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| 16 minutes read

CMO Series EP76 - Lisa Azzuolo of Bennett Jones on delivering for today’s clients in a century-old firm

It’s no secret that the past 25 years have seen the most significant transformation in legal marketing and BD. But the events of recent years have no doubt seen the most monumental step change, from advances in technology to the way firms and their clients operate and interact on a daily basis.

On this episode Charles Cousins is lucky to talk to Lisa Azzuolo, Chief Marketing Officer at Bennett Jones, about the challenges facing legal marketers and how to deliver value in today’s climate as well as the lessons learned in implementing a commemorative communications campaign that resonated with all of the firm's stakeholders.

Charles and Lisa discuss: 

  • Lisa’s career journey which spans 30 years, and her path to CMO at Bennett Jones
  • The firm’s 100-year history and the objectives of the centennial campaign that launched in 2022 to celebrate this landmark moment 
  • How the new ways of working in recent years impacted the project and the challenges that presented 
  • How the firm demonstrated its gratitude and commitment to its clients through the campaign during a time when it was impossible to meet with people in person 
  • The implications of remote and hybrid working on the way teams operate and how to motivate teams and keep the momentum going
  • The highlights and successes of the campaign
  • Advice for other legal marketing leaders looking to implement a campaign of this magnitude

Find out more about Bennett Jones’ history and its centennial campaign, Firm First: 100 Years of Service and Trust, here.


Intro: Welcome to the Passle Podcast CMO Series

Charles: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development in the legal space. In the last few years, there has been a significant transformation in how law firms and their clients operate and interact on a day-to-day basis. One firm that is certainly doing things very differently to when it was founded 100 years ago, is leading Canadian law firm, Bennett Jones. As Bennett Jones celebrates its centennial year this year with a commemorative communications campaign Firm First 100: Years of Service and Trust, we are very lucky to talk to Lisa Azzuolo, Chief Marketing Officer, about the challenges facing the legal teams in today's climate. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa: Hi Charles, thank you for having me.

Charles: Well, they certainly weren't having Zoom calls 100 years ago when Bennett Jones were formed, hey!

Lisa: The good old days.

Charles: For those listening, just to paint a picture, Lisa is out in Canada and I'm here in Wales in in the UK. So the joys of modern technology.

Lisa: We definitely are very fortunate, especially over the last two years. It's made what we accomplished this year possible.

Charles: Absolutely. Well, so you've only been at Bennett Jones for seven of those 100 years, but you've been in the legal marketing industry for over 20 years. So maybe to kick things off, you can tell us a bit about your journey to becoming the CMO at Bennett Jones.

Lisa: Thanks, Charles, I'll keep it brief, but basically 2023 will mark 30 years since I graduated from law school at the University of Montreal. At the time, I was a very naive 22-year-old, heavily influenced by years of reading Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and even Rumpole of the Bailey for the Brits out there. I thought a career in criminal law was the only path for me and soon realised it was a world I think I was unprepared for. So, after a few meandering twists in the legal industry, I discovered legal marketing, which I didn't know existed at the time. And once I discovered it, there was no turning back. And I've had excellent experiences at a number of large Canadian law firms as well as a stint in the financial services sector. So when I joined Bennett Jones back in 2016, I was excited about being back in legal and it's been an honour to be there, particularly throughout the centennial year.

Charles: Fantastic. So some of those books you were describing, I thought rather than pursuing a legal career, you were going to set up shop like Sherlock Holmes, doing a bit of investigating.

Lisa: It was tempting. Yes.

Charles: The firm has very established history and as we mentioned, celebrating its centennial year this year. Can you tell us a bit about the campaign and its objectives when you first started that project?

Lisa:  Sure. So 100-year milestone is no small feat. In fact, I read that less than half a percent of all companies in the United States have survived more than a hundred years and only about 12% make it beyond the 26-year mark. So we knew we had to celebrate. And the first question we asked ourselves was who will care? Because a lot of people did question that; will anyone outside the firm care? And we discussed that and identified three primary audiences; our people here with us today, our alumni who helped train and mentor generations of talent at the firm, and our clients who helped us get here. As our chairman often stated in his remarks throughout this year, without our clients there would be no Bennett Jones. So with these audiences, our goal was to express gratitude, inspire pride and loyalty and reinforce our commitment to being not only the best employer but also the best legal advisor to take people through into the next century. And in addition, we also obviously as marketers sought to use this opportunity to create brand awareness and attract new talent and attract new clients. A lot has been written in the past about our first 75 years. But the lesser-known story is that of the firm's growth on Bay Street over the past 25 years and we felt strongly that that was a story that needed to be told.

