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| 15 minutes read

CMO Series EP139 - Gina Connell of B P Collins on How to Bring Your Firm on the AI Journey

In today's professional services marketing landscape, AI is the hottest topic, leaving many marketers pressured to keep pace with the rapid advancements in their firms' AI strategies.

In this episode of the Passle CMO Series Podcast, Cam Dobinson has the privilege of hosting Gina Connell, Chief Marketing Officer at B P Collins, to offer a practical look at navigating the AI journey within a firm. 

Join us as we delve into how Gina spearheaded the firm's AI policy, offering insights on collaboration, agility, and fostering firm-wide engagement to ensure the effective use of AI.

Gina and Cam explore:

  • How to develop an AI policy, and why marketers should be reviewing their firm's policy
  • How to avoid silos and bring the firm together as a whole on the AI journey
  • The practical steps to effectively developing and communicating an AI policy
  • How to bring the different parts of the firm up to speed on AI and its potential impact
  • What the AI journey looks like from here and the biggest opportunity for AI in legal marketing
  • Advice for marketers looking to stay ahead of the curve with AI in their firm

Cam: AI is undoubtedly the hottest topic of the minute in professional services marketing, many marketeers feel like they are falling behind the curve in how their teams and wider firms are developing their policy and adoption of AI. In this episode of the Passle CMO series, we're lucky to welcome Gina Connell, CMO at B P Collins, to take a look at how she led the development of her firm's AI policy. We'll look at how to collaborate, be agile and bring the firm with you on the journey to effective AI use. Gina, welcome to the CMO series.

Gina: Hi. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Cam: It's an absolute pleasure. First off, how would you summarize what your colleagues and what you have done with your AI policy and a sort of subset of that question is why should other marketeers be reviewing their firm's policies?

Gina: Yeah, it's an interesting one and probably our conversation around AI started about five years ago. So it's not a very recent thing and I know for a lot of people, things like ChatGPT have sparked sort of discussion in fIrms, but it didn't, for us, it started a long time ago, um, just looking at, uh where, you know, sort of trends were going, what might be happening in, you know, the next sort of 5, 10 years, etcetera and where we needed to be in relation to that. And there's two sides to it, there's how we use AI within the business, but there's also how AI will impact our business impact our clients, what services they may need from us. So it was a very broad brush conversation and that sort of developed and developed and, you know, we did some research along the way, but there was I guess not too much urgency at that point, but, you know, ChatGPT and various other sort of tools coming onto the market, really sort of pin made us pinpoint, right, what is it we need to do, what do we need to look at? And we started with an initial holding policy really from a compliance perspective just because we need to understand what the impacts might be across different parts of the business. So it wasn't a don't use anything but it was really flag it with IT, flag it with certain sort of stakeholders so that we could make sure that, you know, we had done our due diligence. And so we started with that sort of last year. And then at the same time, realized, well, we really need to understand this in more detail, some people in the in the business had a standing start, you know, it wasn't sort of high on their radar at all. Others had already been doing personal research, personal experimentation with different AI tools looking at, you know, what our suppliers provided. So we decided to get a cross-practice and a cross-firm, not just in the legal practices, a cross-firm stakeholder group to look at A I beyond the holding policy and put something in place in a very short space of time that would enable us to move forward um in a very fast moving space. Why do we need to, I guess the second part of that question is, why do we need to look at it from marketers from a marketer perspective? You know, we are very focused on new business where that new business comes from, how we deliver that new business, you know, what services, etcetera, we can, you know, supply, are there new services we should consider? Also from a brand perspective, from a communications perspective. So we need to understand, you know, every marketer needs to understand the opportunities, but also the challenges that might be impacting different parts of the business that ultimately will kick back into our own space. And so, yeah, for me, they are the different elements.

Cam: And you mentioned there, there's almost the different levels of understanding and some coming from an almost standing start, a current challenge faced by a lot of firms is that silos within the firm are progressing in their own way with regards to A I and almost leaving gaps in that understanding and sort of gaps in their knowledge.  Your approach that we've previously discussed, seems to bring the firm together together as a whole. How have you sort of navigated that challenge?

Gina: Yeah, it has and it's been really, really useful because no one person can know everything from every perspective. And so we basically went out to out to everybody in the firm, you know, and asked who had an interest. We also then looked at, well, what do they do in their day job? And are there specific areas around AI that are more relevant for some people than others? So if we undertake some research, you know, who's best placed and best suited and has most interest in certain areas. So, you know, for example, we had somebody in our employment law team and they researched um areas around you know, precedents that were in the marketplace. Somebody in our family team looked at ethics within AI our IT team obviously looked at, you know, what our suppliers were doing. And so we looked at the different sort of opportunities that there were in different areas of the business to show interest. Our corporate team looked at what's happening in the regulation space. So it enabled us to bring, have lots of different research from lots of perspectives and bring that all together. And we did that in a simple way by having shared sort of documentation that people sort of could add into. And then my role was to sort of take an overarching view of that. And if we had inconsistencies of content or there was a conflict of information, then we could go back and ask that question again and do some more research. So it worked in that way for us and it really did sort of everybody took ownership of their areas because there was a natural interest there, not just from their personal perspective, but also from their practice and their own disciplines. 

