This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
hero image of people sitting with documents near table


| 16 minutes read

CMO Series EP138 - Vicky Hanks of Blake Morgan on Building an Effective Employee Brand


From employee engagement to recruitment and retention, there are many benefits to building a successful employee brand. 

On this week’s episode of the CMO Series, Vicky Hanks, Head of Marketing at Blake Morgan joins Will Eke to share the key projects she’s delivered to enhance the employee brand across the firm and the importance of effective internal communications.

 Vicky and Will discuss:

  • The moment in Vicky’s career journey she realized the importance of effective internal communications and employee branding
  • How the employee brand has evolved at Blake Morgan and the key drivers for those changes
  • The key projects that have helped build employee engagement
  • Aligning the internal brand with the external brand and the challenges in doing that
  • What success looks like and how the employee brand can support the external marketing and BD efforts
  • Advice for others looking to build their employee brand through effective internal communications

Will: Welcome to the Passle CMO Series Podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development. My name is Will Eke and today we're gonna be talking about building an effective employee brand from an employee engagement all the way through to recruitment and retention. There are many benefits to building a dynamic and effective employee brand. Harnessing internal communications is a key factor in successfully embedding it into a law firm's culture.I’m really lucky today to welcome Vicky Hanks who heads up marketing at Blake Morgan and she's gonna share some of the key projects that they've delivered, her and her team have delivered to enhance the employee brand across the firm and the importance of effective internal communications. How are we doing today, Vicky? Welcome to the podcast.

Vicky: Very well, Will, thanks for inviting me, really pleased to be here.

Will: Good stuff. We're gonna be covering a number of topics today. We are just to sort of go back to it, we gonna talk about how to build an effective employee brand. And really we sort of set the scene with you, Vicky. Was there a key moment in your career journey when you realized the importance of effective internal communications and an employee brand?

Vicky: I wouldn't say there was like a light bulb sort of moment. But you know, my background, I started off my career working on new product launches in financial services and obviously internal communications are a really important part of any product launch. Because your front-line colleagues need to be able to understand what the product is in order to explain and sell it to customers. One of the early projects I worked on was withdrawing an existing financial services product and that was really it was market-leading at the time and the product was no longer good value. But the internal communications piece for that was vital because obviously, it's quite a big change and it was essential that the our colleagues could understand that it was a positive move made in the interest of their customers. So there was a real focus on internal communications as part of that project and we had a whole load of stuff, flow charts FAQs, kinds of communications. It was quite intense. But in that way, it was quite, it was a really great learning experience. So I say that's kind of when I first got involved in internal communications, I mean, I think in terms of employer branding, internal communications is something that everybody sees from the moment they join the company often before and your colleagues will judge you on what you say and how you communicate with them throughout their journey with the firm. So there's really nowhere to hide. And in a large business, your internal communications are your main point of contact with the leadership team. So even though sometimes internal communications are seen as secondary to external communications, they are crucial to the success of a business, you know, they have an impact as you say on recruitment, retention, performance and culture. So you really mustn't overlook them.

Will: Yeah. And I suppose that your point there on recruitment and the first port of call that candidates might have, you know, that's so important, isn't it? Cos they're already trying to have a little peek into what the culture is about, you know, what it stands to work for the firm. How has the employee branding part evolved by your current firm Blake Morgan since you joined? And what do you think were the key drivers for those changes?

