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| 39 minutes read

CMO Series Podcast LIVE - Erin Stone Dimry on Positioning Your Firm as the Go-To Choice

Earlier this month, Alistair Bone joined Erin Stone Dimry, Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at DLA Piper, on stage at the Legal Marketing Association’s Annual Conference in San Diego.

We’re excited to bring you that conversation in this special episode of the CMO Series Podcast recorded in front of a live audience. 

Drawing on our 2023 General Counsel research, Erin and Alistair delve into how marketing teams can align their activities with client expectations. Erin shares the successes and challenges of creating and implementing an effective brand and marketing strategy that differentiates the firm and delivers for its clients.

Erin and Alistair discuss:

  • How to shift previously held perceptions of your firm
  • How to recognize the gaps in your firm’s marketing and brand strategy
  • How to identify the best channels and meet clients where they are
  • The impact that investment in your digital presence can have on BD 
  • Takeaways from case studies
  • Advice for others looking to align their marketing with new markets and the client's expectations

Ali: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for making the time to be here and be a part of this. This is the second time that we've done a live recording of the CMO Series Podcast. So appreciate you all being a big part of this before getting into anything. I wanna do a little bit of an introduction and I'm gonna let Erin obviously introduce herself before I say anything.

Erin: Hello, everyone. Thanks for having me. I'm Erin Stone Dimry. I have the privilege of serving as the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer at DLA Piper. If you haven't heard of us, we're a tiny, little firm with not a lot to say. This is really timely for us. My team is sitting here in the front which is really nice of them. And I'm happy to be here and talking to Ali. We did just do this over lunch, while Ali and I were having lunch. So it's a repeat performance for us. We thought you all should have just joined us at lunch and maybe listened in while we prepped. But here we go. 

Ali: Thank you very much. And in terms of myself, Alistair Bone. I've been with Passle for four years now prior to being with the firm, I was fortunate I used to play professional rugby. Despite the accent, I actually live here in the US DC-based with the rest of the team. And yeah, it's a privilege to obviously be up here and be talking with Erin, like all good podcast guests. She's actually been on the podcast previously when we first started it. So nice to have her come back round and be discussing a whole different topic. So in terms of today, has Yasmin teed up nicely. It's all about how can you be seen as that go to firm. As we know, you know, in terms of your clients, your prospects, everything that you're doing from that marketing, that business development perspective is actually position you for success. That can be those client interactions, that can be anything that you're doing from an online perspective, driving that engagement. So as Yasmin said, we're going to delve into with Erin and how actually as a firm, typically they've been seen in the past is just big. I mean, it's very generic, very hard to work out what actually you're being seen as a firm. But actually, recently through that, that rebranding that you've been through, you've managed to sort of start to shift yourself to be seen as more innovative, collaborative and actually be winning award around some of your practice. So we'll get into some of that and actually some of the takeaways that everybody is able to hopefully lean upon off the back of this and have something that you can go away from your firms and start implementing in your own ways. So let's set the scene. How did this project come about for DLA? And why is it something that the firm wanted to undertake?

Erin: So the interesting thing about brand is we're all communications and marketing and business development professionals and study brand, but brand is really intuitive because we're also all consumers. And I'm sitting here holding an iPhone and I'm willing to pay more for an iPhone because there is a brand that Apple has connectivity, there's an ease of use, it's intuitive, there's great security and that drives my perception that I should own an iPhone and not something else. I have children and when they announce they wanna play college sports, I'm gonna go find a club's team that has a reputation for placing kids in college sports. It underpins my decision and the same is true for law firms. We are an organization of lawyers sitting in a law firm who sell their services to organization of lawyers sitting at a client and that client team has opportunities that they need to help a company pursue and they have risk that they need to mitigate and they need to hire someone to help them with that. And what really underpins that is their perception that your particular skill sets your particular attributes of your firm and your lawyer position, you as a possible solution. So as Ali said, we're a young firm, actually, we're 19 years old this year, but we're a giant post-merger integration project. And what everybody knew about us was just that we were big. And a few years back, we realized that that didn't really, our reputation didn't match our reality. And when we spoke to our clients, the people that worked with us already, our clients had one perception of DLA. They had a perception of very sophisticated, high-impact work. They were using us on their most critical matters. But when we spoke to people who weren't our clients, that reputation wasn't there. We weren't finding the same credit being given to what we've done. So we really realized that we had to set out and tell our own story and we had to do that really, really intentionally and that launched a big brand refresh project for us.

