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| 19 minutes read

CMO Series EP93 - Maura Brandt of Crowell & Moring on Fostering a Positive and Successful Culture in Legal Marketing

Each and every law firm has a unique culture and a different way of working together. The culture of a firm can have a direct impact on the success of the marketing and BD approach and how a firm moves forwards.

On this episode of the CMO Series, Alistair Bone has the pleasure of speaking with Maura Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer at Crowell & Moring to get her insights on how to foster a positive and successful culture in legal marketing.

Ali and Maura explore: 

  • Maura’s career highlights and how she came to her current role at Crowell and when she first noticed how important culture was to the success of a firm
  • What makes a good culture in a law firm and more specifically in a legal marketing team
  • Crowell’s recent brand refresh and how culture played a part of the process
  • The specific elements that contribute strongly to the culture at Crowell
  • What a positive, successful culture means for someone in a marketing or BD position in a law firm
  • The role of the CMO in fostering and encouraging a positive culture within the firm
  • Advice for legal marketers looking to make a positive impact on the culture at their firm


Ali: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series where we talk all things marketing and business development. As we know, each and every law firm has a unique culture and a different way of working together and moving forward. Every day here at Passle we see the impact of the firm's culture and how it impacts that success with marketing and the BD approach. For that very reason, it's brilliant today that I have got the wonderful Maura Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer at Crowell & Moring to get her insights on how to foster a positive and successful culture in legal marketing.

Welcome, Maura!

Maura: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

Ali: It's an absolute pleasure to have you on and I'm thrilled that we're able to do this. So, thank you for making the time.

Maura: Absolutely.

Ali: Brilliant. Well, launching into the first question, I would absolutely love to know if you could please just take us through the highlights of your career journey and how you came to your current role. And actually, if we're thinking about today's conversation, you know, were there any sort of specific moments along the way that you noticed how important culture is for the success of a firm.

Maura: Absolutely. I'm happy to take you through some of those highlights. So I'll actually start with the fact that I graduated from the University of Virginia. My daughter just graduated from UVA last May with a degree in political science and initially, I worked in the political and public policy arenas in Washington DC but, within a couple of years I ended up moving to Kansas City actually for reasons linked to my interest in private sector efforts to improve educational opportunities. Once I got there, I learned about this emerging area that really intrigued me: Law for Marketing. Subsequently, I had the great pleasure to learn that my Dad's law firm, Baker Hosteler, had one of the industry's first Marketing Directors, Barbara Harrison Kaye, and once I met her, she became my mentor. My first position was with what is, or what was then, Blackwell Sanders Matheny Weary & Lombardi, now Husch Blackwell, as Practice Development Administrator. And, after two years and a really great experience with that firm, I ended up moving back to DC and became the Practice Development Director, note that ‘marketing’ was not used by many firms back then in their titles, and then the Director of Marketing Strategy for Hogan and Hartson.

I spent 11 years at Hogan and that experience provided me with an early appreciation of how impactful it can be when firm leadership prioritises communication and recognises not only the value but the importance of preserving a great culture. I left Hogan in 2002 to stay at home with my two young daughters who were two and nine months at the time for four years. I was so grateful to have that time with Madison and Hailey.  On the day that Madison started first grade in our local elementary school, I received a call from my dear friend, someone you know well, Norm Rubenstein, asking if I was ready to jump back into Law for Marketing.

As a result of his outreach, I joined Miller & Chevalier as their first CMO that fall. Then, I moved to Troutman Sanders, now Troutman Pepper, where I became their first CMO in 2013 and then I joined Crowell and Moring at the end of 2019. The past three years at Crowell have truly flown, I can't believe it's been more than three years at this point. On the one hand, it was really challenging to have been at the firm for only a few months before COVID moved us all to a work-from-home model, but, on the other hand, it provided me with a unique opportunity to experience the firm's really special culture, highly collaborative client service model, and entrepreneurial business development mindset. In addition, I gained a great appreciation for the firm's community-first philosophy of taking care of our people and giving back to the communities in which we live and work.