Vicky: So I joined Blake Morgan the day that they sent everybody home. So at the beginning of the pandemic, so it was a really scary and unsettling time with like literally overnight change. And so my first job on my very first day was to work on the communications to let our colleagues know that they needed to work from home and what that meant for them. So obviously, the initial fo focus of the communications was kind of around the practicalities, you know, sort of, and a lot of teams across the business, for example, risk and compliance and HR were closely involved with that. But another important element of the communications was the reassurance piece, making sure that colleagues and, you know, understood what they needed to do. They felt reassured that we were going to have their interests at heart and also to demonstrate our leadership. And I'd say that since 2020 the firm has made improving the impact and reach of its internal communications are a really key priority, especially as now we're all working in a hybrid manner. You know, we've lost some of that organic communication you get when people are working together in the office every day. So really the tone and clarity of internal communications is in the spotlight. And we introduced some new types of communications to kind of fill some of the gaps that were left by people, not having that day-to-day communication with their team and with the management actually within the firm. So we introduced regular email communications from our managing partner and online Q&A webinars, so that we could kind of give people the chance to hear from the senior leadership team and also to ask questions and you know, at the time of the pandemic, people had a lot of questions and it was great to give them an opportunity to hear the answers to those. We kept off of those communications in one format or another and adapted them over time. But I think that probably was the moment when communications for the internal audience really became recognized as being of great importance.

Will: That sounds like a real baptism of fire then that was your first day, first internal project, which is something that a lot of firms had to grapple with and get that nailed, I suppose very, very quickly. I think when we spoke previously about this whole topic, I did say, you know, this is a key project on quite a few marketeers lips at the moment. Just how you go about doing it? We talked about one of the big things that you've helped to implement and the team's done is an employee intranet. Can you talk us through, you know, how that came about how that sort of helped build the employee engagement as well?

Vicky: Yeah. So, we realized that our existing intranet was no longer going to really be up to scratch for what we needed it for, especially once people were moving to a hybrid working model. The existing intranet was a bit dated and visually not that appealing. The navigation was quite tricky. So people were wasting time trying to find what they were looking for on a day-to-day basis. And it was really hard to keep on top of the content that was there, which meant that there was some out-of-date content which uses referencing and obviously we don't want that. And then that result really of the intranet not really quite being where we wanted to be was that people were accessing it infrequently. And that meant that our messages, our internal communications weren't getting across to the audience via the hub in the way we wanted them to. So we decided that we needed a new intranet. And our key thought was that we needed an intranet, which people would want to engage with. So while I think internal communications are really essential as a, you know, so somebody working in the firm, it's something you happen across rather than something that you actively go to seek out. Most of the time people are really busy, they're got their heads down in their day-to-day jobs. We kind of make want them to happen across the communications in doing their everyday work. So, we felt that by having an intranet that was really a one-stop shop, you know, that was easy to use that made their lives easier that they could go to for all the information they needed. That would mean they would want to visit the intranet and when they were there, hopefully they would happen across some of our internal communications and engage with them. So, that was really our starting point. So before we kicked off the project to build the intranet, we thought we wanted to find out exactly what people needed and wanted so that we can make sure we hit that objective. So we did an internal communication survey back in 2021. And you know, as part of the procurement process, we met with a range of suppliers who showed us various sites that they'd worked on. And so we got a bit of an idea of what looks good, what looked like it would be right for our audience. And we also got input from some key stakeholders across the business and we set up a focus group so that we could have representation, not just from senior management, but from people doing day-to-day jobs of different roles, different teams, different locations across the business. So when we came to do the build we used the results from the internal communications survey to help us shape the site structure so that we can make sure that the structure and the features we included met our colleagues desired functionality. So some of the features we looked to include were improved search. That was one of the really key things people said it's hard to find the information on the existing intranet. So we worked really hard on keeping the navigation simple as simple as we could. But also making sure that the platform we had had a really good search function. We also have a new searchable people directory because when people are working on a project and they want perhaps to find somebody with a particular area of legal expertise that wasn't something you could easily do within the firm before the new intranet. So the new people directory, we uploaded everybody's legal expertise into it. So that from day one, it could get going and using that, they could start finding people when they needed to think of who can I pass this query on to or who can help me with this enquiry that I've got. And we also have an interactive organization chart. That's really important because it helps people orientate themselves in the business. They can understand who sits within which team and find that out fairly easily. And the other thing that we delivered that we were really keen on was some personalized content because people told us they did want to see content based on that was relevant for them. So we've set it up so that people are filtered and given information on news for their office location. And on top of that, they can select which topics they'd like to see news about. So they really get content presented to them that's relevant to their interests. So it was, yes, obviously we went through the whole build project which is quite comprehensive and lengthy. And then when we got to the launch we had a communications campaign as you'd expect around the launch. And the aim of that was really to kind of generate awareness and excitement about the new product and to minimize barriers to adoption by giving them the giving all our colleagues the information they need in the way that they wanted to receive it. So we had a whole range of communications from video to really detailed how to guys and really high level a few points you need to know handouts so that people your time-poor people who only want to skim it could find what they needed in a few seconds, those that want to know everything and have all the detail had that available to them. Some people are better with kind of visual learning or so it was really about trying to tailor the communications that we produced so that the different learning styles and personas around the firm got out of it what they needed. And we really wanted to come away from that launch with people feeling positive about the new intranet. So we kind of focused a lot on the new features and the functionality that was available so that people would think not just this is a nice new prettier looking intranet, but actually, oh, this is gonna make my life easier. I'm gonna use this more.