Charles: Having those three key audiences, did that shape how you're doing things?

Lisa: Absolutely. We needed to find a way to generate excitement internally about this centennial while at the same time finding a way to connect with external audiences in a way that was meaningful. We didn't assume that the rest of the world would care, we needed to make it interesting to them. So it was about trying to demonstrate the impact that the firm had over businesses, over the legal industry and legal professionals over the course of a century. So that aspect of demonstrating that impact was important to us. And I do feel like we've had a number of experiences throughout this year that proved that people were interested in learning about what the firm contributed to the Canadian economy and legal sector. It may have either reinforced images or impressions they had of the firm or strengthened them or established a new understanding of the firm that didn't exist previously.

Charles: Obviously over the past few years the whole world has had to adapt to new ways of working and respond to many changes. Can you tell us about how working on this campaign through the Pandemic impacted the project and any challenges that it brought about?

Lisa: There were countless. Honestly, it's only when I look back at what we accomplished during the years 2020 and 2021 in particular that I think to myself how on earth did we do it? In the moment, I think we just pivoted and did whatever it took to get the job done. But there's no doubt in my mind that things were more complex, they were more time-consuming and just basically more difficult as a result of not being able to work as teams in person, not being able to review archives and archives of materials in person, and rounds of content and design edits face to face. So we definitely had to embrace technology and Zoom and Webex and every kind of virtual platform possible. And I would say that it definitely added a number of layers of complexity.

Charles: Yeah, and I guess that not being able to work in person obviously is a challenge for your team. But also the key focus of the campaign is about demonstrating gratitude and commitment to the firm's clients. How did you reflect that during a time when it was impossible to meet with people in person and continue to build those relationships?

Lisa: So as things continued to be unpredictable throughout our planning stages in 2021, we decided to save most of our in-person celebrations for later in the year 2022. So late summer and throughout the fall of 2022, all the while keeping our fingers, and I guess, and toes crossed, that by then we'd be able to gather in proper celebratory fashion with all our audiences. Definitely a wise decision, because had we planned for earlier in the year, we would have found ourselves having to reschedule and pivot constantly. And until then, we didn't just sit on our laurels, we leveraged other channels to generate buzz and excitement. We launched in March of 2022, the official launch of our campaign with a thoughtful video message from our chairman and CEO and with a centennial microsite that was a bit of a teaser to our book, which was released later in the year. And we also had branding across all our internal and external platforms and social media and added centennial touches wherever and whenever appropriate to events, whether they be virtual or smaller intimate events throughout the year. So this gave us the opportunity to engage with people in smaller yet meaningful ways throughout the year. We also had opportunities to engage with clients and alumni while we were working on the project, going as far back even as 2019, because we started interviews for the book well before the pandemic. And doing these interviews with alumni and video interviews with both members of the firm alumni and clients was incredibly fulfilling. I think having those moments of connectivity throughout the year helped fill some of the voids that were left as a result of not being able to gather in person.

Charles: So, Lisa, for the benefit of those people listening, can you tell us a bit more about that book and what it includes?

Lisa: Sure. Thanks, Charles. So the book is Firm First: 100 Years of Service and Trust, and it's a book that chronicles the history of Bennett Jones. If you're wondering why Firm First, we described that as a philosophy at the firm, a philosophy that holds us paramount to the interests and welfare of the firm and our clients. It really was a lot of fun working on this book because we had to go through archives and archives of imagery, both digital and physical images. In many cases very old, old imagery that we had to find ways to scan and make usable in this format. A lot had been written about the firm with respect to its first 75 years, but what had not been written yet was the last quarter of a century. And that last quarter for Bennett Jones is significant because it is the foray on Bay Street, the only firm from the west who have come eastwards into Canada, defied the odds, and really became a tier one player on Bay Street. And that story was one that had to be told. So we tried to create this visual, interesting, coffee table style book that recounts the history and the impact Bennett Jones had as early as 1922 and in establishing energy law in Canada, but also goes through the more recent years of building the brand, in Toronto in particular, and just expanding outside Canadian borders, being where clients needed us to be, and touching also on our impact on community, on diversity and women in the law in particular, and just the general impact that the firm and our people has had over the course of a century. It's a fun story and the idea is we wanted it to be in a format that, whether you opened it up at page 71 or page 160, it's interesting and it would have you want to keep reading.