Ali: Well, that is a wonderful answer. Thank you very much for taking the time to run through that. I mean, it's always great when the fantastic Norm comes up and amazingly he's had such an impact on so many people. I think he's just wonderful. That sounds really interesting. I think for me, what really comes through there is how lucky you were at Baker Hostetler when they had that first CMO. In many ways, that was a culture shift many years ago to even bring somebody in that position so, I guess that thread just kind of continued on in the other opportunities that you've seen in your career so far.

Maura: Most definitely, most definitely, and Barbara Harrison Kaye was just wonderful. She was there to answer my questions, to just kind of pose as an advisory board but offered to give me really great insights and recommendations. I'd never done this before. My dad was a lawyer and so I had somewhat of a sense of how law firms operate but, had never been a CMO before, and she just was a terrific teacher and really great supporter. So, I was so grateful for her mentoring.

Ali: No, I think that's just brilliant. And then as you also mentioned, the work-from-home element at Crowell and seeing the culture there and the entrepreneurial nature in the community first. There are just so many fantastic threads that we can put on there. But, kind of building on that over your career, you've obviously seen the culture at the highest level across many different firms and we just sort of spoke about that but, what do you think makes a good culture in a law firm and more specifically, how does it impact marketing and business development?

Maura: Absolutely. So, it's interesting Ali, I’ve found that over the past couple of years, the question of culture is something that I'm asked consistently by potential recruits, both lateral attorneys and those who are interested in joining Crowell’s marketing team. I think that culture has become incredibly important and I think that those firms and companies that have a culture that's collaborative, empowering, supportive, and entrepreneurial, which I define as being truly open to new ideas, have a distinct advantage in terms of attracting and retaining talent, but also earning and developing new business. I think that people thrive when they experience a work culture that encourages them to contribute, to innovate, to work, and support others, and to explore new opportunities that offer not only career advancement but career evolution. 

I know that I have always found the most job satisfaction in an environment where I feel that my job title doesn't limit me, but rather puts me in a position to help the firm advance their strategic priorities regardless of the area focus. I believe that people really soar when given an opportunity to contribute in new and different ways. An illustrative example of how Crowell’s collaborative culture contributes to the strength of our business development and client service program is the Coronavirus response team that the firm quickly stood up to reimagine how the firm could help clients through the COVID crisis. This interdisciplinary team led by a group of really terrific leaders put in place a structure that enabled us to tap into the broad experience and knowledge of our attorneys and staff across the firm so that we could, in a very efficient and time-sensitive manner, monitor and advise on the growing number of federal state and local orders in the US, as well as government regulations and orders in international jurisdictions where the firm has offices. The focus was not only on what was immediately in front of our clients, but around the next corner.

Ali: Yeah. 

Maura: What I witnessed was a firm where people just jumped in to help and offer knowledge and ideas to support our clients navigating new, and in many cases, novel situations. And we were able to be nimble and forward-looking and offer our clients the critical expertise and answers they needed to mitigate risk and help them create short-term and long-term response plans and strategies. This type of engagement plays out regularly at Crowell in response to developments, both large and small, impacting our clients. A more recent example from last year actually is the way in which we helped clients navigate the legal business and operational issues associated with the Ukraine crisis and sanctions against Russia. And again, I think these two examples are really telling in terms of the way that our culture just lends itself to really focused teaming and helps us to help our clients and support our clients in a very effective way because we are able to quickly pull that required expertise together to get them the right answers.

Ali:  Yeah. I think those are two very poignant examples, you say the Coronavirus response team, and also Ukraine, and what really struck me there is, I suppose, one of the points you made about how people aren't limited by what their title is and therefore you're able to be nimble and jump into different things. And, I imagine having that kind of culture of collaboration and being entrepreneurial are filtered into those two examples that you gave there because actually, you're not kind of, “I am the CMO and this is what I've got to focus on so I can go and do this and I can do this and this is where we can add value both internally but externally from the sales thing”. So, I really appreciate you sharing those absolutely brilliant examples.