Ali: I think one of the things that you were saying beforehand, that's really interesting when you start to consider that brand was people really apply it to the likes of McKinsey. But you shared that, you know, people aren't getting fired or in trouble for hiring the likes of a Latham or a Wachtell or a Cravath. And they're seen as those go-to firms. So how you can start to position yourself as being seen as that, that firm that people want to be working with for whatever it might be is so important. And when you start to think about that in terms of the brand and how you are seen as something that's going to stretch across the entire firm and it then starts to feed into all of those different client interactions, etc. How did you actually start to scope this out for the project? There's such a big scope in terms of where you might be able to start with it. So I guess it's kind of narrowing it down. We'd love to understand a little bit more around that. 

Erin: Yeah, it's a really good question because it is a massive project and we really focused in two areas. The first was we had to develop a brain strategy and that's the role of your sleeves work. And then we had to activate that brand strategy. And I think that second piece gets missed or underappreciated what it takes to really activate a brand strategy. And there's a couple things in both of those buckets that I think we thought about in terms of developing a brand strategy, we put our audience right at the center and we have a shared audience broadly speaking across our firms, but each of our firms has a certain type of work we do in a certain type of client we want to represent. And we really started with our ideal client at the center and also the talent we wanted to attract. And that's another place where I think law firms often overlook your talent brand. It's really, really important because we can grow by acquiring new clients and developing the clients we have, we also grow by attracting the very best talent who's gonna bring clients with them. So we really looked at our talent and our clients and we spent a lot of time listening to a diverse set of voices. And I think that's really important because you have talent that lateraled over and you wanna understand why they came, you have talent that's homegrown and you wanna understand why they stayed and why they think your platform enables them to best serve their clients and with our clients, we wanna understand why did they hire us? What are the unique attributes of our people of our firm and what impact do we make for those clients? So we really put the audience at the center to develop the strategy and then we turned to activation. We really had to do the same thing if you think about it. And on the one hand, there's activation that we control, that my team controls. And we worked across the department to say, what are all the endpoints that brand needs to touch? Where does this need to come to life? And that answer does not rest with the CMO, I am not the person that has that answer because I have a 30,000 ft view of everything. And I have very little insight into what happens on the ground. And that's why I have a really great team. And my Director's job was to go back to their group and think how does brand come to life for external and internal comms? What does it mean for digital? What does it mean for events? And I would encourage you if you're sitting in a Director, Senior Manager level job, that's your role to really activate your team. But if you're sitting in a Coordinator or Specialist job, your role is to have a voice because you have the best perspective in the room at that point, you're the one in the weeds, executing on the tactics, you're gonna have ideas we don't have and I think sometimes more junior people can be quiet in those moments because they think Erin's gonna have the idea, Carmen's gonna have the idea because we didn't have. It doesn't mean it wasn't good. It just means we weren't close enough to the problem and you guys really were. And so my team from across all levels really surfaced ideas on how you activate a brand. And then the other piece that was really, really important that I think we overlook sometimes is our partnership with talent. So my colleagues and talent are experts at learning and development. So when we think about how do you activate a brand, what we control is pretty easy, how we bring it to life in a press release or a piece of thought leadership or an event, how a lawyer learns to speak about a brand is hard. That's the hardest part of what we're gonna do. And it's the most challenging in our environment because we live in a matrix time-pressed environment and I'm trying to get them to stop billing time and pay attention to the brand, which is fluffy and weird and it's just, it's not intuitive. So our colleagues in talent development were really helpful with us and we worked side by side. It was a joint initiative for us to really think about what's the big splashy ways you train people. And of course, we did a town hall with the chairman and of course, we did a hype video and of course, we built brand tool kits. But then what are all the little moments that we're already reaching them that we can build that training into that's far more subtle? So it's a great collaboration both in how we developed a strategy and then how we activated a strategy.

