The journey to CMO or Communications leader is often indirect. In many cases, the most successful marketing leaders have wide-ranging experience across different industries, roles and geographies.
Eugene McCormick is lucky to welcome someone who has brought his communications and agency experience to his role in legal. Today on the CMO Series we welcome Konstantin Shishkin, Chief Communications Officer at Goodwin Procter.
Konstantin shares how he’s building an innovative legal marketing team that breaks the mould of the traditional law firm approach.
Eugene and Konstantin cover:
- Konstantin’s career journey to his role now as Chief Communications Officer at Goodwin
- The unique characteristics or experiences from his work in communications and how they have influenced the marketing and communications team at Goodwin
- The key differentiators regarding the firm’s strategy and the main focus areas
- Influencing the approach to recruitment and growing a marketing team that aligns with the firm’s strategy
- Building the marketing team like a startup and how that differs to other firms
- The problem with the traditional approach to recruiting and building marketing teams in law firms
- The challenges to building a team in this innovative way
- Advice for other marketing and communications professionals in the industry looking to take a more innovative approach to growing a team
Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO series.
Eugene: Hello folks, and welcome to another edition of the Passle CMO series podcast. Now the pathway to CMO, or communications leader is often indirect and certainly unconventional. And in many cases the most successful marketing leaders have really wide-ranging experience across industries, roles, and geographies. Today, we're really lucky to welcome someone with a truly unique background who's brought his communications and agency experience to his role in legal: Konstantin Shiskin, Chief Communications Officer at Goodwin Procter. Thank you very much for joining us and welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast.
Konstantin: Thanks Eugene, thanks for having me. Thanks to Passle and thanks to all of your listeners. I hope I don't bore people too much today.
Eugene: I don't think we're at any risk of that. Now, can you tell us about your career journey to where you are now in your role as Chief Communications Officer at Goodwin? How did you get there?
Konstantin: Sure, it's a great question, Eugene. So my path, I guess, into this legal marketing world is a little bit unconventional, especially into the sort of leadership of the marketing communications function. My background, if you sort of go all the way back, my graduate degree is as a journalist, and I worked for a hot second as a journalist, as a financial journalist. And then I sort of scrapped that for kind of a completely different career path. And I went and I worked in-house at an agency. So I worked for a very small PR firm at first that did primarily comms for law firms, which is how I got into this racket; financial services companies, professional services companies. Then I worked for a while at a much bigger global agency, and there I did corporate communications and crisis communications, again for the same sort of subset of B2B clients, primarily in financial professional services spaces. Then I worked for a corporate, again, for like a hot second at a bank and at a major life insurance company. And at the time, what happened was that Goodwin was actually looking for a Director of Communications. And Goodwin had been my client when I was at the agency for about three years. I had worked in the business, so they were looking for a new Director of Communications and they gave me a call and I came in and I talked to folks and I already knew the firm pretty well. And that was eight years ago. And here we are now taping the podcast.
Eugene: Very good that you took the meeting. But yeah, it sounded like the right fit.
Konstantin: It's actually like this is an aside and it's a really funny story, but the recruiter was reaching out to me and the recruiter kept sending me emails and they kept going into my spam folder. And at the time I did not have the rigour to keep checking my spam. It never occurred to me that I should do that. And I think I sort of turned folks off initially because it turns out I missed like ten recruiter messages. So it was almost not meant to be courtesy of Gmail.
Eugene: So you had to start off and get rid of the sort of slow response, the unreliable image that you were maybe cultivating.
Konstantin: Exactly. Now, I always check my spam folder.
Eugene: Okay, well, that's lesson number one for all of our listeners. Check your spam folder. You've got quite a unique background. You've got really unique experience in your communications and the agency side of things you've obviously brought back to this role. How has that influenced your work at Goodwin, how you work in the team and marcomms team and how does that influence you day to day?
