industry today has started undergoing a similar change that the accounting firm saw about a decade ago. Global law firms are today emulating the model set by the consulting firms and their marketing efforts are in a similar direction. So I think it's a matter of time before we see Indian law firms wanting to take a leaf from their global colleagues.

Charles: It does sound like those international consultancies, the likeos of Deloitte, PwC, were on this sort of way before the law firms. And actually there's a lot that can be learnt from what those firms have done in the past and can be applied to law firms.

Archana: You're right about that, Charles, you're absolutely right about that. I think it's also a function of the maturity that your clients really have, right. Do your clients want to see you as a firm that's driven by certain individuals? Or do your clients expect a consistent brand experience when they interact with any professional from your firm? And that's really one of the primary reasons why a lot of accounting firms, management consulting firms were forced to think of reinventing themselves in this manner.

Charles: So to bring it back to the legal space and law firms, how well do you think the role of CMO is understood by the legal industry now and how would you currently define the role of CMO in a law firm?

Archana: See, in the Indian context, the CMO is still largely seen as someone who can do PR, public relations, communications and some business development via the traditional channels. There's little or no client interaction or involvement in client service related matters. However, I see a few firms who are more open to exploring what else a CMO can do. This is again, because clients are now expecting a higher degree of maturity from law firms, whether that's a consistent experience when working with multiple lawyers from the firm or aspects like fixing a rate card for various services that the firm can provide, irrespective of how many partners and partner teams can provide those services. Additionally, clients who are technologically savvy also expect that their service providers will leverage technology and use platforms that can improve the quality and turnaround times associated with work. Right now this means a CMO will increasingly be expected to look into areas outside promotions, right? Which means you would need exposure to innovation, new service development, pricing, go to market alliances, and other ecosystem players that can help position this law firm as a trusted advisor. Right. Are we there yet? By and large, no. But I definitely see a few law firms going in that direction in the next five years in India.

Charles: So a lot of this change that you're seeing, or the industry is seeing, is client driven. Clients want consistency across how they're being served. Tech savvy clients, they sort of expect their law firms and their service providers to be on the pulse and making the most of the tech that's available. So it seems like a lot of these changes are being led by client demand?

Archana: You're right, it is being led by client demand.

Charles: So in terms of driving the change for the marketers, we've highlighted that client demand is a part of that. Is there anything else that's driving this change for marketers?

Archana: Yeah, you're right. The catalyst for any change can be internal or external. Right now, in the Indian market, it would seem that this catalyst is external, it's client driven. If the client starts expecting a certain quality and a certain maturity from a law firm, then the law firm would have to deliver that. Which means as a marketer in that law firm, you would have to upskill, reskill yourself to keep pace with that change. Right. There's also an internal sort of a change for marketers. There are some who are very keen to learn something new, to broaden their skills, push the envelope, work with their employers and experiment. This is another change that's happening now. Either way, what is very clear is a status quo. Whether it is with the skills that you build over the years or with the kind of way that you conduct your work, the way you manage your team, that status quo can't continue. That's become very clear. Right. So irrespective of whether the catalyst for change is external or internal, I feel that change is here and it's here to stay and marketers have to equip themselves to address this change.

Charles: Yes. I guess the takeaway is that everything's changing and you've got to be on top of it. You can't just rely on responding to demands to the client. Actually you've got to be a bit ambitious, you've got to be bold and some of the sort of changes and developments you've got to lead as an individual.

Archana: Absolutely. You're right, because as a marketer you perhaps have a ringside view of what your law firm is, how it operates. You also have a very independent view of how clients perceive your law firm. So you are in a very unique position to become this voice of the customer, for lack of a better word right. This voice of a customer who can shape what the law firm wants to become tomorrow. Right. And that's a position that marketers, I think, should embrace and should do what it takes to gain the confidence of clients as well as your own stakeholders within the law firm.

Charles: So do you think this change that the industry is seeing is broadly positive?

Archana: I see it as a very positive and welcome change because it gives marketers an opportunity to learn something new and implement that at work. For firms who work with marketers who are data driven, and are focused on clear objectives, it'll help them understand where their money is being spent and whether the returns are commensurate. Right. And over a period of time that brings in a great degree of respect between the marketer and the firm. The firm does not see you as someone who just implements something the marketer does not see the role of the firm as just a day job. There's a lot more accountability, there's greater responsibility, and you start watching out for the firm the way you previously may not have. So I would say the change is largely positive.

Charles: Yeah. And it sounds like a key part to that is that almost collaboration between the marketing function and the rest of the firm. And when you've got that collaboration and everyone feels like they're part of the team and they're part of this big system, and I guess you get more sort of satisfaction in what you're doing. And it moves from being a sort of day to day job, as you mentioned it, to actually being part of this thing, being part of this process that you're building.

Archana: Yes.

Charles: So to finish off our podcast we finish all of our podcasts in this way. What would be your one piece of advice for marketers generally, and maybe CMOS more specifically, that are having to adapt and shift to the demands of their role?

Archana: Okay, I have three suggestions and not one. And with your permission, Charles, I'd keep each of this brief, but I think I should state the three, not just one, three suggestions. That would be perfect. Actually. On a previous podcast with Sophie Bowkett, who's a CMO over at Bird & Bird, she always says that you've got to give points in three because people can digest it easier so fire away, Archana. I'm going to write that down as we go.

Archana: Right. The first point is, embrace change and don't worry about how successful you will be with implementing new things. Failure is a better teacher. Grab any opportunity that you get to learn and enjoy from the experience. The world is not going to go back to how marketing was done 20 years ago. And at the very least, as marketers, we need to keep up. That's the first suggestion. The second suggestion is treat your people well and invest in their wellbeing, their personal well being and professional well being. The secret to a leader's success is a happy and empowered team. Peter Drucker's management theory interestingly, this must be about eight years old, but his theory says one must put people and ethics ahead of everything else in the organisation. And this is very true for the consulting business at large. That's the second one. The third thing that I want to leave people with is for CMOS, who aspire for CEO positions, ask for more responsibility, especially in areas like strategy and operations. Seek advisory roles with smaller organisations where you can contribute on a pro bono basis. Right. Keep that upskilling, reskilling journey on. Even if it is short term courses that you can get off LinkedIn or any of these learning platforms, it's still worth investing in. Those would be the three things that I would like to share with CMOs.

Charles: Brilliant. I think that sums up very nicely, embrace change. You said it just there. At the very least, you've got to keep up. But actually, you want to be proactive, you want to be pushing the boundaries and obviously treating people well. This links to the whole ESG movement, actually. You need to have your team empowered and feeling like they're owning their projects. So, again, I think that's spot on. And then that idea of being out there asking for more opportunities and making sure you're upskilling. We've talked to CMOS before. I mean, Erin Meszaros, CMO over at Evershed Sutherland, she talks about how she's constantly learning, constantly upskilling and constantly making sure that she's on the pulse and at the sort of sharp edge of the industry. She says, you're never too old to learn anything. So, Archana, thanks for those three key takeaways.

Archana: Thanks, Charles.

Charles: Archana, thanks for your time today. Thanks for sharing your insights from your experience, not just from working in the legal space, but also working in the consultancy space. It's been fantastic to hear from you. And thank you for coming on the CMO series.

Archana: Thank you very much, Charles. I think I had a good time speaking with you today. Thank you once again for inviting me. I'm sure your listeners will find these perspectives interesting. Look forward to speaking again.

Charles: Thank you very much.


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