Ali: I think what was really interesting around all of that is what came through in terms of the theme is all about people, people at the very center in terms of your attorneys in terms of how that brand is then represented by them. But also you say of the activation, whether it, whether you're the CMO you're a Senior Director, you're down sort of a more junior level, you're so plugged into everything that is happening is about how you can actually then start to push that out there, which is just absolutely fascinating. I'm sure it sort of started to play into all of those pillars in the way that people were considering things. And the other element that I thought that was interesting there that you're talking about was actually that whole idea of the complete the gulf that exists in many ways between actually what marketing are doing and talent. I mean, I don't know if we would take a survey of the rest of the room, how much people are actually joining up, what's happening there? Because fundamentally again, it's all about the people and you've taken the time to actually work out with your talent team. How are we going to help embody why people are coming across the firm? Why are they choosing DLA that platform to help their career trajectory? Why are people actually staying with the firm and actually that homegrown talent, what is it that's been giving them that so sure that all started to play into those pillars that you then defined? Interesting. So when you actually mention those pillars would love to understand how those started to emerge and how you started to define them. Then also when you think about this as well, how does the new brand message differ to any previous messaging that you're putting out there?

Erin: Well, when, when we merged and anyone who's been around long enough will remember our slogan was “everything matters”. It's not very differentiating. And when we step back, we don't want everything to matter, we want certain things to matter and we want to understand what we're really good at and what we want to do. And so we had to move beyond big and I talked a little bit about that, but the perception was we were big. So the way we went about developing brand pillars was really that interview process with our own people and with our clients, we do our own client research. We rely on third party research from a number of sources. And we really wanted to understand what clients valued most about us and what talent valued most about us. And in a firm our size, you can get a laundry list of things and it could be very easy to go right back to everything matters because by the time everybody weighs in, you're everything and nothing all at the same time. And so what we tried to do was not look at direct statements so much, but what are the underlying themes to who we are? And which of those themes really resonate with us. And our leadership was really important in this moment. Our leadership at a firm of our age is made up of people who have built practices on our platform. And they had a really strong point of view about what's differentiating about that platform. And so they were significant drivers of this project right alongside us. And as they brought forward that point of view, and we bring in all the other point of views and we start to pull those themes through some things emerge. And I think it becomes affirming that you start to really realize who you are. And for us, you know, though, we're a new firm, we're the result of a big merger and we have nearly 100 year history in West Coast innovation markets. And yet we weren't being perceived as an innovative firm. And we really sat down and said, gee we've been here for almost 100 years. We have history with some of the most market-moving organizations that we've advised across their life cycle. We pride ourselves on being a steward of companies and their most impactful moments and their opportunities, their growth and how are we pulling that through? And so as we develop those brand pillars, and we started to really hone in on who we were. The last thing we did. And it's an important piece was we took an audit of ourselves and we said, if this is who we say we are, can we prove it? And that's a really aha moment, I think because certain of our brand pillars, we had a lot of proof points. We were deep in what we could say about it and others we weren't and it doesn't mean it wasn't true. And we had to really step back and say, gee, we really do think it's true. We have the experience, we have the expertise, we can point to the client work, but we don't have any awards or recognition. And that's our fault that we didn't tell that story well enough. So doing that audit turned around and influenced our activation because we had to look and say, hey, there's certain areas that we know we're already, that message has already landed and we're winning and we built a calendar for the  first year and every PR piece, every event, every piece of thought leadership went on that calendar against a brand pillar or more. And it was confusing in a matrix and we went through a couple of iterations of making it scannable and viewable. But we really were holding ourselves accountable on a month by month basis to say, are we messaging across all five pillars we wanna hit and innovation, you know, we talked about this was one that we had not done a good job, really messaging around. And we set that as a priority for last year, for 2023 Innovation was a priority for us. And we looked at what was the firm doing that we thought told the innovation story and we had a really solid story to be told around AI, we had an early A I practice, we had some high profile laterals.We were doing some really interesting things, piloting software and we decided we were gonna spend a year telling our innovation story. And one of the main threads we were gonna pull was AI and we gave ourselves goals, there was two proof points we wanted, we wanted an FT award for Innovation, we wanted a Law 360 award. And at the end of the year, we got both. So there was a big campaign and put and that's everybody at a table that's not a CMO’s job, that's the job of a big team. But there was a big push to do that and then we can step back and say, OK, we're starting to land a message that we weren't landing before.

Ali: And actually, AI is such a wonderful example because as you say, you want to be seen as innovative and you want to be first to the market. And that's very much the history and all of a sudden you're able to actually demonstrate that with rewards. And actually, if you start to think about people in this room, I know there's going to be a great differentiation in terms of the size of the firms, but actually be really interesting for us to hear a little bit if you don't mind sharing. How did you, I guess, get the AI practice to be seen as an award-winning practice because I'm sure there are people here who are going, we're trying to be the number one in ESG and that might just be in Oklahoma. It doesn't matter where you are, but you're trying to be seen as that go-to firm about something I know over lunch, we're talking about a few of the different one. A few of the different messaging that you put out a little bit of thought leadership and various other activations. Do you mind sharing a little bit around that?