Konstantin: Yeah, it's really interesting. I think being in this role and coming from an agency background has been super valuable. And I'll tell you why. When you work at an agency, you have a bunch of different clients, right? I mean, small clients, big clients across different industries. And every client, every client is just as important. It doesn't matter how much a retainer is, how much budget you have, just every client gets the same level of treatment, at least in my book. And so when you work in a corporate, you have sort of a finite set of clients. Ultimately having your CEO, maybe you have your board and a couple of other key stakeholders. In a partnership, at a firm like Goodwin, we have hundreds of partners, right? And we have hundreds of partners practicing in areas that are in some ways distinct from each other. So the technology practice in Northern California may be very different from private investment funds practice in London. And just as well, though, every client in every practice and every industry within the firm gets the same treatment, and everybody is our client. So having that agency mindset has been, at least to me, tremendously helpful in this role. And I've said this to people before, but I find that folks who enjoy the agency world actually tend to do really well in law firms. Present company potentially excluded, but I'm just making that as a general observation.
Eugene: Well, it's unique, and it's unique in that because you have a unique skill set and you get a fresh way of thinking. But it's also unique in terms of the law firm partnership model is in itself very individual, and it's that attentiveness to the different needs and bespoke nature of the work in different practices, different industries. It seems to come pretty naturally to you.
Konstantin: For sure. And the other thing I would mention about sort of the observation you just made when you work at an agency, a big thing, I think a big reason why clients hire you is because you're able to make those connections and you're able to bring to a client in a particular industry maybe thinking from another industry, right? Well, it's actually just as applicable in a law firm, right? For the reasons I just talked about a second ago because the businesses are so different, yet at the same time, and we'll probably get into talking about this, what the strategy of the firm is. But what's great about this firm is the strategy is very clear and a part of the strategy is capitalising on what we call convergence of the different industries that we focus on with each other and with technology. So that also means bringing ideas from particular business into another business. And again, just having that mindset from the agency has been very helpful to be able to do that effectively.
Eugene: It's really interesting you mentioned about strategy as it's something I'd really like to get into because when I first met with you, Konstantin, you said culture is huge for us and the way that informs our strategy. Can you tell us a bit more about that, not just in your team but actually more broadly at Goodwin?
Konstantin: For sure. I mean, look, I got to tell you that's two of my favourite things about this firm is the strategy and the culture. And we can talk about this more, but the two are actually quite linked and one does not work without the other and vice versa. So let's start with the strategy. The strategy is actually quite simple and all great things I think, are pretty simple if you're able to articulate them in very simple terms. But our strategy is to build relationships with clients, right? Like that is foundational to what we do. We want to build relationships with our clients and we do this by being real experts in five key industries where we serve our clients. And those industries are, in no particular order, life sciences, technology, private equity, real estate and financial services. And also what I mentioned a second ago, convergence, where all of these industries converge with each other. We can talk a little bit more about that. So for those five industries, we do three things. We do litigation and dispute resolution, we do regulatory compliance and advisory work and we do transactions. So building relationships with clients in five industries and where they converge by doing three different things, that's our strategy firm wide.
Eugene: It's incredibly straightforward and I think a lot of other firms. And actually, as you said, if it's simple and it's effective and everyone can articulate it, it makes it much easier to achieve. One other thing that you said to me before is going back to the culture and the strategy. You said working within my team is like working within a start up within an established business. What did you mean by that? How is your approach different and can you give us a couple of more concrete examples?