Will: Sounds like a huge undertaking. I imagine it's a Godsend for new starters as well. Coming in, they've got everything they need all it all in one place. So sounds like a very, successful project. Probably the next question is a bit harder to answer. How do you align that internal brand with the external brand? And did you pick out any of the main challenges, or could you pick out any of the main challenges for us?

Vicky: Yeah. So in terms of branding, like the look and feel.  So we did align our site theme with the branding we use on our external marketing material. We wanted a modern fresh feel and it made sense to have it looking all part of the Blake Morgan family. We also developed a new logo which has got a little element of a chain in it to just represent the fact that the intranet is serving as a link between colleagues. We still have some work to do really to ensure that our external brand is consistent, but we're making progress with that. Yeah, so there are some challenges in making sure that the branding is aligned across the piece. But I think it's important in terms of messaging that we try and get across some of the key things about the work that we do in terms of CSR and all our social value work. We do a lot of Blake Morgan. We don't talk about it as much as we'd like to. So that's key for us is to try and make sure that we get that information out in the public domain so that clients and contacts know about it. But also says that internally so that our colleagues understand all the great stuff we're doing and feel really proud to work at Blake Morgan.

Will: When you are delivering these sort of projects, you know, the intranet and I'm sure there's others that you've done or are on the horizon. How do you gauge success in terms of the results and what makes a successful project? I know some of it must be anecdotal. But are there other sort of metrics that you can use?

Vicky: Yeah. So we did have really good anecdotal feedback from our colleagues across the firm after the intranet launch and that was great and we also saw high adoption rates and fairly low volumes of queries. So it looks promising. But we did want to get some more data on that. So, we repeated our internal communications survey last year in September. So we could assess how we'd done against our objectives and we did have some really positive results. People found it much, much easier to navigate and find the information. So it was something ridiculous like five times easier. And they also told us that, you know, it was much easier that the information they needed was usually on the hub, which wasn't the case before. So, we had a significant increase there as well. And I was pleased that they felt that the content was relevant and interesting. We saw, saw a jump in that metric too and importantly, we saw an uplift in the number of people who are visiting the intranet at least weekly. Lot of them are visiting daily. But so we've got now 94% of our colleagues visiting at least weekly, which is really positive.

Will: Yeah, and it's great that you've got some hard and fast stats to feedback to the business because as everyone knows, you know, even the intranet these days is, is not a low-cost project. How do internal communications support or how do they align with external marketing and business development efforts? And, and do you think there have been any sort of knock-on effects or bonus results from those?