Erin: Sure. And look, I have a great team who's far more creative than I am. So I'm not gonna take credit for not one of these ideas. But when you create an environment that empowers people to bring forward ideas, good ideas come to the surface. And so one of the things there's traditional thought leadership that we're gonna do, we had a pretty robust press strategy. We have a really talented comms and PR team and we have really good relationships and we understood that this is a conversation that's having one of the easiest things in marketing is to join a conversation in progress. Sometimes lawyers don't understand that. And you know, once you have success with AI, people say I just want as much press as AI received. Everybody's talking about AI. We had the right contacts and outlets. We created some pretty interesting assets. We did a six-part talk show, law firms can always do talk shows and we did it in an interesting way with an outside provider where six parts, AI is not in and of itself a topic, but there's AI and government policy and regulation. There's AI and healthcare, there's AI and data privacy and security. There's AI in content origination and how you're gonna protect content or whether you can. And so we took each of those topics and we had the chair of our AI practice, serve as the talk show host and he added talk show episode with six different uh guests on six different topics. And we did this in a room that was kind of a fun dome of video screens around and they started in a coffee shop having a chat. And when he was speaking to a former senator, he said, well, let's go back to the hill and the background changes. And suddenly we're at Capitol Hill and that's pretty fun for a law firm, right? Come on. So we were pretty proud of that. But then once we did the video, we pulled little clips out, we used them online. We created follow-up content around that the opportunity for people to download white papers. So everybody touched it from email marketing to the events team, to the practice and industry team supporting it, the PR team and it really was a multi-channel campaign. That's one example of one of the unique assets we created. But it was, I think starting at the beginning of the year with an end in mind and really thinking through what are all the different ways we can land this message.

Ali: And I can only imagine you touched upon it there that absolutely everybody else in the firm has gone and seen that and gone. We want to be a part of it. Have you had to kind of push people off and be like, unfortunately, you're not particularly interesting in the world at the moment.

Erin: I don't tell anyone not interesting. I'd like to keep my job. But it is, I think one of the lessons that we, I think that we know intuitively, but we can take the advantage to communicate is meeting. The moment is always easier than creating your own moment. And sometimes you can tell the lawyers in every topic, there's a moment, there's an industry moving event, there is a particular, uh there may be a legislative or regulatory change. There's a moment and you wanna meet the moment it's much easier to meet the moment and capitalize on it than to try to tell everybody there's a moment happening. It's a little more complex. So AI was a nice gift to us that there was a conversation in progress and we just joined it.

Ali: Be a part of it. That's brilliant. And in terms of the brand pillars, you spoke about innovation there as being one of them. Do you mind maybe sort of lifting the lid on what the other ones are? If you don't mind sharing that people would be quite interesting.

Erin: I touched on a few, we talk about being a modern dynamic innovator. We talk about being an invested and collaborative partner to our clients. We want to be seen not as issuing an edict or a mandate, but really as somebody who's sitting next to you and collaborating, understanding, they understand their business. And we have a broad view much like we're gonna do with our own team. We talk about being a trusted steward of growth and change that I high-impact moments are really important to us. We focus on being global thinkers, which is a nod to the fact we're big, but it's not being big. It's being able to bring a point of view that's very rooted in local situations that we can combine with the global coverage.

Ali: Sure, interesting. And in actually, in terms of getting that messaging out there. You were saying earlier, it's really difficult because the attorneys just think it's fluffy. They're not particularly brought into it. I know when you revealed the new brand, you did a whole sort of town hall around that. And one of the things you said earlier was that, you know, the next day on all the attorneys phones, all of a sudden they had this image of the background and it was something around those pillars. Do you mind sharing actually how you started push that activation out there? And how would you actually start sharing that brand messaging with everybody?