Maura: Absolutely. 

Ali: No, thank you. Thank you. And in terms of, I suppose, narrowing down a little bit more into what you're doing. I know, and we just previously were speaking about it, you've recently had a bit of a refresh of the Crowell brand. You're about to launch your brand new website, which is very exciting. How have you seen culture being a part of this process and what you've been doing at the firm?

Maura: Absolutely, so fun to talk about this. So, I have to say that the research process that identified our brand headline and the selection of our new logo was both enlightening and affirming. We worked with Norm again and Eleni Sems and, after interviewing a cross-section of partners, associates, and professional staff, they remarked that they had never heard such a consistent response when asked about what differentiates and defines a firm. 

In a word at Crowell, it was collaboration. It was the number one answer and it was shared in almost every conversation. Collaboration is truly core to our culture, core to the way we support our clients and help them to achieve their objectives, and core to the way we support our community. Another way of describing our culture is low walls and that's an expression that you hear a lot here at Crowell. You can see how that type of environment lends itself to more teaming, innovative thinking, and solution-oriented answers. And our positioning was also informed by the formal and informal client feedback interviews we conduct. These client insights validated and further amplified what our attorneys and staff told our consultants about the value of our collaborative culture and business model. And when we shared our new brand headline: ‘Collaboration. Power. Success.’ we received great feedback from across the firm because our community felt that it accurately reflected not only what is true about our culture but how our natural inclination to teaming delivers value for our clients.

And just to talk a little bit about the visuals, our fresh new logo, not only communicates collaboration but approachability, which goes back to what I was saying earlier about low walls. When designing the 'C' in our logo, there was great intentionality in the way the opening was structured and actually features a keyhole which translates to unlocking or opening doors to new opportunities.

Ali: Very cool, very cool. I love that and it must be such an amazing moment as well for you, and for other senior leadership, but probably everyone across the firm to know that they’re not only all singing the same hymn sheet by saying collaboration and community are incredibly important to the firm. But actually, when your clients turn around, you know, someone external, and says the same thing, you know that affirmation of what you're doing really chimes through particularly then you can create the slogan of ‘ Collaboration. Power. Success.’ and it all feeds into one. It's just, it must be quite a proud moment in many ways.

Maura: Yes, it was. And it's been really, you know, we rolled that new brand out at the beginning of 2022. As you mentioned, we are working on our new website and hope to unveil that very shortly. But you know, it's an evolving process. But the fact that our brand headline is really authentic to who we are, it reflects in the way we work with one another, the way we work with our clients, the way that we work with lots of other constituencies. It's really great when your brand is so authentic, it makes the implementation so much easier.

Ali: Yeah, definitely, I can imagine so. Actually, in some ways, I suppose you've probably answered it there or a little bit. But, are there any, or are there some specific, things that you feel contribute particularly strongly to the culture at Crowell?

Maura: Absolutely. So, you know, as I've shared, collaboration, communication, and our client-first community-first focus really contribute to our unique culture. And all these ingredients are core to our client service program. In addition, we recognise the importance of reflecting the voice of the client in all dimensions of our continually evolving efforts and initiatives focused on delivering value to our clients.

Just by way of a couple of specific examples. In 2022, we incorporated the voice of the client in a variety of different ways, including, as it became safer to do, we got back on the road and visited our clients. We were grateful for the opportunity to meet with many clients face to face and to engage in conversations focused on topics ranging from their legal and business priorities to supporting their teams with bespoke training, to advancing DEI and partnering on pro bono efforts. We featured conversations with our clients including at our partners' retreats and our diversity retreat, as well as at partner meetings and in practice in industry group discussions. We are so grateful when clients join us to share their valuable insights and guidance. It's really powerful to hear directly from our clients on topics that are important to them. We are also very pleased to be able to return to hosting some of our signature Crowell client-facing programs in person last year including, our annual Oops, Hoops, and GC 101 one seminars, and all those efforts are continuing and expanding in 2023. So again, I think our culture really plays into all of these examples and it's that collaboration but, it's also making sure that the voice of the client is reflected in the work that we are doing and the efforts that we are employing.

