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| 13 minutes read

CMO Series EP82 - Judith McKay of McCarthy Tétrault on content and its importance in effective professional services marketing

The way we consume content has changed and clients have come to expect more personalised, relevant content that is delivered when they need it.

This escalated shift to digital we’ve experienced in recent years presents fresh opportunities for professional service marketers.

Today on the CMO Series, Charles Cousins is lucky to welcome Judith McKay, Chief Client and Innovation Officer at leading Canadian law firm, McCarthy Tétrault LLP, to discuss the importance of effective content marketing.

Charles and Judith explore:

  • What the content marketing landscape looks like for professional services firms today
  • To what extent firms are adapting to the changing landscape
  • What firms should be looking to do to enhance their thought leadership and content marketing efforts
  • Real-world examples of effective content marketing at McCarthy and the results
  • The importance of leveraging feedback and data on thought leadership at an account and strategic level
  • Advice for any marketing and BD professionals looking to take a more effective, client-focused approach to their content marketing


Intro: Welcome to the CMO Series podcast.

Charles: In the past few years, the world has experienced an accelerated shift to digital and this has presented new opportunities for professional service marketers.

Consequently, the way content is consumed has also changed and clients increasingly expect more personalised up-to-the-moment content that is delivered when they need it.

To discuss in more detail the importance of effective marketing, we have the pleasure of welcoming Judith McKay, Chief Client and Innovation Officer at leading Canadian law firm, McCarthy Tétrault.

Hi Judith. How are you doing today?

Judith: Hey Charles, I'm doing great.

Charles: Wonderful. Yeah and you're dialling in from Toronto, is it today?

Judith: That's right and it's a beautiful, warm, early spring day in Toronto.

Charles: Fantastic. And the joys of modern technology. I'm obviously recording this from my home in the UK. Now, Judith, you are an engineer and IP lawyer by training and also a very talented artist, as you're just showing me some of your pictures. But to kick things off, would you mind telling us a bit more about how you became the Chief Client and Innovation Officer at McCarthy Tétrault?

Judith: Yes, absolutely, I’d be happy to, Charles. As you said, I did practice briefly as a chemical engineer, then I became an IP Lawyer and I actually practised for a while at McCarthy Tétrault before I went in-house, ultimately working as a General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer for DuPont Canada. I was subsequently transferred to the U.S. to be a GC for a global division of DuPont based in the mid-west.

After a decade as a General Counsel, I wanted to come home to Canada and I also thought I'd like to do something different. I wanted to take all of my varied background, and really help transform an organisation on a bigger scale.

So coming from the client’s shoes as a former corporate executive, I wanted to make sure that I was going somewhere, ideally a law firm, that really gets it. Somewhere that holds the same values as me, is progressive and really understands the client's business from all angles.

So I joined McCarthy Tétrault and the firm has certainly lived up to the promise of putting clients at the forefront of everything we do. At McCarthy, client service is something that we live and breathe every day at all levels from leadership to our professional staff. We're a top-tier firm and our clients rightly expect top-tier service. So how do we do this and keep raising the bar? We're investing our energy in enhancing our client service delivery across the firm. It all boils down to client service and for someone who came from the client's shoes, this is something that is really important to me.

Charles: And do you think that obviously your role as a GC, you know what your clients sort of expect from that client service - does that give you a sort of a unique perspective and it means that you're able to sort of guide McCarthy  Tétrault and what they're doing and saying, “actually, this is what those GCs want because I was in their shoes a few years ago”?

Judith: Yes, absolutely. I think it has been very helpful to the firm in terms of not only my own experience, but I regularly interact with GCs in the market and hear what's working for them, what's not and what we can do better. And also, within the firm of course, we have many champions who seek to understand the client experience and that are like-minded. And then we have the benefit of all kinds of client feedback that we can collect through Chambers or Thomson Reuters market insights or through our own firm net promoter score program that gives the pulse on what clients think about us, how they think about the competition and what we need to do to continuously get better at meeting their needs.

Charles: And a big part of that client service that we hear is keeping your clients up to date. And obviously one of the great ways you can do that is through content and that's the theme of today's podcast. And so in terms of today's market and the post-pandemic world, what does the content marketing landscape look like for professional service firms?

