Helen Freeston is celebrating 20 years at the Solent law firm Paris Smith. She shares with The Professionals her journey from marketing executive to marketing director, how to successfully make that transition, and what the future of legal marketing might hold.
Where did your career in legal marketing start?
My flair for marketing began at college while studying A-level business studies followed by a degree at Greenwich University in Marketing Communications. I took my first job at the Daily Echo as a sales assistant – not completely doing what I was educated to do but giving me a great understanding of how print media works and how to deal with customers – something which I have never forgotten.
Twenty years ago, I joined Paris Smith as a marketing executive. Then, it was just me helped along by a consultant for a few days each month. I had many responsibilities including implementing a CRM system and maintaining the website, which had to be done in code – thank goodness for WordPress.
I also had to achieve as much PR as I possibly could to raise the firm’s profile, which meant building relations with multiple publications and journalists, plus responsibility for the firm’s branding and events.
That is a lot for just one person. How did you grow the Paris Smith team?
As the firm grew, so did my role. I was able to employ an assistant to help with the daily responsibilities, and after four years I was promoted to marketing manager.
The team slowly grew, and my assistant at the time excelled in attention to detail so took on the running of the website and the CRM system, which she does to this day.
What does the Paris Smith marketing team look like now?
Today, I lead the marketing team. We have a head of business development, website and CRM manager, digital executive, new business director and a marketing assistant.
I knew early on that all of the roles and responsibilities I once had would need a dedicated individual championing that area of marketing and those instincts were correct. When I joined Paris Smith, there were around 170 staff with a turnover of around £11 million, today we employ shy of 280 staff with a turnover nearing £20 million, so you can see how the firm has grown over my two decades.
How does your knowledge and experience support the next generation of potential CMOs?
Marketing directors are responsible for their company’s branding and image. This is a super-important job. The marketing director holds the fate of the company in the palm of their hand.
Using various strategies marketing directors can craft the image of a business. This enables that business to compete with others selling similar services.
As a marketing director, employers are looking for people with at least a bachelor’s degree. On top of that, you’ll need some experience walking into this position. As the company’s lifeline you need to know what you’re doing, so trying to gain as much experience is key.
Over the years I have had many work experience students work alongside me to see what the day-to-day job looks like, and I would highly recommend all who are looking for a career in marketing to do the same.
One of my key pieces of advice is to build a wide network and always go above and beyond for them as you never know when you will need them, regardless of whether it will benefit you in that circumstance. I am very lucky to have a very large network of contacts in and around Southampton which enables me to do the job to my best ability.
How do you see the future of legal marketing?
With new challenges brought by the pandemic, law firms and lawyers are being pushed to adapt quickly to retain existing clients and grow new practice areas. Marketing departments have swiftly pivoted to provide training in new media skills, innovate with producing events online and showing lawyers that while objectives may not have changed, the tactics certainly have.
Paris Smith and other law firms need to compete to gain a competitive advantage within a climate of disruptive innovation. My advice would be to leverage new technology, such as marketing and sales automation tools, videos, website design, and create a greater online presence which will help give your firm that much-needed push into the future of legal marketing.