Konstantin: For sure, like a broader point and I'm not sure if you have show notes for this podcast and if you do, you can probably drop it in there. We have what we call core principles and there are ten of them and any of you listeners who might be interested can go to goodwinlaw.com/coreprinciples and check them out. Those are the ten core principles that underpin our culture, right? And if you look at those core principles and you look at how they apply in our strategy, you will see, as I mentioned before, that they're very much linked. I'm not going to go through all ten because I think everybody is just going to tune out and it's going to take way too long. But I'll give you a couple of examples and I think that those relate to your question. So one of the core principles is being comfortable with and comfortable, what does this mean? It means not being afraid to take risks and try new things, right? For us, as marketers and communicators, that's critical, right? Because if we just keep trying and doing the same thing over and over and over again, or if we just trying to copy another firm, another great firm, anything that we see, we're not really creating anything new by not taking risks. We're not creating anything that hasn't really been done before. And the firm itself, I think, very much views itself, even though it's very well established, it's one of the most successful law firms in the world, but we still view ourselves as a challenger. We're very entrepreneurial. That applies across the entire farm. So we're always thinking about what's next. And we take the same approach within marketing and communications. We're constantly experimenting, we're constantly innovating, we're constantly trying to do new things. And I think people find that if you gravitate towards that, again, that's a little bit of that agency mindset, if you gravitate towards that, then you can be really successful here and you can really thrive within marketing and communications and you can make a real difference with what you're doing.
Eugene: Actually, just you say, that made me think. Do you think that that habit and culture within your team of pushing the envelope, trying to really get new ideas, is that a key component of the agency lifestyle, where you need to be coming up with fresh ideas with the pitches and keep clients really engaged and show that you're actively thinking about them? Do you think that's a direct habit from your background?
Konstantin: For sure. But it doesn't have to be an agency background necessarily. One of the things that I find really stimulating and sort of energising about our department and our team is that we have people from all sorts of walks of life, right? We have people who have been directors of tech companies, we have people in our multimedia department who used to work on documentaries or the producers and television for decades. We have a person who used to be a writer for the Food Network. And then we have people who come from more traditional sort of law firm backgrounds. That's critical to us being able to sort of disrupt and come up with something new. I find, and I shared this hypothesis with a couple of people before, but I think what tends to happen and this tends to happen not just within legal, this happens within financial services and other industries. At a certain point, once people get locked into an industry, you become an expert in legal marketing, communications, for example, and then let's say you are looking for a new job, you're much more likely to go or be hired by another law firm. And I think what that leads to is that if that's the only thing that's happening, and we don't have sort of net new talent coming in from other industries into our industry, we keep recycling old ideas over and over again. Now, I'm not saying that there is no value to having people who are really experienced legal marketers within marketing, communications, team, law firms. It's foundational, in fact, but it cannot be at the expense of not having perspectives from any other industries. Right. And that's, by the way, that's another one of our core principles, perhaps a slightly different interpretation, but we're diverse, inclusive and equitable. Right? And inclusivity in this context, I think, means that we're including points of view from people who might not have necessarily worked at a law firm before. I'll tell you, when Goodwin hired me, I had experience working with law firms. I had never worked in-house at a law firm, and this firm hired me as Director of Communications. That was a pretty bold move for the firm, I think.
Eugene: So you're basically constant in your living embodiment of the culture and the openness to new ideas, which, as you said, is immensely powerful in terms of generating fresh ideas, different perspectives, and actually an innovative approach across the firm because you get different perspectives, different people, different backgrounds, and the results speak for themselves.
Konstantin: Sure. I find that to be most energising on any given day when I wake up and I go to work, whether it's in my home office here in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or in our New York office in the New York Times building in midtown Manhattan, that's the most energising thing to me is just seeing people on our team. And by the way, I'll make a plug for another core principle that we have, that everybody is a leader. Everyone's a leader. So leadership is not about one person. One person with a fancy title, for example, trying to do stuff. Everybody can bring fresh new ideas to the table and that's how we operate as a department. So on any given day when I come into work, whether virtually or in person and see a member of the team, whether in creative or communications or events or editorial or technology or any of the other verticals we have coming up with a way to do something in a way that's fresh and new. That's when I know we have a good day.
Eugene: Yeah, well, you're answering my questions before I ask them, which is quite a talent of yours.