Charles: That sounds incredible. And I guess in an increasingly digital world, there's always space for a book. So I imagine it was something that was really well received by your clients.

Lisa: It was. We launched in March with the Microsite, which was a bit of a teaser of the book. It had some of the visuals from the book and excerpts from the book because at that point in time when we launched a microsite, the book was going to print. And the print process, going back to your question about some of the challenges as a result of executing this campaign during the Pandemic, we did experience a lot of those challenges with regard to third-party relationships, whether it was supply chain shortages on paper or other stock, or the cover of the book, challenges with staff shortages at vendors. All this to say that our physical books were not in hand until the end of September. So the Microsite served as our landing ground, I guess, for teasers on the story. And when the book was received, we gifted it at each of our centennial events throughout the fall, both to our staff and to our clients and alumni and friends who were invited to those events. And the response has been fabulous.

Charles: Fantastic. And just to jump back into the way your team operated, and obviously when you're trying to pull this campaign together during that period of remote and hybrid working, how did that affect the motivation and momentum of this? And how did you go about tackling that and keeping the momentum up during that campaign?

Lisa: I have to say I have the best team ever, hands down. I think in 2020, we were powered by adrenaline. In 2021, we were probably powered by the sheer volume of work and willpower. And 2022, I say, was powered by determination, grit, and a good dose of humour. And throughout it all, I think we kept the momentum up by caring deeply about our work and mainly about each other.

Charles: When we spoke before, we talked about the general pressures of today's legal marketing industry, particularly around the challenges around talent retention. Did these affect the campaign, and how did you go about resolving any of those challenges?

Lisa: Yes, absolutely. I think, as mentioned just previously, caring about each other and our work and approaching things with calm and humour definitely helps, just generally. Despite a centennial campaign, I think just those in legal marketing know that it's a high-pressure, fast-paced, and often unforgiving industry, so you really need to look out for each other and support each other through it all. But I would definitely say that the year 2022 was the most challenging by far of my career. And the challenges were driven, yes the volume of work was incredibly high, and we had our centennial on top of everything else. But what I found most challenging were issues around people, management and communications. And I think it's because when you combine high volumes of work with tight timelines, external factors that were often outside of our control, and emotional anxiety at an all-time high, that's a recipe for disaster. And when I talk about emotional anxiety, it's that 2022 was a difficult year for a lot of people. Right when we thought we were out of the pandemic and things were going to go back to normal, we found ourselves back in lockdown. And those outside of Canada, might not realise how slow we were to get back to more regular routines north of the border or west of the Atlantic. So it definitely made the year more challenging. And the fact that we managed to pull it all off without the loss of talent or sanity is something I'm incredibly proud of my team for. But I would be lying if I said it was all perfect. I think the key is that we need to learn from mishaps when they happen, and we need to move on, and we also need to give people grace and forgiveness. So we try to celebrate successes. We try to allow everyone the freedom to take chances, pivot when we need to, and not harp on the mistakes or the issues or the mishaps when they happen, because, at the end of the day, they do. And this year was particularly challenging.

Charles: Let's draw a line under the challenges. Something I'm perhaps more interested in is this truly impressive campaign. Can you tell us a bit about the successes you've seen since launching it, and maybe some of the highs that have made all that hard work worthwhile?

