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| 21 minutes read

CMO Series EP113 - Will Brewster of Clyde & Co on The Journey Of A Law Firm Merger Through a Communications Lens

The pivotal role of marketing and communications in successfully launching the news of a law firm merger cannot be underestimated. Striking the right balance between client-centric narratives, internal messaging, brand management, and PR is a fine art.

Today on the CMO Series, Will Eke is excited to welcome Will Brewster, Head of Communications at Clyde & Co, who has first-hand experience doing just that. Will joins the CMO Series Podcast to delve into the different stages of Clyde & Co’s merger with BLM from a communications perspective, and discuss the challenges, opportunities, and learning for others endeavoring to do the same. 

The conversation explores: 

  • The point Will was brought into the merger with BLM and the first stage of the process from a communications perspective
  • The main challenges during the initial phase 
  • The key factors for success ahead of launching the communications campaign and how they played out in practice
  • How to keep the clients at the heart of the campaign
  • The impact of the merger on the team
  • Advice for any marketing and communications leaders navigating a merger


Will E: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Passle CMO Series podcast. My name's Will Eke. You've heard my dulcet tones a number of times and today I am very excited to welcome… I've been trying to get him on for quite a while, but he's had a few things on his plate. Will Brewster who's Head of Communications at Clyde & Co.

We are going to be talking about the journey of law firm mergers and how that sort of looks through a communications lens both internally and externally, no disguise at the moment that A&O was doing something with Shearman and Sterling - shock horror. But really, it's getting that sort of balance right between the client-centric narratives, the internal messaging, there's brand management in there. It's a real fine art and I am really excited for Will to sort of give us his experiences on that. Welcome, Will!

Will B: Thanks, Will. Nice to be here and thank you for the introduction.

Will E: No problem onto the business stuff. We're gonna get straight into the merger really. I've written down it took place in July 2022 but I suppose there were a whole bunch of things that happened before that, which leads to the first question at what point were you sort of brought into the whole merger piece with BLM? And can you tell us, what you know about that first stage and what the process from a comms perspective looked like?

Will B: Yeah, and this is really important. I was brought in fairly early, as soon as the discussions got crystallized, that is really important and to do comms well, you need to be in the room, you need to be understanding what's going on and what the drivers of anything are. So advice to any comms person is to get yourself in the room, basically, you know, these conversations obviously go on in various guises over a long period and it's really at that point where it starts to become possible and even probable that you have to start kicking in with planning. And so everyone realised there was a high probability or chance of a leak. And even if there wasn't a leak that we'd need to go to the market fairly quickly with news of the proposal for the sake of our clients really, if nothing else, because we didn't want any suggestion of, you know, any rumor to distract from the client work they were relying on us to do. So there was a lot of preparation and a lot of agreeing of messaging and agreeing of the narrative that lay behind the merger. In all honesty in this one, it really wasn't that difficult because the merger made so much sense. And so we were really quite quickly able to agree on lines to take on why we were doing this and what the benefits would be for the firm, for people within it, and the clients. And that's not to say that there weren't challenges or knotty issues there. But actually, it's ultimately, you know, if it's a good deal, it's a good deal and you can communicate it as that, it'd be a lot harder if it was a sort of an odd fit to try and make that make sense to the market. But we were, you know, I was lucky that, that it made sense. The other thing I think that was really pleasing was the attitude of everybody, everybody came into it with a really open attitude and really wanted to work together to make it work and there weren't blockers and there weren't people trying to sort of make life difficult. And that was really important. And so I think that was key to the success. It was a really, you know, a willingness to make it work and to work through any issues with positivity at an early stage.

Will E: You make it sound plain sailing, Will. Everyone's going to take on a merger now. But I suppose your point there is that, you know, the due diligence was done and it was a good fit. I think sometimes we do see in the market, you know, are these mergers taking place the right fit and obviously proof in the pudding; you're reporting now that, you know, there's a 22% increase in revenue, which it sounds like in the first instance, it's worked, you make it sound easy, but there was a lot to manage on this if we're being honest. So what were the main challenges that you found?