Konstantin: Telepathy is not one of my core skills.
Eugene: You have to be telepathic to join the Goodwin team. I was going to ask more about your approach to recruitment and building marketing teams, but you really just brought it to life there. And actually what's really coming to the fore here is you're passionate about growing and developing your team. And we're talking about a lot of the positive stuff, but I think a lot of our listeners are really interested in what are the challenges to recruit this really diverse, inclusive, edgy team, people who are really going to push the envelope, what are the challenges? Maybe even a couple of failures or setbacks and how did you overcome those?
Konstantin: Yeah, look, I think that's a very nuanced and involved question. We can probably spend a whole separate podcast on that. But a couple of observations from me, I think. So, first of all, if you want to build an A plus team, that's hard to do, right? Because from what we do as marketers and communicators, we're not brain surgeons or any other sort of industry where you have to have a very particular skill set and then that's the only industry you're in. Anybody we have on the team can go work and do this pretty much like at any company, within any industry, anywhere they want in the world. So the pool of potential employers and opportunities that we're competing with is huge. If you overlay on that, that we're trying to really hire the best people and the brightest people, it's challenging, right? So for us I think you just put the employer head on for marketing and communications. We have to make it worth people's lives and we have to communicate to them that within legal, which I think for marketing and communications, has a reputation for being sort of very traditional and not necessarily, as you put it, edgy, that it actually is one of the most interesting industries within B2B to make a difference. And if you'll indulge me for a second, like if you look at if you look at the big four, the big four accounting firms, there are four. That industry is pretty set. If you look at banking and let's put like fintech aside and all of the disruption that's happened in there, but the big banks, that industry is pretty set. If you look at legal, American Lawyer has a list of 100 biggest law firms. They're all great firms, right? They all have really smart people. So the difference you can make with marketing and communications at a law firm, I think it can be much more impactful and the impact can be much bigger than it would be in any of those other financial professional services industries. Now, once you attract people and you sell it to them, I think the other great selling point for us, and this goes to the core principle of being comfortable and uncomfortable, but we're very entrepreneurial. Sometimes you come and you try to do something, and that works out, and you take risks, but it doesn't always work out, and we're totally okay with that. Like we are okay with trying something new and it's not working out. And I think going back to your original question, the biggest challenge there is just being comfortable with the fact that you're not going to get it perfect ten out of ten times. And the final thing I'll mention to you about that is you have to overlay that the organisation changes and the needs change. Look, when I joined eight years ago, this was like a 600-million-dollar business. We are now a two-and-a-quarter-billion-dollar firm, right? So that is much more global business penetration is much deeper and so the needs for the firm, for what we're trying to do from the marketing communications standpoint have changed a lot and this is like eight years later and so eight years from now they're going to change again. And so you have to be able to change your marketing communications department and be nimble enough to be able to mould without losing that rigour and that sort of zest for trying to make a difference.
Eugene: 100%. I think in summary, you could almost sum up a lot of what you're trying to say is if you do the same things, you're going to get the same results. And what you're really trying to do and what good one is pushing is, as you say, get comfortable with being uncomfortable. One thing I was just thinking, as you said that, is you must have a lot of backing and the confidence of the leadership team across Goodwin, both on the professional lawyer side and the support side. Everyone must be aligned to make this a successful, both marketing team, but also your recruitment strategy as well.
Konstantin: 100%. That is absolutely foundational. I'm glad you asked this question because without that support we couldn't do any of this, right? So we have an awesome Chief Operating Officer, Mike Caplan, right, who is my immediate boss, right? And like Mike interviewed me for this role again eight years ago. I keep going back to where it all started, but I was a very sort of non-traditional candidate for this kind of a role and the managing partner and the chairman at the time interviewed me and so they gave me a chance. And since then I will tell you when we bring ideas to whether it's to our COO, to the full management committee or executive committee. And I'm not just saying it, but I really cannot think of a time when senior leadership of the firm or our firm management said that's, not us. Or sounds too risky. Don't try it. We always have a license to try and we have a license to and if you have a license to try, you have a license to succeed, but in equal measure, you have a license to fail. So I think our leadership is very bold with allowing us to experiment and innovate, and without that, marketing communications is just a tactical function and we strive to do more than that to make a difference.
