The legal challenge

Few people might expect a law firm to be leading the content revolution but London-based Mishcon de Reya has thrown away the rulebook when it comes to communications.

Led by director of business development Elliot Moss, Mishcon de Reya has embraced a range of platforms, from sponsored advertorials within the Financial Times to social media to its own radio show on Jazz FM, which he hosts, to demonstrate that the professional services industry has a story to tell.

Moss explains: ‘We understand what good content looks like. People get confused. They worry that everything you create in communications in the life of a business has to be of ‘value’. I need to create something of value that isn’t just me telling people what a great company we are.’

When Moss joined Mishcon de Reya five years ago from advertising agency Leo Burnett, the law firm was widely viewed as a divorce specialist. In reality, divorce was a small part of its operations. ‘We had to be clear what we wanted to say. We are a law firm for the world of business. We employ 350 lawyers across six departments and 20 or so different groups,’ he explains. ‘Each of them has a mini position which is complementary to the big one. We have to create content which is good for them. It involves a matrix of planning and thinking about our strategy.

‘We had to create a brand strategy and a communications strategy. We had to know what clients thought about us, and we had to know what our reasons for doing business were. Without doing this, our communications would not have any heart or soul.

‘At Mishcon de Reya, we have an engine that says In order to help people realise the potential of the firm, whether lawyer or non-lawyer, we have to provide the best quality legal services bar none. Our DNA is that we have to grow in order to realise our true potential. The game then becomes How do you bring to life your brand positioning?

Moss started by changing the website, revamping the home page to carry the welcoming message Hello, how can we help you? ‘We made it friendly,’ he says. ‘Visitor numbers rose from 9,000 per month to 30,000. Today, the website carries videos – every event held by the law firm, which number between 75 and 100 a year, is now filmed, a blog Lawfully Chic for ‘art-lovers and adventurers, fashionistas and culture vultures’ which Moss describes as ‘soft touch content creation’, Business Shapers, a blog focused on legal matters, along with collateral from Mishcon de Reya’s partnerships with the Financial Times and Jazz FM.

It also carries Mishcon Thinks, a series of 12 films in which the law firm’s experts are interviewed by television presenter Katie Derham on subjects ranging from the business of football to shareholder activism and freedom of speech. ‘These are topics we want to talk about, delivered to BBC standards,’ says Moss. The films have been emailed directly to Mishcon de Reya’s clients, and are also used in pitches and other marketing aspects.

‘All law firms create content,’ adds Moss. ‘But they don’t see it as that. They write reports, hold events… the difference is that we now bring that content to life.’

Having recognised that it was a law firm for the world of business, Moss set about aligning Mishcon de Reya with the Financial Times soon after he arrived five years ago. ‘We understood the value of being associated with that brand,’ he explains.

He created a long-term publishing agreement Deals and dealmakers that celebrated entrepreneurship, and included a series of 16 page supplements, a related microsite and an annual event. The agreement included advertising, both online and in print. As an unexpected by-product, the agreement also created a profile for Mishcon de Reya with FT journalists who now contact its legal experts when working on articles. ‘But I can’t let our story be told at the behest of the media,’ adds Moss. ‘I am positive about the media, but I can’t depend on them. Self-publishing in isolation will not work. PR is at the core; this is a full on approach.’

In year four of the agreement, Deals and dealmakers morphed into London and the World. ‘It is full of personality; 65 per cent of our clients have an interaction or business contact with London,’ says Moss.

Moss approached Jazz FM ‘because 42 per cent of their audience listen to Radio Four’ with the idea for an hour long, weekly business show Jazz Shapers. Like the deal with the Financial Times, the package also includes advertising.

‘It began in 2012 and involves 52 hours of programming a year. We create the content. I interview business people, such as Luke Johnson [the private equity specialist, who founded Pizza Express], Jo Malone [founder of the eponymous fragrance company] and James Daunt [who founded Daunt Books but now runs Waterstones] who have an interesting story to tell. We have 37 minutes of music and 23 minutes of words,’ says Moss.

The show, which airs every Saturday at 9am, is available on iTunes. Mishcon de Reya also produces a three-minute version, Business Shapers, for viral marketing purposes. These animated films, which feature on its website, include soundbites from the interview and a pen and ink drawing of the subject. Podcasts, without the music, are also online.

‘Everything we do helps to articulate Mishcon de Reya’s points of difference,’ explains Moss. ‘It gives our lawyers ammunition; it might be a supplement from the Financial Times or a programme or even our blog, but it gives them a reason to engage. This content is not necessarily to sell products but to create the pretext for a conversation.’

Moss admits that he has been given ‘great autonomy’, adding: ‘As long as I deliver results, I am given space. We have proper infrastructure behind this.’ Annual revenues since his appointment in 2009 have grown from £47 million to £93 million. How much can be directly attributed to his strategy? It is difficult to say, but Moss ‘tracks everything’. Every six months, a survey is conducted that measures public attitudes towards Mishcon de Reya, asking questions such as Have you heard of us?, What do we do?, How do we compare to our competitors? and Would you consider hiring us? ‘We get a 20 page report, which demonstrates the real return,’ he says. ‘That becomes central to our strategy.’

Mishcon de Reya’s 2014 communications strategy is mapped out day-by-day. There are six or seven central themes, but everything is constantly reviewed. ‘We build up our communications plan in an iterative way,’ says Moss, who works closely with external affairs director Lisa Tremble, a former senior government communications adviser who joined last September. ‘We have an editorial meeting every morning to discuss what is coming up, but we meet regularly throughout the day.

‘Everything we do is about the big innings,’ he adds. ‘We’re not interested in the cheeky singles. Campaigns are about long innings.’