Will B: Yeah, I mean, you're right, there was a lot to work through and I think you sort of start to forget that. We had to get a lot of things ready before news got out into the market. And we were largely able to do that and we then had to really move at speed to communicate to the various parties. So we had various groups to talk to. We had our partnership with both firms which were required to vote the merger through. So there was a sort of almost an election campaign where we provided a lot of detail to the partnerships and had a lot of conversations. So there was a lot of work to be done there. We had to speak to uh all of our colleagues across the firm, the two firms and that's where, you know, there was probably most sensitivity because people weren't sure what it might mean. And like any change like this, you know, there are going to be changes, there's going to be sensitive issues to talk through so we can't, we couldn't go out and just say, don't worry, everyone, everything's gonna be fine. So there was a lot of a need for sensitivity and having to work very closely with HR teams and operations teams on that. And then we had to create client materials as well. So we worked hard with our marketing team on a prospectus for clients to make sure that they were brought in early. So I think the key to making that work was to rely on colleagues and to pull colleagues in and have a clear structure, but often with these things because they're such a big deal, it really energizes people and you get the very best out of people and that did happen in this case. And again, I'm not suggesting it was easy but where there's a big project, you know, it's clear what everyone needs to do and that everyone needs to dedicate some time to it. I suppose the challenge is making sure the day job doesn't suffer and probably being pretty open about what might need to stand by while we focus on this and what actually can't carry on and being realistic about that. We kept going with most day-to-day things, but there were probably some things we did have to hit the pause button on and I think it's probably better to be honest about that early on and accept that you can't do everything. But ultimately, the teamwork made it happen. Thankfully, in this case, the teams at the two firms got on well and managed to create a really good relationship early on. And that would be kind of a piece of advice I would give to people his work on that relationship. 

Will E: And I suppose, well, I was gonna ask, you know, that there's a cultural difference, isn't there there as well? So it sounds like that that was very quickly overcome in terms of that teamwork.

Will B: Yeah, I think for anyone listening who works in PR in law firms and I'm sure it's the same in other areas of marketing and business development, you meet a fellow PR person at a law firm you tend to get on pretty well. We tend not to see each other as rivals really. There's a lot more that unites us than divides us. And there's a lot we can do to help each other do our jobs to the best of our abilities actually, by sharing knowledge, sharing experiences. So actually as soon as soon as we started talking to the guys at BLM, you know, that attitude shone through that shift. They had the benefit of knowing them pretty well in advance. So that works really well. But yeah, work on that relationship, and like in all business relationships, you've got to kind of earn that trust. And you've got to be open and I think it pays to show that early and to work on that early so that there is no doubt that we're doing all doing this for the right reasons.

Will E: Great bit of advice. Did you have sort of, you must have had key factors or goals in terms of, you know, the Comms campaign, what does, what did success look like? And how did that play out for you guys?

Will B: Yeah, we needed to do a couple of things, and some of them sort of supported each other and some of them were stand-alone. We wanted to take everyone with us on that, the merger, so everyone could see the benefits of it. We appreciated it wasn't going to be easy for everyone and there was gonna be a period of uncertainty and change and we're still in that situation, we're a year in year in a bit in and, you know, there's still change and issues to work through, particularly around, you know, technology integration and moving off old systems and things like that. So we were really focused on that sort of “In it together” messaging and that's all staff but also partnerships and the clients as well. We wanted to... quite early on, we realised that actually, we had a really good opportunity to relaunch and kind of reestablish our Casualty Insurance practice in the market by virtue of the merger. So using the go-live date is not a chance to congratulate ourselves and talk about the benefits to both firms, but actually start to talk immediately about how the combined entity is benefiting our clients and what our new offerings or our strengthened offerings can do. So we worked hard to create marketing materials, social media videos, and other assets that would get that across and also look to the future; what does the combined entity mean for the future and what clients can expect from us? So more investment in technology, a bigger data set, and a chance to build real scale in the market, which is what our clients are looking for. I think the other bit was a realization that because we were going to spend so much energy in the initial stages, we needed to make sure we knew what was coming next. And so we worked hard on an integration plan from day one. We didn't have every detail for a whole year, but we had mapped out what a year might look like. And again, it was a good discipline to do that. So that once we got over the line with the announcement, we didn't kind of think what next, you know, we needed to pause, take a breath. But actually, we then got into a really important period of communications for clients, the market, but also internally, especially around all the change. And it was useful to be ready for that and we had the time to get ready for that next stage because that's entirely different and almost when it becomes, you know, there's a little anti-climax there. So I think knowing broadly what you want to do in that next stage is useful and we did have that in mind from day one. 