Eugene: 100%. My colleague Ali recently did a podcast with Foley and Lardner with their managing partner and their CMO. And the managing partner, Daljit, basically said as much. He said, I brought on Koree as CMO to do a job and I trust her and I entrust her with what we're going to take the business. And it was really profound because it's that trust and that backing and that partnership between the pair of them which helps them push the envelope a bit.
Konstantin: I think that's a really great point. I will just mention this because this makes me think about this too, like sort of the overarching point. When Mike Caplan, our COO, joined the firm, he really formalised what we call the business of law. And basically what that is, is let's have the business professionals, right? Like all of us, whether we're in marketing or it finance or any other professional services function, let us be the experts at running operations in the business of law in our respective functions. Let's let our lawyers do what they do best, which is provide A++ service to our clients and be real experts in those industries, right? But we have a role to play. And I think through that leadership that we had from our COO, the whole Go team, we call it the Global we call ourselves, by the way, the Global Operations Team. We don't call ourselves professional staff or non-lawyers. Like, we do not use these words. And that's very intentional because our whole Global Operations Team, a Go Team for short, really feels empowered to be experts and to make decisions in their particular areas of expertise so that together we can drive results for our clients and for our firm.
Eugene: It also sounds like a superhero team, which I quite like the Go team.
Konstantin: It's awesome.
Eugene: Look, I'm going to be honest, there's going to be quite a few people who are going to be a bit dumbstruck by some of the things you just said and the confidence and the backing that you have. A bit of an annoying question to sort of tie things together, but if you had to give one piece of advice to your peers and other professional services, not just law, marketing, and communications professionals, how would you sort of encourage them? And what steps would you say to take this more innovative approach, which for you is, it seems, like, second nature?
Konstantin: Look, I mean, that's a great question. I would say if you want to if you want it in sort of two words, I would say just be bold. But if you want to unpack that a little bit, I don't mean to make it sound like everything is just a cakewalk and you can just do sort of whatever you want. You have to put some rigour behind your ideas. You have to sell your ideas, right? You have to really try to really be able to sell something. You have to really believe in it. And if you don't believe in it, you're not going to be able to sell it. So when you are coming up with your marketing communications strategies, you have to spend the time and do the work to really articulate them and make them compelling. You have to pitch. Again, that comes back to the beginning of our conversation and perhaps that's a little bit of the agency training in me, but that's the way I was trained and brought up. I mean you have something that you think is cool that's not enough. You have to sell it. You have to really pitch it and so you have to do that work. I really believe that there is no management team out there that is not going to embrace trying to do something bold if they can clearly see the value to the client and to the firm. So it's our job as marketers, communicators in equal measure for want to be able to do some of these cool things that we're so fortunate to be able to do. You have to sell them and you have to make it really clear why you think something is a good idea.
Eugene: We could probably go on for an awfully long time here Konstantin. But I want to wrap up here and just, first of all, say thank you. We started off trying to talk about growing innovative legal marketing team and a bit of recruitment and we've covered everything from culture to strategy and anything in between. So I want to say thank you for that. It's been absolutely fabulous. But I'm not done with you just yet. And if you've got another couple of minutes, I'd like to do just a wee quick fire round which is just a little bit more about you and less about work, if that's okay.
Konstantin: Sure, that sounds great. Let's do it.
Eugene: So first question, what is your favorite business and non business book?