Erin: Sure. And I want to make sure I give my leadership credit that they were very forward-thinking in leaning into why we need a brand strategy and they really drove the prioritization and the investment in this project. So that came from the top for us, which is really fortunate to be able to have that because it, it lends a lot of credibility and a lot of the right voices uh in terms of our, our gorilla tactics, you know, and how we get the message out there. We did of course, do a hype video, we had an agency that we worked with and I think agencies are really important partners in this type of work. They don't know your firm the way you do. And nobody's gonna be surprised when I say law firms aren't corporate America. So you do have to sometimes push back on the nuance of how to best get this information out there. Some things we did were very big and splashy like a hype video in a town hall with the chairman. And some things were more subtle, like when you turn on your computer, there's a lovely little graphic that has our brand pillars, our brand values and a little mantra in the middle that was easy for everyone to understand because it's six words. So we say “Agile mindset, global vision, value partner”. And if you remember nothing else, you should remember that we want to be agile and how we approach things. We want to have a global view and we want to be a valued partner to our clients. And so that little wheel was everywhere. The marketing team put it as our backdrop for Zoom. So anytime someone talked to us for a while there, we were it was printed in offices, some of the old school ways we looked at swag and collateral. So there was some ways that we could do that as a group. We took the opportunity to have a lot of teaching moments both within our department and I give my directors a lot of credit. It's easy to run people through brand training. And we did that, we did train the trainer, we trained every business development group. You could tell Hospitality and Operations why brand matters. But try telling Finance and IT, that brand matters. So you could talk about how a biller could be on brand and their behavior. And so we did that with all the departments and then we trained lawyers and we trained them in practice groups and we tried to pull through value propositions for each practice group. But we also tried to then do those. The most important things are that sort of in the run of play teaching moments. It's like you're not doing a drill in sports. It's actually explaining in a game that this is what should have happened. And so my directors and senior managers really took the time to stop in writing a press release and explain how you could pull a brand message through a quote and make that hiring of a lateral partner a brand moment. How do you use that moment? How do you see an event? How do you pull it through into the tag line? Right. So I think they get a lot of credit for really doing that and the same with the lawyers in the moment of pitch, you're gonna slow down and say, what's our value proposition here? And how do we hone that in on this practice? And this is what we've come up with.

Ali: Interesting and you're talking there about obviously in the background, people have got those slogans. That's almost the one thing you want them to go out there and say. Earlier on your touch upon the fact that as the marketing team, you have control, very defined control over stuff, but you don't have control over what those individuals are doing. Those attorneys are doing when they're out there. Have you had any feedback from them that they are actually able to be out there saying, yes, we're innovative, we're collaborative, we're doing this or is it something that you're hoping that they're pushing that messaging out there for you?

Erin: We're not tapping anyone's phone. I think where we get our feedback best is the same place we started. So from our talent and from our clients. So the most I think impactful thing to us is when you hire a new lateral and they offer a quote on why they join your firm and they're reflecting your brand messaging, it's landed, right? And if a client in a client feedback survey, write something down that reflects your brand messaging. It's landed. We built our email survey around our brand promise and our brand attributes. And we're actually asking our clients on a scale of 1 to 7. How are we performing on these attributes? And then at the end, probably the most important question in my opinion is which of the three attributes matter most to you? Because it's not the same and it helps us reaffirm that the things we think are important are important to them because otherwise we could build an entire brand on things we think that are important that don't matter to the people who have to hire us. So I think when you hear a client echo back what you hope they perceive you to be, or when you hear a new team member, a new lateral echo back what you want to be. That's when you know.

Ali: It's great positive reinforcement. Now, we've obviously covered a lot of the good things so far. And I'm sure people in the room are interested to know what the pitfalls are. So I'd love to hear from you on what maybe some of those potential pitfalls are that people might expect from it. Were there any particularly challenging aspects?

Erin: I got notes on this.

Ali: Oh OK. 

Erin: Here we go. So I touched, I touched on a few things I think, make sure that the environment allows every voice to be heard in your department because that's where your best ideas are gonna come from. Make sure you collaborate with talent.
Truly, there is no substitute for people who understand how to capture the attention of busy adults. I don't envy them. They're great at it and how to build training that that works. Work with a great agency, but recognize that you have the voice and expertise. Again, we're not corporate America. We had some debates at times with some of our outside consultants about the right way to do this and those debates are robust at times where we are saying we have to meet people where they are, we have to meet them in a moment they're already participating in. We cannot sit and lecture them from the front of the room, they will not pay attention and we have to really focus on what's in it for them. And so we anchored, as I said in our audiences. So when we go talk about, we built tool kits for lateral hiring so that the questions and the commentary that people have to reference when they're interviewing partners that they're going to interview along those lines. But we also need to tell them this is what matters to talent. And here's the research that proves it, this is what matters to your clients. Here's the data that proves it. This is why we're saying these things. So we did a lot of the why. And then I said this three times already, I think, but the role of leadership is critical. This has to be their brand, not marketing's brand. And my leadership led from the front very actively with a ton of high-level participation and their fingerprints are all over where we landed. And that's why it works.