Will E: It's interesting. Well, I suppose it has to be clients are at the heart of everything that you do. It must be interesting to have your existing client base, keep them if you like happy with the news, and then you've got this sort of newer client base coming in as well. I know it was a good fit, but as you say, the Casualty Insurance practice sort of swelled quite considerably and I imagine that the clients were slightly different. How did you identify, you know, the sort of content that you needed to push out to them and the channels that were relevant? And have you got any sort of examples of how you did that?

Will B: It's a good question. I think the key to all of this was actually talking to clients all the way through the process. And so they didn't, you know, they didn't foist it upon clients and they've been talking to them about uh what they were looking for and what the potential benefits of the merger might be. And so I think actually our marketing was based on that insight that our clients were looking in this space, particularly for greater use of technology.  They wanted to work with fewer and bigger suppliers which is reflected in the panels, they're now settling on. Previously some of our clients in the space might have, you know,8 to 10 law firms on their panel, they're now going down to about three. And so this merger was clearly a response to that. And we wanted to respond to that desire for scale and a one-stop shop. So our marketing was really focused on that. What does it mean? What does our scale mean for them and then presenting our experts to that market? So we did, in really practical terms, Will, what it meant was interviews, we did interviews with sort of the co-heads of each practice. So, our Fraud Head, Clyde & Co, and our Fraud Head at BLM, together on screen as Clyde and Co talking about issues clients face and how we can help them. And we did that on day one. So I think that was a, you know, fairly simple, but a really nice way to show that we're now together and we're now one firm and we're operating together and try to move away as quickly as possible from a sense that you've got legacy BLM people, legacy Clyde & Co people operating in separate teams, bringing them together as quickly as possible clients then see the benefit of that. And then I think it's helpful for the people involved that we're not sitting in our old silos and that's coming together in a new entity.

Will E: Good stuff. And you mentioned, you know, specifically the teams coming together and that idea of teamwork and engaging as early as possible. finding the synergies between the teams. Was there another impact on the team after it happened after the launch, were there sort of new opportunities or any other challenges that sort of cropped up that you saw?

Will B: Yeah. So in terms of sort of the comms, marketing, business development team, I think there was a really good opportunity to learn from what the other firms are doing. So, learning from each other I think we sought to take the best of the best of both if you will. That's not a cliche. It certainly comes from the Clyde & Co side of the deal. There was a lot that BLM was doing really well, marketing-wise. So they've got that good public policy program going on around a commentary program and also around the abuse and neglect work that both firms do. But BLM has a very high profile in that and created some really good content. I would then give Passle a plug. You know, I think we were able to bring Passle to the table and that's something that has taken off. You didn't pay me to say this, but it has taken off because it's seen as a plug that helps BLM comment in the way that they were commenting. So I think we were able to bring some platforms and some ways of working that we've integrated. But there are also some things, many things actually, that the legacy BLM business was doing really well that we've taken on. But I think actually what it, as I was saying earlier, what it allowed us to do is almost rethink how do we market ourselves in this space as a combined identity. And that was important too that we didn't just think let's keep doing what we're doing. But more in terms of opportunity, I think it's been a really good opportunity just to welcome a lot of new colleagues in our marketing and coms team in one go and actually have that scale and that heft, it's been really useful and it's probably given us a chance to rethink how we structure a team to market and do business development for this very large portion of our business, most of which is based out of Manchester, the biggest part of which is based out of Manchester. So we've now got a fully stocked team in Manchester working closely with our business, which is great.