Ali: It's really exciting to hear that some of that's going to continue into next year. And I think in many ways, it's quite unique that you have the clients so heavily involved in, I guess, helping shape the firm and that must really help. So with that, what does a positive and supportive culture mean for someone in the marketing or BD position in a law firm, because you started touching on it a little bit there?

Maura: Yeah, absolutely. I think that a supportive culture means that business development, marketing, and communications professionals are encouraged to share their new ideas, they're valued for their experience and the new perspectives that they provide and they're empowered to influence meaningful change every day. The team here at Crowell contributes their expertise, suggests a different way of doing things in the interest of delivering better solutions and service, and they collaborate strategically with colleagues, not just across the department, but across the firm in areas including pricing, legal, project management, innovation, technology, recruiting diversity, and pro bono to enhance the ways in which we support our clients as well as to continue to evolve our business model.

Part of Crowell's mission statement is to dare to experiment, to try out new ideas and to sometimes take the road less travelled. That's really powerful. I'm so impressed by the novel strategies and client service innovations that our team suggests and helps to advance. So again, I think that mission statement is so important. I think it really sets part of the tone here at Crowell and I love that mantra of 'dare to experiment', try new ideas and sometimes take the road less travelled.  It's great. It really kind of lends to a very entrepreneurial culture and one where people are always kind of raising their hands and sharing new approaches and different ways of doing things.

Ali: For me, what comes through the core of everything there is what you said almost at the start, which is to empower meaningful change as an employee of the firm. And I think for anybody, that's all that you want to be able to do, is have some sort of meaningful impact on the surrounding community and the workplace that you're in. So, I think that's just brilliant. Building on that, and you have touched upon a couple so I appreciate if you don't have other ones but, are there any examples you might be able to provide around sort of one or two initiatives or programs that really reflect the benefits of Crowell's culture?

Maura: You bet. So last year, drawing on our interactions with our clients takeaways from both our formal and informal client feedback interviews, and also regular discussions across our practice groups and our client service teams about what our clients truly value, we developed a client service best practices resource. Our objective here was to continue to enhance and innovate the service we deliver and the support we provide to our clients. This initiative was coupled with our focus, which I mentioned earlier, on visiting our clients and engaging in strategic conversations focused on their immediate and longer-term needs. We featured some of the client service and client support case studies at partners' meetings and collaboration was very much front and centre to this initiative because it was powered by innovative ideas, proven strategies, and all the best practices from across our firm contributed by both lawyers and our staff. Client service has many dimensions and it doesn't stand still. It continues to evolve in not only the what but the how and we recognize the importance of continuing to identify new and better ways of delivering true client service excellence and capitalising on our collaborative culture to help our clients pursue their missions.

Ali: Yeah, I appreciate that. Thank you very much for sharing them. It's always nice to hear some really good tangible examples of everything in practice fundamentally. Unfortunately, this brings us round to the end. As sort of tradition holds in the podcast we would love to understand from you what would be your one piece of advice for legal marketers looking to make a positive impact on the culture at their firm.

Maura: Sure, I think that one of the most important roles that CMOs and legal marketers play is that of a dot connector. I think it's so powerful to be able to bring people together who have relevant experience and backgrounds and facilitate the sharing of ideas, intelligence, and insights. “Collaboration. Power. Success.” is our brand headline because it reflects the way we support our clients and our community. As a firm CMO, I benefit from a culture where teaming is second nature. Whether it's strategic brainstorming to develop guidance for our clients in response to a significant new development or decision, assembling a team of Crowell lawyers to contribute their experience and insights to a webinar bespoke training program for our clients, or collaborating with our DEI innovation colleagues to advance important strategic initiatives, I believe that my role is to continue to empower and to support the teaming mindset that is core to Crowell.  