Judith: The pandemic really accelerated the direction that legal content marketing was already going, which is that our clients not only make their decisions on the basis of face-to-face encounters with our lawyers but also through interacting with our content which can build the credibility of our partners in those areas where clients need help, and also build the brand of the firm. And what we noticed during the pandemic, because there was very little or almost no face-to-face contact and people were just adapting to connecting over Teams and Zoom, written content on our website, social media, our blogs, articles and webinars became an extremely important outlet. Looking at the data, the engagement with our website went up orders of magnitude, engagement with our content went up orders of magnitude, we had huge participation in our webinars, and as we noted, there was a similar effect for our competitors too. So we looked at how do we capitalise on that? So we went and talked to a bunch of clients to say,  “How can we better serve you during this unprecedented time?” And they all said, “Look, we're interacting a lot with content, but we’re also inundated with content and we really need it to be easier to digest.”

So we did things like develop a hub where we kept all the Covid-related content, had a weekly newsletter that went out to clients because they said they wanted the information consolidated and we made a number of changes like that. Interestingly post-Covid, we've also been looking at interactions and although it's not at the peak of what it was during Covid, the interaction with our digital content is higher than it was pre-Covid. So there's a change in habits of where people are getting their information and where they're making their buy decisions that Covid accelerated. So because of that, we've continued to double down on our digital content.

Charles: So it seems like there was this shift that was created by the pandemic but that didn't sort of finish when things started to ease off, it sounds like the landscape has changed for good. And so what extent do you think firms, in general, are adjusting to this change in landscape and that shift?

Judith: I can generalise what we're doing as opposed to necessarily knowing what other firms are doing, but certainly what we've observed is a greater focus on content, a greater focus on assembling content and distributing content according to clients’ interests and preferences, so that we can collectively provide a better service to clients and make sure they get what they need to know. Having been a General Counsel, I can tell you that it's a very demanding role. You're an executive, you're also a leader of the team, but you also have to stay ahead of the legal developments to guide your team, but you don't have a lot of time to sit around and read up on all the complexities. And so you are reliant on law firm content to say, ‘here are the things you should be worried about, here's what you should be thinking about.’ A lot of clients tell us that it's really helpful to them if the relationship partner that they work with a lot sends them articles and says, “hey, if you haven't seen this, you should be aware of this and here's how I think it may impact your business. How about we sit down and talk about it?” That is very much appreciated when GCs are trying to cut through the noise of a huge volume of content.

Charles: That actually, I think you answered my next question because I was going to ask what should people be doing to adapt to this landscape and shift, but what you're saying is really these GCs they want to stay ahead of the curve.

So really as law firms, we just need to get what they need in front of them. So maybe that's the sort of general look, have you got any real-life examples of things you've done at McCarthy Tétrault and the results that have come from that? So you talked about collecting lots of data and acting on that. Have you got any other examples of things you did for examples of effective content marketing?

Judith: Yes, absolutely. So one of the things we did,  in response to requests from lawyers within our firm, who were adjusting back to face-to-face interactions with clients, was provide some help on, “How do I stay current so when I meet with a GC or an in-house counsel or a business client, I'm up to speed on the areas they're going to be interested in and direct them to who might be able to help them in the firm if I'm it's not my area of expertise.” So we set up an internal newsletter/database with: 'here are the top developments in law so that your clients should be aware of; here are things going on at the firm that your clients might be interested in; here's some new legislation that might impact them; here are some other developments in the law that could be of interest.' The newsletter has been really well received within the firm. Now when people are having coffees, lunches and dinners  with the client they can quickly look at, ‘here are some things my client needs to know that we can have an informed conversation around.’ So once we did that we thought well, it's not actually very hard to turn this internal program into a newsletter for clients. So we've actually taken it and converted it into a client-facing newsletter as well. And you know, it has headlines and it's every month and it's whatever are the big impactful things from a broad range of areas that affect our clients. It could be everything from supply chain to employment law issues, to contracting issues to an instructive precedent-setting litigation situation. And we have it in headlines and bite-sized information. And if they want a deeper dive, they can click on a full article. And we've seen the readership of the newsletter steadily climb as clients realised what a very readable and digestible source that is of things, not only they need to know, but that they can make sure their executive teams are aware of, and their in-house team.

Charles: That sounds really successful. And I guess that wasn't the external clients facing piece was a sort of product of doing that internal exercise of assisting the lawyers and making sure they're up to date with the new developments and the top developments in their area. So would it be fair to say, a big part of the starting point of that was just making it as easy as possible for your lawyers to stay in the know?