Cam: And I guess having that sort of shared documentation across the firm would be particularly useful. Could you talk us through the sort of practical steps in terms of developing and communicating that policy?

Gina: What we did was once we had identified our group, we looked at our timing. We created um literally a Word document, although it's become something that's more interactive than that. But it was a space where people could drop sort of content into and lots of people, particularly in a law firm are working in Word every day. So it made it very easy to just drop your content in. Don't worry about it. You know, someone would have bullet points, someone else would have chapter and verse on their section. But that wasn't something we needed to worry about at the time. We also, at the same time, you know, my role was to understand who, who within the business understood something about AI what it was that they understood about AI, who didn't, what the starting point was, you know, what we needed to deliver to our board, so they could get a grasp of the facts without giving them, you know, something that was a thesis to read. So we made a conscious decision and agreed that we would keep it high level, but still delve into areas and there's lots of links if people want to, you know, read additional information and look at, you know, different precedent banks and various other content that's available in different areas. Depending on what their question is or understanding is, or if their interest is piqued on a particular topic. So we've done that and then once we, and we committed to times scales, we just, you know, we said, well, we've got a holding point here. We want to start using you know, AI within the business, in order to do that, we need to understand, you know, what our concerns and considerations might be, what our opportunities might be. And we need to do that quickly. So we all committed, you know, having a multi - sort of - practice team enabled us to commit to producing that very quickly. And we then delivered that back to the board, you know, with an executive summary with a state of the nation, with the opportunities with the considerations and enabled us to sort of confirm our position, move forward with some things and understand where we will go in future. We were going to communicate that back out to the business. So we communicated back to the team, you know, we have lots of communication methods. Teams have huddles so they can feed back into their teams that way we also have staff updates. So we communicate that way information's on the internet so people can access at any time they want, you know, we have multiple touchpoints in terms of comms.

Cam: And in terms of that, I guess it's really important to have that two-way communication in place as well. You've mentioned looking at precedents, you mentioned having a multi-practice team in place alongside having a pretty prudent policy. It sounds like there was a significant education piece that would have to come alongside that. How did you bring the different parts of the firm up to speed on AI and its potential impact?

Gina: Our board document is a combination of things. It's broken down into areas that cover our opportunities. It's broken down into what AI is. You know, what's the difference in, you know, large language models through AI where we are now, you know, where we're going, you know, what we can potentially do and what the opportunities might be with the different types of you know, what we would consider on the broad brush AI. And then we looked at so there was a general sort of this is what it is, this is what it can do. But we then looked at, well, here's the concerns, here's the considerations, here's the, you know, bias in the algorithms, you know, understanding all of those things um and communicating those. So if someone thought, you know, what ChatGPT was at the point that it was released, you know, what it could do what it couldn't do, but in a very high-level way. So we weren't being very legalistic in the communication piece because that's not what it was there for. It was there to bring people up to speed and help people understand, we could start using it, for example, in marketing because we are not putting any client data into, you know, the internet and into a non-secure space. So even, you know, small things like that help people understand what we can start here in the experiment over here. But it's maybe not prudent at this stage to start over here. But we want to investigate further in the legal space, what we want to do in terms of um the content that we might use AI to help deliver services to clients to help support our clients in a more sort of efficient and effective way in the future when technology allows us to. So we took that approach with it and the documentation then serves as an education piece as well as a recommendations document.

Cam:  And helping people understand how you can use it in the marketing department and how you can sort of perhaps experiment in a way for that part, did the process of building the policies as a sort of build it together process. Did that help various parts of the firm to adopt and understand the policy?

Gina: Yes, it has done because each area of the firm understands now where they can start to delve into different areas of AI. So it's really helped from that perspective because all angles have been covered and you can, you've constantly got something you can refer back to that will, is a living breathing, you know, piece of communication that will be updated. You know, our team that put this together and put, you know, help drive the policy are continuing to work as a research team. So we will regularly meet, we will regularly research - everybody's got their areas of sort of ownership and we'll constantly feedback on those. And so we're constantly cross-referencing across, you know, when something changes in one area. How does that impact another, does that give an opportunity in another area that didn't previously exist, and so we do it in that way.