Ali: And you touched on there in terms of putting data in front of people, which is so important as we know, attorneys are tricky at the best of times. How did some of them receive that were they open to going? Actually, this is where we should be going with the project or did they sit there and go actually, I've got an opinion and I'm right and therefore this is what we should be doing.
Erin: I think, no, for the most part, because we landed in places that felt very authentic to our people. We didn't get any push back that this is who we are or who we wanna be. I think where you get some confusion is what am I supposed to do with it or that's a lot of interesting words doesn't change my reality and some of that is slow and that's where we push what we can do so that the content we're pulling through, we've woven our messaging through when we are sitting next to them, devising campaigns like AI or when we're looking at events that we can guide in that direction. You know, that's part of our job and we really take the posture that our lawyers are extremely capable, invested in their clients and best positioned to talk about the market and their objectives and where the market's going. And we arm them with enough business and competitive intelligence to have that conversation.
But their role is really to say this is where we think class actions is going this year.
These are the industries we think are going to be most affected. This is what's differentiating about us, our job is to partner and then recommend the tactics and say if that's the audience, if this is the the movement, if these are our differentiators, here's what we should do. And it may not be writing a 10-page missive. It might actually be a podcast perhaps, or a series of podcasts. Or how do you take long form and make it short form and use it in multiple places and drive traffic. So the tactics are really us. But I think because we had a diverse set of voices in the project and because our leadership was so intimately involved in the details, what we ended up with was very authentic and then was easily accepted across the firm.

Ali: And was some of that in terms of those tactics was that feeding people from your team who sat here at the front, were they feeding up to you?

Erin: Yes. So probably like many firms uh or perhaps just those that are really large, we have certain members of our team that are embedded in business units, they sit in practice groups or industry groups or in certain key geographies and they're really close to the lawyers and they're a subject matter, expert on that particular group. And then we have a lot of team members who are really centers of excellence with very specialized technical expertise. I look across here, I have all of the above sitting up in the front row. So somebody who's embedded with a subgroup of litigation, for example, or with a subgroup of our corporate practice has a point of view with the leadership and the lawyers, the partners in that practice of what's going to matter that year and what type of work we wanna do and for whom, and they're gonna sit down and develop that strategic plan and they're gonna make recommendations about those interlocking tactics. They then go back and work with all of those centers of excellence to say, OK, we know we need to have a PR element to our plan. What does that look like? We know there should be campaigns on social media that drive back to content we can host on our website. What does that look like? What types of events should we be doing? So it is, I think they are the ones really business unit by business unit that's driving that my job is to help look across and say, how do we balance our resources appropriately? The poor people in the centralized teams who it's a very healthy tension in a group. They may not think it's healthy all the time. But somebody who's assigned to a practice group is a fierce advocate for that practice group and their entire set of stakeholders are the people in that practice group. And so they see their point of view whether it's geographic or practice or industry. They see it with a great deal of passion and that's how I want them to see it. They are the subject matter expert. They are the advocate for that group. Centralized teams are dealing with 20 advocates at the same time, 25 who are all really important and they're having to make a lot of decisions about what goes first and what goes next and what can be combined. And I think that's the challenge. But those calls are made in the trenches because they're collaborative.

Ali: And in terms of those challenges, you touched upon a couple of them on the wider scale, if we bring it around as slightly more personal, if you don't mind me asking. But before we were in here, you were saying that you didn't necessarily see a big brand project being on the cards for you. It wasn't something that necessarily massively envisioned very, very difficult. How did you personally find it? I'm sure there were certain moments that you sort of had maybe your head in your hands around certain things. Was this something that ultimately you came out and enjoyed or, and were there any sort of growth moments for you?