Konstantin: That's a great question. I'm going to answer your question but I'm going to give like a little disclaimer that that's sort of changing all the time. I find it really hard to say. Here's my favourite thing. I'm going to tell you what I read recently that I really enjoyed. So on the business book front, just a few months ago I read this book called The Power Law by this guy, Sebastian Mallaby who studies the venture capital industry. And the book is really fascinating. It basically covers venture capital when it started, who the main players are and where it is today. And it's really the history of the industry. Venture capital is a huge focus for us, for Goodwin within our technology, private equity practices. But the book itself was just a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in VC or who is just interested in sort of progression of a business like that. On the non business side, during the pandemic years as everyone else, I was for the most part inside and most of the time I was spending in my apartment at the time on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. And so I gotten really into travel literature and the guy I've been really sort of digging and I'm still really enjoying him, is Paul Theroux, who is a huge travel writer and has been writing for decades. He has a bunch of books out, basically about taking journeys to different destinations. I think his latest book was called On the Plain of Snakes. It's his journey across or around and across the US Mexico border. But he has a bunch of other books that are just awesome. The latest one I read, which is from a long time ago, it's called The Old Patagonian Express. And in that book he gets on the train in Boston and then he takes the train or a series of trains all the way down to Patagonia in South America. So a really fun read.
Eugene: I think I might do that next time I go to Boston.
Konstantin: It's tempting, right?
Eugene: I'll ask the founder to get some time. What was your first job?
Konstantin: So funny you should ask me about books first because my first job was actually selling books in a college bookstore.
Eugene: Wow. I wasn't expecting them. That's always my favourite question to ask, and we touched on a fair bit of both. But maybe if there was one key thing that makes you happy at work?
Konstantin: Yeah, I think you're right. I think we covered it right. What makes me happy at work is if I had to say one thing, I would say it's coming in and seeing the team do great work and be really happy doing it. And that's probably as succinct as I'm going to be on that point.
Eugene: It's a nice feeling when you're all pulling in the same direction. Konstantin, what are you listening to at the moment? Podcasts, music, audiobook, anything like that.
Konstantin: So I recently discovered, or somebody told me, that with a library card you can actually borrow audiobooks from the New York Public Library. And I think you can actually do it anywhere you are around the country if you're in the States. So I've taken advantage of that recently and the latest thing that I heard was a book by Polish science fiction writer Stanisław Lem called Solaris. Many will probably know it from the movies. There are a couple of movies actually made, one by Tarkovsky, and then there's sort of a newer version with George Clooney. So that's the latest audiobook I heard in terms of music. When I'm working from home, I have this beautiful little FM radio, which I know sounds very old school of me, that my wife gave to me for Christmas. And I usually listen to WQXR, which is New York's amazing classical music station. I usually have that on all day. Nice culture, man. I don't mind listening to the video. I would try and listen to back in the UK, we had Radio Six, which is like slightly interesting. Radio Six is great. You know what I like about this always connected world where you have to choose your content streaming services over time. The best thing about Radio still is that you don't have to make any of these choices. You just put it on and then that's it. That's what you got. Sometimes that's nice.
Eugene: Yeah. And you'll always get a couple of jams in there that you weren't expecting, but you never heard of it's quite nice. Last question. Favourite place to visit and why?
Konstantin: I would say it's less about a place for me and it's maybe more about the people that I'm with. So I would say any time I get a chance to be travel with my wife, be with my parents, see my brother, see my niece and my nephew, see my aunts, see my cousins, any sort of a formation like that, the geography and the place where we are almost doesn't matter to me. As long as we're together, I'm happy.
Eugene: I would agree with that. Yeah, definitely. When you move away from home, wherever home is, it doesn't really matter if you can see your folks, it's generally not too bad.
Konstantin: Sure. That's what it's all about. Konstantin, thank you very much for sticking with it. We had a couple of technical difficulties along the way. Thank you for your patience, and most of all, thank you for your time. This has been an absolute whopper of an episode of the Passle CMO series podcast. Thank you again.
Konstantin: Thanks so much, Eugene