Cam:  When we first spoke, you mentioned it being really important to stay ahead of the curve. What does the AI journey look like from here? Where do you see the biggest opportunity for AI within law firms and within legal marketing as an independent sort of variable within that?

Gina: I think initially for a lot of law firms, undoubtedly in Marketing and BD, there's opportunities there to sort of just already get going. Beyond that, yes, from law firm operations. You know, we definitely have areas around sort of our precedence, our contracts,  you know, all of all of those areas, but I think there's also a business opportunity. I'm old enough to, I'm thankfully you can't see me on the podcast. I'm old enough to have worked when computers were starting to come into um the industry and I remember at the time, everyone saying,  all our jobs are going to be gone, you know, computers are going to do everything and what are we all going to do? And it feels like we're having exactly the same conversation now about AI, and it's not that the jobs are going to be gone, the jobs aren't going to be gone. They're just going to be different jobs and it's understanding what they are and being very much alive to that will help all law firms and all other industries going forward because it's not a case of, oh, it's gonna take our jobs. I think what will take your job is not knowing how to use AI to do your job in a slightly different or better way to service your client's needs. And I think that's where that mindset is something that we have to adopt, not just in our industry but in all industries. 

Cam: Now, we're just gonna jump into the quick-fire round. Gina, what are you reading or listening to at the moment?

Gina: I'm listening to, obviously you've introduced me to the CMO series from Passle. So I'm listening to that. I also listen to Diary of the CEO with the lovely Steven Bartlett. When I walk, I listen to audible, and I'm currently listening to the Alan Rickman Diaries on that. And book wise, I still like a paper book. I'm reading The Mirror In The Light by Hilary Mantel, which is the third in her series around Henry the eighth.

Cam: Great company for our podcast to be in there. What is one thing that you couldn't live without in your working life?

Gina: That's an easy one. Coffee. It may not be the… it may not. I could say, you know, Outlook, I could say, you know, Teams, but it's coffee, it's become part of the sort of routine of the day and it's sort of punctuation between one thing and another. And actually I think that's a really nice way to sort of punctuate and get your mind into the mindset for, I've finished one thing and I'm starting the next. So, yeah, coffee is my go to for that.

Cam: I think that's a great answer. And then in terms of that might be a habit of taking a break and going and making yourself a coffee. Are there any habits that you've found particularly have helped you in your career?

Gina: For me, I think curiosity, I'm naturally curious but I think curiosity is a really good habit to develop if you don't have it naturally. A lack of fear, you know, particularly when I was younger, I tend to think of people as people, regardless of whether they're, you know, senior partner or the person that is washing the cups at the sink and just asking questions, not being afraid to ask a question. So I would say that and then, you know, if somebody does give you something, take ownership of it. So those three things, curiosity, lack of fear and ownership have been, good habits to develop.

Cam:  Absolutely. And then outside of work, what's your favorite way to unwind?

Gina: Walking. I'm a bit of a, I like nature. I grew up near the sea and not far from mountains. So I like being outside a lot, if I can. And so, yeah, walking just having that time in nature, particularly for those of us that sit at a desk a lot during the day, being able to just get out, stretch out, walk, you know, be in the environment, a bit grounded is really nice. So, yeah, that's my favourite thing to do to unwind.

Cam: I'm sure you're absolutely in your element then if you were over in Ireland at the moment.

Gina: I am.

Cam: And as a final takeaway, you've already mentioned, a couple of topics tha I really like the need to stay curious and keep probing from that perspective and to try and stay ahead of the curve. What would your one piece of advice to other marketers looking to stay ahead of that curve when it comes to AI within their firm?

Gina: I think there is a strategic and a tactical element to it. And it's to look at both. Don't just look at it a tactical perspective, don't look at it as strategic only. Understand, you know, certainly understand and go beyond your pure marketing remit to understand, you know, AI, an absolute understand it from a data perspective and an IP perspective, but also consider the tactical levels around what products are out there and what are they doing and what can be used so very, you know, understand who is sort of making inroads in the market, what companies are doing and how you can then potentially use that product delve into the technicalities of it and understand it so that you understand whether there are any issues, you know, ask questions about the data, ask questions about the source of the data that they're mining so that you understand, if there are, you know, how much content is giving the AI the information to deliver you back, what you're asking. So you're not ignoring the fact that there may be bias in the data, it may be fake data, it may not be current, it may not be relevant. But understanding which companies are developing around AI and what they're developing and what they're using to develop is really key for a marketeer.

Cam: Stay curious and keep asking questions. 

Gina: Stay curious and keep asking questions is absolutely it. And I think we'll all be more and more questions over the next few years.

Cam: Absolutely. Well, Gina, it's been an absolute pleasure and a very educational episode of the podcast. So, thank you so much for featuring.

Gina: Thank you very much for the time.




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