Vicky: So, yeah. So I think as you mentioned, internal communications are really important for helping new colleagues find their way about the firm when they first join. And we've had feedback from new joiners that they find the fact that the layout's fairly intuitive and that it's a comprehensive and easy-to-use source of information. And they also said it's useful to be able to see reporting lines so that they can kind of work out who's who within the business. So that's really good. In terms of BD efforts and external marketing, by getting people more engaged with our internal communications, we can build awareness of our business development activity. So for example, we share events that we're holding where there's an opportunity for colleagues to invite their clients or to go along themselves and network on the hub. And we also share write-ups of successful events so that we can get a bit of buzz going about all the activity we're doing. We also worked really hard to try and get as many articles and information about business wins on the hub as we can because it means that we can generate some pride in the work that we're doing and share the range of services that we offer and hopefully make people feel that, you know, sort of Blake Morgan's got a lot to offer and they're able to communicate that when they're talking to their clients. So alongside the CSR type comms, where we want people to know about all the additional work that we're doing, that makes us a firm that's embedded in our community, not just about clients and is really key. You know, it is the employee-facing shopfront, our intranet. So although as you said, you know, not necessarily cheap to run in terms of return on investment. So it's not just the time saving that we're getting but hopefully additional benefits from staff retention, increasing in increases in cost selling and reducing queries that would otherwise go elsewhere. So if you tot all those up, we should get a really healthy return on investment and hopefully increase people's pride in the firm that they work for. 

Will: There's a big bit of research that Harvard did recently around. What makes a Rainmaker, you know, what successful partners look like at professional service firms and actually, what you're talking about there in terms of that internal comms piece the collaboration part, events and proactive business development and sharing the lots of those attributes are, they call it an ‘Activator’ profile, but they are the most successful rainmaker and it sounds like you're sort of facilitating that with that whole piece, which is really interesting. We're nearly at the end of our fascinating conversation on this effective employee brand Vicky. Thank you so much for your time. But we always start with a few quick-fire questions. So I am going to ask you, what is your favorite book and why?

Vicky: I think it would have to be Emma by Jane Austen. I love the way she writes and, I love the fact that Emma is such a flawed character at the beginning, but we see her progression throughout the journey she goes through. So that's probably it for me.

Will: I wasn't expecting such a cultured answer. Normally it's self-help books that people go for. 

Vicky: Well, my alternative was Bridget Jones's Diaries cos it's just really funny.

Will: That basically is a self-help book as well. What song or podcast did you last download? 

Vicky: The Traitors: Uncloaked. I'm completely hooked and I'm eking out every last minute from the series.

Will: Nice. Yeah. My eldest daughter has got into that with my wife but they're still on the first, series. So they're really keen to get onto the next one cos everyone's talking about it. If you could travel back in time, what period would you go to and why?

Vicky: I think it would have to be prehistory. It would be so amazing to see dinosaurs and the whole kind of how the world was different then. But I think I'd only want to do that if I could observe from somewhere safe and then hot-foot it back to the 21st century as soon as I could.

Will: I was gonna say that's very brave of you. Where's your favorite place to visit and why

Vicky: I think it would have to be Bournemouth Beach.  We go there a lot in the summer. We're lucky enough to be only about an hour away from the seaside and it means you can pop down after work on a sunny day and it's like being on the med, can't beat it.

Will: Beautiful. What's the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you? Tough one this.

Vicky: Yeah, that is difficult. I had to think about this, I think probably pick your battles. It's not easy to do, but I think it's the winning strategy really.

Will: Yeah, coming from a mother with children definitely sage advice. What's your one piece of advice for your peers if they're looking to build an employee brand and using internal comms like you've discussed, what's your one bit of advice that you give them?

Vicky: Yeah, I think it's to recognize that your internal audience is really your toughest critic. There's nowhere to hide. So don't underestimate them or overlook their importance but also to recognize that if you can get them aligned with your firm's values and purpose, it's a little bit of magic, it just makes everything work better. And I really do think that it's key to success.

Will: Everyone loves magic, great bit of advice. Vicky, it's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and your time with everyone today.

Vicky: Thank you. You're welcome. Lovely speaking to you, Will.


e2e, marketing, professional services, cmoseries, passlepod