I also think that a CMO should constantly be looking for avenues to highlight the successes and positive impact that collaboration can bring about. I'm fortunate to be at a firm where there are many different platforms for doing that and I work with firm leaders and our marketing and business development professionals to ensure that we are taking full advantage of those opportunities. I think that spotlighting the results and value that lawyers and staff are delivering is a great way to foster a positive culture.

Ali: I love that and that is a very positive note to finish on. So, thank you so much for your wise words Maura. That is just wonderful and just such an interesting discussion so I really appreciate your time.

Maura: Of course. No, delighted to do it.

Ali: I want to go through a little quick-fire round. To start with, what's your favourite business and non-business book?

Maura: You bet. Crowell's brand headline is “Collaboration. Power. Success”. So, I'm sure it will not surprise you that my favourite business book is anything written by Heidi Gardner, including her latest book, ‘Smarter Collaboration’ which is a new approach to breaking down barriers and transforming work. I have been a huge fan of hers for many, many years and I think the research that she continues to do on the value and impact of collaboration is so important and so valuable. 

Non-business book. So, I tried to carve out time to go on a walk a couple of times a week, and lately on my walks I've been listening, or re-listening, to ‘Boys In The Boat’. I read that years ago and really loved it and found that I wanted to return to it again, so that's what I've been listening to on my walks.

Ali: How lovely. Actually a recommendation for you is that there is a fantastic book called ‘Powerful. Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility’ that was written by a lady called Patty McCord who basically defines the Netflix culture as a business. It's a short read but it's a really, really interesting one so maybe one you want to add to either your audiobooks or a little quick one for your flight over.

Maura: Oh, thank you so much for that great recommendation. I love to get recommendations like that.

Ali: Perfect. I will share a link for it. Second question, what was your first job?

Maura: When I first got out of school, I worked for a think tank and I was fortunate enough to have a boss who was an incredibly smart economist who taught me so much and opened my eyes to new and different ways to solve big problems. I was really grateful for the opportunities that he provided and the ways in which he encouraged me to prioritise continuous learning. That's a lesson that stayed with me and is one of the reasons I really enjoy what I do today because I'm constantly being presented with opportunities to acquire new knowledge. It was really a great first job at a school.

Ali: Oh, very interesting. What makes you happy at work?

Maura: It’s laughing with my colleagues. You know, what we do is really important but, it doesn't mean that you have to be serious all the time. I think laughter is a great stress reliever and a way to open a conversation. Meetings that begin with a little bit of laughter I think have a different vibe from those that get right into the serious substance. Our chairman, Phillip Inglima has a wonderful sense of humour and he often uses it to put people at ease. Crowell’s mascot I should mention is a rubber duck. There's a special story about its significance to our firm but suffice to say we recognise that there's value in a fun workplace.

Ali: That's brilliant. What are you listening to at the moment as well please?

Maura: So, I think like so many I love podcasts. I think I'm a podcast junkie. I’m always kind of looking for new recommendations on podcasts but, three that I love: ‘The Oath’ by Chuck Rosenberg, ‘The Splendid Table’ and ‘The Wall Street Journal’ podcast.

Ali: Fantastic. Finally, where is your favourite place to visit and why?

Maura: Ok. Sure. So actually I'm going to give you two answers. My first has to be Kiawah, South Carolina. My husband first introduced this magical place to me way back when and we've been going back for more than 20 years at this point. Our entire family really treasures the time we spend there every year. He's a golfer but the girls and I love it for the beaches. They’ve got really beautiful long flat beaches. We love to bike and we just really enjoy spending quality time reading a good book and enjoying a good meal in these gorgeous surroundings in Kiawah.

But I also have to put in a plug-in for Europe. Over the last few years as a family we visited a number of different countries and now my daughter Hailey is actually studying in Rome this semester. We all really love the history, the beauty, the architecture, the food, and the wine. And we as a family have really treasured the opportunity to discover and experience these countries together and are looking forward to visiting Hailey at the end of her term in May. That's a trip we've been planning and really excited about.

Ali: Oh, wonderful. That is just brilliant. Thank you so much for all that.

Maura: Yeah. No, absolutely. This has been so much fun.


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