Erin: There was a lot of growth for me. I was a practicing attorney who shifted into business development because bringing in clients and not having to deliver the work was really attractive and going from being a Chief Business Development Officer to taking on communications and marketing, moved me further and further to the left from the end goal. So when you get into, we need to do a rebrand that's far off from where I started and probably not, you know, top of mind, you know, what's going to come to me. But it was really important that the evolution of where we were and as we looked at where we were, our ability to develop business was incumbent in that moment on having a brand and reputation that supported the type of work we're gonna go after we're not gonna keep moving up market if we can't backfill that brand and reputation. So I personally had to pull all the way back. We did a lot of hiring around comms. We made a massive investment in a comms group that we didn't have, that was really small. And I think for other people in the department at some point in time, she loves comms, she likes them better than us. Why does she only hire coms people? We really did have to go all the way over there. And then last year, we spent an entire year on strategic marketing and developing strategic plans and really focusing on demand generation and how we track. And this year we're really focused on business development and client acquisition and market intelligence. So we've kind of done a a journey, but the journey had to go in a certain order. And yes, I think every single one of us learned a lot. But if you want a brand developed by a business developer, you're gonna get a brand with a client and talent at the center of it. So that's the one good thing that came out of it is you pull me all the way back there and then that's what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna bring clients all the way back to the brand.

Ali: Lovely. And you talked about kind of jumping forward into today and what's happening. Where's the project now? I know that you're sort of fairly into the weeds that it is being rolled out across the firm. Are there any particular stories that you wanted to sort of share around success from implementing those pillars, the new brand? I know we touched upon AI earlier, I think you also mentioned that you're looking at the space practice and what's happening there? Are there any stories that you think are worth sharing? 

Erin: The one thing about DLA Piper is we truly are agile and we will meet the moment, which means we will innovate very quickly and we will add practices really quickly. And that's exciting for my team. It's challenging for my team, but I think we apply the same principles now that we did back then, and that is, we audit ourselves and we say, you know, how are we doing? What new proof points can we point to each time we do something we look at is this on brand? What's it communicating? And I think now that's a matter of habit for everybody where it probably wasn't two years ago. But I think it's also a matter of habit with our lawyers, you start to hear people just use a certain language that we didn't have before. We didn't have a common language. And I think we have a common, we have a common language now that everybody speaks in a common sense of identity and it shows through, in the talent that we're attracting. I think it shows through in the more now in the work that we're securing and, and we can say, look, we're getting credit for the type of work we're doing in ways that, that we weren't before and that's showing through and in the awards and the recognition that we, that we've been able to achieve. So I think it was, it's something like that's never over. 

Ali: And would you have any sort of pieces of advice for anybody in the room who's thinking about, you know, you spoke about being nice and agile there in terms of being able to open up this space practice. If anybody in the room is thinking, actually, I want to be able to do this or we're trying to focus on it. Are, are there any particular nuggets of information you could share? Be that obviously you've got a lot of resources as a larger firm, but you might be a smaller firm and there's certain things you're like, actually, if you do XY or Z, you're gonna get a huge amount of return off the back of it.

Erin: Yes, I think we do have resources but on a person-to-group basis, we're probably just as lean or more lean than just about anybody else. We're not big compared to how much we cover as a group. So we have to be really, really nimble and really creative in how we work. I mean, at the highest levels, there's themes I already hit. I think it's really important that brand or marketing strategy is tied to business strategy and that requires alignment with leadership and really understanding what their vision for the firm is and being a great storyteller. We've been doing storytelling lessons across our department. So Deborah Fone who's hosting a panel tomorrow has been working with us and doing storytelling. And I think the internal ability to tell a story is really helpful when you're trying to sell something, sell a concept or an idea to a group of stakeholders. I think where we work best, which may be counterintuitive sometimes is when we're launching something brand new because when we're launching something brand new, we get to start from somewhere and we don't have the legacy of, we've always sponsored this. Even if we may not think it's a great idea. So when we're starting from scratch, we're in a better position to recommend tactics because there are none, we're not asking someone to give up their favorite tactic. So I think sometimes those new net new areas can be really interesting, but we have worked hard to roll backwards and do annual planning. And that's our effort to make everything as close to net new as we can and talk about what are we trying to accomplish and what tactics like might we choose? And that's where your storytelling is really important because if somebody tells us their goal, that gives us the vision we can paint for them about how we're gonna get there, right? If we don't know what their goal is, then we're just debating whether it should be a10-person table at a rubber chicken dinner or a podcast. But if we know their goal, then we're able to say, here's where your audience is back to where we started. Here's where your audience is, here's what they're looking to consume. Here's the best way to reach them. And that's, I think of our ongoing lessons learned. 

