In July 2020, the law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore marked its astonishing 450th anniversary. It is, by quite some way, the UK’s oldest law firm and recognised by the Guinness Book of Records.
Charlotte Eberlein and Eleanor Pinkerton told The Professionals that it is the firm’s ability to adapt that has seen it survive and thrive. And in a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic that adaptability has never been more important.
To plan a 450th anniversary is to quite literally break new ground. There is no other law firm in the UK that comes close – in fact, there are very few businesses of any type that can show a clear lineage that extends back to Elizabeth I.
“Our history makes us unique,” says Charlotte Eberlein, Head of Marketing and Business Development at Thomson Snell & Passmore. “And we knew that this was a one-off opportunity to make as much noise as possible to help differentiate ourselves. We didn’t want to squander the opportunity and started our planning two years ago.”
Charlotte and her team were given a blank sheet and a healthy budget to build a campaign to mark this major milestone.
“As with many law firms, we spend a lot of time talking about the law and our lawyers,” explains Charlotte. “This milestone needed to focus on something different. We wanted this campaign to celebrate our approach, our adaptability and the human-interest side of our business.
“Initially, our ideas were quite modest, but we finally arrived at a campaign that would start in January building momentum through to the anniversary date in July, and then continuing throughout the autumn. 2020 was going to be the all-out year.”
Thomson Snell & Passmore’s 450th anniversary campaign was to cover a lot of ground, including a PR and press advertorial campaign, in-train advertising with a focus on recruitment, the renaming of Tunbridge Wells railway station as “The home of the world’s oldest law firm”, alumni interviews, a temporary museum for local school children, a year-long social media campaign and, of course, a client party and a separate bash for staff.
“And running throughout the campaign was the messaging of adaptability, thriving through change and innovation, with an eye towards our changing relationship with Europe,” says Eleanor Pinkerton, PR Manager at Thomson Snell & Passmore.
And then in March the world went into lockdown.
“The campaign was well underway by March,” says Eleanor, “but we had to ask the question whether it should be pulled, delayed or adapted?
“After the initial shock and discussions with the management team and board, the core message of adaptability and thriving through change still worked and was perhaps even more important. The campaign was scaled back but continues.”
The client and staff parties were the biggest causalities, followed by the advertorial campaign and the temporary museum. A 451st anniversary party is, however, in the planning.
Despite the coronavirus hiccup, the 450th anniversary campaign is showing strong results, with website traffic up 380%, an 18% increase in LinkedIn engagement and with press interest across Kent and the legal media, reaching some four million people.
Such a milestone raises the interesting question of how does a firm carry the weight of that history? It is undoubtedly part of the DNA of Thomson Snell & Passmore, but how does it shape a 21st-century legal business? 450 years of history is impressive, but what does it all mean?
“Thomson Snell & Passmore is a modern and progressive firm,” says Charlotte. “We have recently moved into purpose-built modern offices, and are early adopters of technology. You won’t find oak-panelled offices and dusty law books here.
“Our history is a great way to start conversations, and our message is about adapting to change. That is something we are very good at. Our clients, whether facing Brexit, COVID, or the more everyday challenges, need and welcome the insights and guidance our lawyers provide. Our history has undoubtedly shaped the firm, but it does not define it.”
Thomson Snell & Passmore has witnessed many world-changing events over its 450-year history and whilst the coronavirus pandemic may have seen its milestone anniversary scaled back, it is just one further chapter in its truly astonishing history.