Lisa: So we're just actually in the process as I do this interview with you. We're early December. So we're compiling our year in review, and it will include a separate analysis of all things centennial because I really want to try to measure the impact as best as possible of all the activation around the campaign that was above and beyond all the other work of the department because our general marketing strategy and plans did continue, whether that be pitches media relations content on a multitude of legal issues throughout the year. Things didn't stop. Definitely, it was a heavy workload for the department, and we're looking right now at what we accomplished throughout the year and it's incredibly rewarding. We can look at online stats on reach and exposure, and that's what we're compiling. But at the end of the day, nothing beats the comments we received from our people and our clients. The number of messages I've received and others at the firm have received messages of gratitude, requests for copies of our book, and most of all, the excitement of our people when they received our centennial gifts. So earlier this fall, we gave each of our people at the firm a gift that included a copy of the book, a branded sweater, which I'm actually wearing now, and a real silver pin of our icon, all of which were intended to reflect the firm values of creativity, collegiality and influence. And the feedback upon the receipts of those gifts, which came again with a heartfelt message from our chairman and CEO, was just fabulous. Then we saw energy and camaraderie and excitement at each of our centennial events. It started with a partner's gala in Calgary, our place of birth, back in May, themed à la the 1920s. Summer events in each of our offices late in the summer, which in many cases was the first time many of our people were either meeting for the first time or seeing each other in person for a very long time. And then our friends of Bennett Jones events across our offices in the fall, where we celebrated our birthday with alumni, clients and our community partners. Each of those moments and the reactions that flowed from them truly, truly made the efforts of this year worthwhile. And what I would add is, if you want to experience a bit of that joy and excitement, I would encourage you to have a listen to our centennial video. It's available on our website and on our centennial microsite. It's a short video with interviews with our people, clients, and alumni on 100 years of taking care of business. I'm sure Bachman–Turner Overdrive weren't thinking about a business law firm when they wrote Takin’ Care of Business, but that song sure does sum up our story beautifully.

Charles: Fantastic. And I bet those positive comments and that excitement from your people, and that idea of the firm first, what that says to me is one of the big things you were trying to do is just create this team, create that sort of firm first feeling where everybody's part of that team, whether they're your clients, your people, your alumni, you're really pushing for that strong sense of we're one big family, one big team.

Lisa: Absolutely. And I talked about how it was challenging to produce this throughout the pandemic, but at the same time, there was an element of I'm not going to say that it was positive I don't like to use that word associated with the pandemic. However, bringing people together with that kind of excitement after that long period of anxiety and separation just around the world made this campaign all the more exciting, I would say.

Charles: Brilliant. So to wrap things off today, we're going to jump into a quick fire round. And this is so anyone that listening can learn a little bit more about you. And when they bump into you at LMA event in the future, they've got a few things they can chat to you about if they wish to. So if you're happy, we'll jump into it.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Charles: So what's your favourite business and non-business book?

Lisa: So on the business front, I'll share this one, which is not technically business, but business. It's a memoir, but it's a memoir that's very much about business, perseverance and grit. Shoe Dog by Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Charles: Oh yeah.

Lisa: It's fabulous. And I think every marketer should read it and every lawyer should read it because they would realise that even Phil Knight, I think, would not have had the success he had were it not for a really good lawyer and a really good accountant. So it's a fabulous, fabulous book. And on the non-business side, fiction: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. Nail biting.

Charles: Fantastic. What was your first job?

Lisa: Two at the same time. Hairdresser's assistant and fast food restaurant waitress.

Charles: Wow. What makes you happy at work?

Lisa: Seeing other people happy at work.

Charles: Lovely. What are you listening to at the moment? This could be podcast music, audiobook?

Lisa:  I just finished Geneva, which is an audiobook. I listened to the audiobook. The book is written by British actor Richard Armitage. Okay. And it's narrated by the same actor together with British actress Nicola Walker. The audiobook is just gripping. It's fabulous. And on podcasts, I enjoy the School of Greatness series by Lewis Howes.

Charles: Brill. Where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Lisa: I would say any place where I can enjoy time with my family and friends. Even if that's our backyard. I think the where doesn't really matter if you're in good company.

Charles: Fantastic. Well, Lisa, thanks for joining us today. Thanks for doing the quickfire round, but also thanks for sharing the lessons learned from implementing the campaign Firm First: 100 years of Service and Trust. So thanks again for jumping on.

Lisa: Thank you.


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