Judith: Exactly. Lawyers in a law firm, it's very analogous to our clients in the sense that everyone has their area of expertise and developments in the law can happen so quickly. Sometimes it's hard to just keep up with what's going on in your own area. But we know clients aren't facing issues in isolation. I always say clients don't have legal issues, they have business issues that happen to have a legal implication for them. And so it's rare that a real issue clients are facing is just one siloed area of law. Usually, it requires a broader solution and so enabling our lawyers to efficiently digest what's going on in other areas of law that affect our clients’ businesses helps them to be able to connect the dots with their colleagues and with the clients to come up with collaborative and sophisticated solutions.

Charles: So we touched on it earlier, this idea of using the data and using feedback and I just wanted to ask how important is leveraging the feedback data on thought leadership at an account level, but also at that strategic level?

Judith: It's increasingly important and as the data that we're able to get gets better, the more important or more valuable it will become. Interestingly today, we can look at an account level and say, “what events are the clients of this account attending? Who's attending? What are they reading? What kind of matters are they working on with us?”

Really understand their needs, then we can look at, “okay what articles are trending that cover an area of law that we think has or will have an impact on their business? Can we share those with them? Can we offer to help them?” So it helps us be proactive in a way that our clients tell us they want us to be. They really appreciate the responsiveness of law firms but they also want us to be proactive and help them ward off issues on the horizon before they happen. And data can really play a strong role in helping us do that.

Charles: Brill. Yes, so you talk about this idea of being proactive and being responsive seeing those issues on the horizon. Can you think of any examples or have you got any examples where that data or client feedback has led to notable changes or pivots in the type of content that the firm has produced all the way that it's distributed?

Judith: So I'll give you an example of  Bill 64 amending Quebec’s privacy act, where knowing this was coming and that that there was intense interest from our clients on how to prepare and how to comply. We worked with our partners to create a plethora of content and information and solutions, so that we could help our clients navigate what is a very complex and evolving area.

Charles: Brill. We've come to that point in the podcast where we like to do a quick fire round. So if you're happy Judith, we're going to fire you a few questions and you've got to give us the first answer that comes to your head.

Judith. Sounds great.

Charles: Okay. Question one. What's your favourite business and non-business book?

Judith: Okay. Well, my favourite business book is the Netflix story: No Rules Rules and non-fiction, I always love the classics. So I would probably go with anything Dickens wrote or Emily Bronte or anyone of that era.

Charles: Okay. And what was your first job?

Judith: My first job was in a cherry factory.

Charles: Okay. I wasn't expecting that. 

Judith: Quality control when I was 15.

Charles: Tasting them, making sure they're all up to scratch?

Judith: Yeah, that's right. Didn’t like cherries for a very long time after that.

Charles: What makes you happy at work?

Judith: The people. I'm very, very fortunate to work with such great people in a very collaborative positive culture.

Charles: That's a lovely answer. And what are you listening to at the moment? This could be a podcast, music, or audiobook.

Judith: Well, I just love Harry Styles. So I probably listen to a lot of pop music.

Charles: I wasn't expecting that, Harry Styles.

Judith: Yes. Well, you know, he draws in so many different genres of music from the 70s and 80s and 90s and I just find that very creative and enjoyable.

Charles: He's just a likeable guy as well, isn't he?

Judith: Yes, he's amazing.

Charles: And where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Judith: My cottage, because it's my happy place.

Charles: Fantastic. And then finally, this is the final question, actually, the quick-fire round is over so you can have a little think about the answer to this and but we like to finish all the podcasts in this way, essentially asking you what would be your one piece of advice for any marketing and BD professionals looking to take a more effective client-focused approach to their content marketing?

Judith:  Ask questions and listen to your clients, and understand what they really want, what works and what doesn't and what's most helpful to them. And either do that directly to clients or through the lawyers at your firm, but really make sure everyone's listening to the clients because that's the whole purpose for doing this. And so if it's not resonating with them, query whether we're putting our energy in the right place.

Charles: That sounds like a very simple and effective way. But I guess sometimes we may forget to do that, but actually yeah, ask the questions, listen to what people are saying and then act on it.

Judith: You know, the best solutions are the simplest.

Charles: I like that. That's a perfect way to end the podcast. Well, Judith, thanks for coming on, and sharing your insights. There's certainly a lot for us to go away and think about. And so once again, thanks for coming on and have a fantastic 2023, I hope it's filled with smiles, success and plenty of Harry Styles.

Judith: Thank you, Charles.


e2e, professional services, marketing, cmoseries