Will E: The beer is on its way. Will, for that.

Will B: No problem, or another octopus.

Will E: Yeah another octopus on the way in the post. You’ve given loads of valuable advice already. But the final question I was gonna ask, you know, you already said, get yourself in the room. I was going to ask you about, you know if you were pressed on it, what would your one piece of advice be for any sort of marketing and comms leaders that are, or they might have to navigate a merger down the road?

Will B: Yeah, I think, I mean, I've already talked about the relationship bit so that, that wouldn't, you know, that's key. But if this is one piece of advice, I think, actually really having that discipline to nail down a narrative and a sort of campaign slogan. And that sounds a bit trite actually. But it did really help us to create that overarching narrative that helps us define what, you know, why it just explains why we were doing this and that actually worked across the market. So we had quite a tight messaging structure that we were able to use throughout the coms. And it's not to say we just rolled it out, you know, verbatim every time we were asked something. But actually, it gave us, gave everybody a really good structure. And what you realize is so many people are going to have to communicate this message that you need to give them a tool. So I think it's very easy just to get on and do the communications and we keep rolling and it's in everyone's heads and you know, there's so much to do, you just keep plowing away, but actually to step back and to give a presentation on what it is we're trying to achieve and how we're going to talk about it. That is very good discipline. And we did come up with a, you know, a slogan which has helped to sort of unify everything. It's not super original, it's “Stronger as one”, but it did help. I think, keeps people focused and keeps people on message. So that would be my piece of advice.

Will E: Great stuff. And yeah, as you say, I mean, I suppose you got the whole firm that has to use that rhetoric. So you've got the as well when they're speaking to clients if they can remember. 

Will B: Absolutely right. Yeah. Absolutely right. You know, lots of our clients have spoken to you throughout the process, but there were others to which this was new and that's absolutely… you're relying on 80-odd partners going out and talking to clients. So we've got to give them some help and guidance and that and it's well worth that investment of time to get that right, as early as possible.

Will E: Wanted to, you know, ask you a few questions in terms of outside of the law space. So what's your favourite book at the moment? Business and nonbusiness.

Will B: Yeah. Good question.  I don't know if anyone has one at the top of their minds. But if I'm thinking business book, actually, I read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People really early on in my career. And it sounds like it's all about, you know, wealth and riches and becoming a millionaire. And it's really not, actually, I found it a really useful guide and some really useful principles on which to help manage time and help manage a career. So that's my favourite business book and that it's a bit of a classic, so it’s a Stephen Covey book and it has something of a following. So I'd recommend that highly to anybody. Nonbusiness. Actually, I don't read a lot of fiction, so I'm not great at fiction, but I'd say, Sapiens, the book by Yuval Noah Harari, was one of those books I read and it sort of left an imprint on me. It's a really interesting history of humankind and our development, that's a brilliant book. So I'd recommend that to anyone.

Will E: Thank you very much. I haven't read either of those. So I always make a note. What was your first job?

Will B: First job? Yeah, I mean, I did various bits and pieces like most people do, working in, restaurants and waiting and things like that. But I think my first proper job outside of Uni actually was a really odd one. And was great fun. So a friend of mine is an entrepreneur, a classic entrepreneur and he rented out DVD players on the Great Western train line at Paddington to Devon and Cornwall. And he got a deal with the operator to trial this out. And thinking back this was the early 2000s and people didn't have devices they could watch films. And now it seems bizarre, but I was one of his salesmen. So he roped me in to help him, walked down the train as it left Paddington, and tried and rent out these little mini DVD players along with a range of DVDs. So we'd walk along with our packs and a huge bag and get people up and running it. It kind of worked, it was kind of popular, but I don't think it made any money. And then quite quickly the price of these DVD players plummeted and people started to have their own ones. And then things like I think the iPad arrived a couple of years later. So it wasn't ultimately his route to millions. But he went on to do bigger and better things and we had a lot of fun and it was great to sort of get stuck in and do something, hands-on and talking to lots of people and helping him start that business. So that was my first job actually. And there's no relation to my current job, but it was great fun.