Ali: To touch upon there, I think what's really interesting for anybody is if you're starting from the ground up ground zero, you're starting this AI practice starting space practice, you've got a blank slate to be able to go. Actually, these are the things that we know are going to work and it can be that you're putting data towards it. Or actually, you've had this idea around. I think us doing a podcast is going to be a really nice way to do it. It could be that you're going to look at thought leadership and you're going to write it before you actually start implementing and just really land with a splash. So I think for anybody here, you actually, if you're starting a new practice or trying to help build a brand new one, what an exciting moment to be a part of and actually just bring some cool innovative ideas, particularly if I suppose more junior and you haven't had that chance to come to the table with stuff. I bet you're encouraging your team to go actually, guys come and ship in those new ideas. What are you thinking?

Erin: And it's true that that's one of the best ways to change existing practices as well when you have a net new and you get to do something really interesting and it works, guess what? Everybody starts paying attention and the sell of that particular approach becomes that much easier. So we've had net new summits where you're certain areas that you have a summit for years and years and you do it the same way and then a new group wants to do a summit. We get the opportunity to dive in and net new and that's exciting. The next summit that comes along, it's gonna be a lot more like the net new one than it was like the 5-year-old one. So I think that again having a space where whether you have 110 people, I think like me, or you have 10 people, the good ideas are never gonna land with just one person. They're not gonna originate with just one person. And a few years back, we started something and we haven't done it in a while because I think now it's sort of a common practice, but we didn't have that culture, in my opinion. We started something we called Innovation Hour and anybody could put a topic into Innovation Hour and we would send the topic around the group and anybody could join. So it didn't matter where you sat what your job was. And we had people from coordinator to senior director who were practice people, coms people, events, people, BD people. And it might be a topic. We had one around how do you explain the culture of DLA Piper on a channel like Instagram? It's a very like non-corporate channel and we really want people to understand our people and, and what could be the ideas. And through that Innovation Hour was born one of the most successful social media campaigns we have, it's still running today and it's three years old and it's discovered DLA Piper. We do it every month and each month there's an internal, this was a very junior person's idea that a team of people brainstormed on, on a call and it took off. But we run an internal contest with our friends in office operations. So they do it with each office where people submit a photo and there's a theme every month. Sometimes it's themed to something in the markets, women's history month or it's the launch of summer. But there's different themes that we may have and we will issue sort of a statement and a call to action of submit your photos. And then we'll pick photos and people win a prize and they announce it in all the offices and people participate and then we post them on Instagram. So it's culture-building in an office and the client and on Instagram is brilliant because it's our people in their communities, it's our people with their families, it's our people with each other. And it's some of our most, it's some of our best-performing content, one of our best-performing campaigns. And it was an idea that came up de facto just by crowdsourcing. 

Ali: It's amazing. I mean, in Instagram is definitely not something that I imagine anybody's really using from a work perspective. In fact, the only person I know who does it incredibly well is Mr Roy Sexton, I don't think he's in the room, but he's fantastic when it comes to that on Instagram. But yeah, it's brilliant. It's absolutely amazing. Well, actually brings us round to our final question and we touched upon it very briefly in terms of looking at it in terms of that one piece of advice around actually how you get a new practice going. But actually the overall conversation has been all around brand as a firm. What would be your one piece of advice or a maybe a couple of pieces of advice to those people in this room around how to best possibly position your firm as that go-to for your clients, for your prospects. 

Erin: I think again, I've said it a few times but place your audience at the center, it's just the most important thing I think any brand does and there's multiple ways to be successful. Every one of our firms is going to succeed in different ways with different subsets of clients. And the important part is understanding where your ideal client sits. And I think about I travel a lot because I live on the West Coast and I work for a global firm. But I think about airlines, right? If you follow airlines at all or you travel like me, United and Delta and American are competing for the prolific business traveler like me by redesigning their status programs and getting it wrong. And changing their minds and it's all over the place. Right. But they're competing for me. They want me. Meanwhile, Southwest is flying as many routes with a 15-minute turnaround at a great price point and no frills. And that's how my kids fly home from college. So they're both succeeding but they know who their audience is and they know that, you know, this is the way you travel for this reason. This is the way you travel for this reason. And I think that that's really what we all need to do too is just put your talent and your client right at the center.

Ali: Wonderful, a wonderful piece of voice to end on. So, thank you very much for that. Thank you so much for an absolutely wonderful conversation. It's been a pleasure to sit with you and I just want to put a round of applause from everybody.

Erin: Thank you.


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