Will E: I would have been a prime customer on that endlessly combined with Love Film at the time. Do you remember when you could get those DVDs that you used to subscribe to?

Will B:  It was that sort of period when we were getting used to being able to watch, starting to think about, you know, we could watch more than we were used to. But whilst it was still a physical DVD and somewhat restricted. But it is amazing actually thinking back, you know, 20 years ago now, but thinking how quickly things have changed, and how we now have at our fingertips, everything we want to watch. But that's, I'm not an entrepreneur. But that's what entrepreneurs do, right? They spot things and have to give it a go and if it doesn't work they're gonna do something else. And I think he's working in a flexible office space at the moment. So that's I think slightly more lucrative for him.

Will E: That'll be working pretty well. Probably not linked to that. But what makes you happy at work?

Will B: Yeah. I think I'm happiest when I'm chatting either with my team or with others and chatting through issues seeking solutions. I really miss that when we weren't in the office. And I do like the office and the office environment. And PR, certainly PR, which is sort of my, you know, the bedrock of my career, PR requires you to talk through issues, talk about current affairs, come up with ideas. And so there's that element of creativity that, that really makes me happy, coming up with solutions to things and being able to chew the fat and often what we do in pr could be quite, could be quite fun or, or at least funny. You know, not all the time, but we do get to deal with some things that do make you kind of think. Oh, my goodness. And that is fun for me. And it's the people who are good and do require, us to be in the office more often than not good stuff.

Will E: And then what are you listening to at the moment or are you, are you still using an old DVD player from years ago?

Will B: Yeah. No, no, got all the, got all the subscriptions. So, unfortunately. I say unfortunately, I realised a year or so ago that I wasn't gonna be able to listen to my own music anymore in the car because my son was getting into listening to his favourite nursery rhymes. He's four. So whenever I turn on music it's replaced by Peppa Pig, Bluey, various soundtracks, Paw Patrol music, and stories. So that's kind of killed the music side of things. But in terms of podcasts, actually, there are a few I listen to and I love listening to current affairs podcasts and sports, mostly football-related podcasts to kind of relax and indulge in my passions. But a good one, actually, that's probably for personal and professional use, is called The Good Fellows and it is a Hoover Institution podcast. And they talk at a fairly intellectual level, but not too intellectual level about geopolitics, economics, and culture and look ahead at what's happening and what's likely to happen and change and it's very informed. I really like that and again, it does help me with work. So it's a useful one. So that's The Good Fellows and it is Good Fellows, not Goodfellas. And that's on purpose.

Will E: Sounds like it covers similar topics to Peppa Pig and Paw Patrol. 

Will B:  It’s a good mix, it's a heady mix.

Will E: Talking about travel now. Where is your favourite place to visit and why with the summer holidays coming up? 

Will B:  Yeah, I love going abroad, but actually I think my favourite place is the south coast of Devon where I spent a lot of time and spent a lot of time as a kid on family holidays and have since taken my family. I think actually when the weather's good, there's sort of almost, there's probably no better place to be because it can be hot, sunny, there's lovely beaches. The water is lovely. And when the weather is not good, which is often it's still very beautiful. There's lots to do and it's kind of bracing and energising. So I think if I couldn't go anywhere else in the world and as long as I could go to South Devon, I'd be happy, I'd miss going abroad. But I think that is, I have to say that is my favourite place in the world.

Will E: Fascinating stuff. Will, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on and worth the wait. It's been, yeah, really, really insightful. So, thank you very much.

Will B: Thank you guys. A pleasure to do it. Thank you.


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