Withers’ Defining moments campaign puts its clients in the spotlight. It has, says Duncan Miller and Paul Askew, captured the attention and imagination of senior business leaders around the world.
A fundamental issue in marketing a professional services firm is how to talk about what it does. No doubt its services are fundamental to the efficient and compliant functioning of businesses and people’s personal lives around the world, but those terms – efficient, compliant – illustrate the problem. It’s essential work, but consumers don’t really want to know about the detail.
This challenge is further compounded when the firm predominantly works for individuals, as Withers does.
Our clients are successful individuals, for instance, we have advised over two-thirds of the top 100 in the Sunday Times Rich List, who tend to value their privacy, and helping them protect that privacy is a core part of our service to them. We simply can’t talk about much of what we do, in contrast to the well-publicised deal news coming from neighbouring City firms.
So, the puzzle is a familiar one, but how to solve it?
We have been working our way towards a solution for several years. We knew that part of the answer was to stop using technical terms instead of plain English in our marketing and to focus on the issues that we know our clients care about. We also wanted to get in front of a wider audience of potential clients. And, despite the challenges described above, one of the advantages of marketing a firm like Withers is that our services touch on the real lives of people in very concrete ways. From marriage and divorce to founding a startup or investing in a business, making inheritance plans for families and helping people move to a new country or on to new stages in their career, there’s no shortage of interesting themes if the right medium can be found to talk about them.
Out of this seed of an idea grew our Defining moments campaign.
The campaign is a way to talk about almost everything we offer our clients. However, instead of listing our services or talking about our track record, we decided the best way to do this would be to show what we do for our clients by putting them and others we work closely with at the front of the campaign.
By telling the stories of their success, including the highs and lows they have experienced throughout their careers, we could vividly illustrate the way the firm stands by its clients as a trusted advisor and helps them achieve their aims. In addition, we also anticipated that putting forward features on a broad range of our clients and contacts would be the best means of dispelling narrow impressions of a private client firm. Showcasing founders, entrepreneurs, business leaders and philanthropists is a powerful way of showing the true diversity of our clients.
Headline media activity
The components of the campaign came together – headline media partners to help us achieve real cut-through with the audiences we want to reach, plus a bank of powerful new content for our website visitors, including a podcast series and new articles. With our global client base in mind, we agreed partnerships with far-reaching media titles that also have strong regional loyalty – the Financial Times as a European and international launch centrepiece, South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and Business Times in Singapore, with US partnerships to follow later this year. We recruited broadcaster and journalist Aasmah Mir, currently co-presenter of Times Radio’s breakfast show, to be the host of our podcasts. And then we were off on a hunt for interviewees.
We had several criteria for our subjects – constituting an internationally representative group, demonstrating diversity and difference, a wide range of industries, but most importantly with captivating stories to tell about their careers and those key moments of decision making, risk-taking and dealing with problems.
Our initial run of three profile pieces with the FT feature Harriet Green, ex-CEO of IBM Asia Pacific and Thomas Cook, Natalie Massenet, founder of Net-a-Porter and Co-founder of Imaginary Ventures, and Sandie Okoro, Senior VP and GC at the World Bank. Each of them has generously reflected on the twists and turns of their journeys and shared valuable conclusions and lessons. All also understood the concept from the start and needed no persuasion to participate, which, in fairness, speaks as much to the caché of the FT as to the strength of the campaign.
These pieces have performed well above the FT’s benchmark, with over 15,000 page views since launching at the start of May and an average attention time on the page nearly double the normal rate. We’ve also had very high engagement across our social media channels, with our interviewees also willingly participating in the promotion of their pieces. More will follow in the FT in the autumn.
Our podcast series, Talking Success with Aasmah Mir, features social impact entrepreneur Mark Cheng, author, CEO and professor Margaret Heffernan, co-founders of fashion tech firm 3DLOOK Whitney Cathcart and Vadim Rogovskiy, Antengene founder Dr Jay Mei, CEO of wine business Ferrari Trento, and Altagamma chairman, Matteo Lunelli and Dr Wisam Breegi, creator of anti-Covid protective equipment at Breegi Scientific. A very varied set of individuals, all with powerful stories to tell and experiences to share.
Pulling all of these together has been no mean feat. The single biggest obstacle is the most mundane – the endless back and forth of finding suitable dates for the interviewees, reporters, hosts, producers etc. and many exciting clients had to pass on getting involved before we were able to secure all of the above.
But prior to that, there was the question of persuading our lawyers, who are the gatekeepers to the clients, to provide us with suggestions. Thankfully, plenty of our lawyers were open to the idea, but looking at it from their perspective, there is some risk in squandering their clients’ goodwill and patience on an unproven scheme. And, to some extent, clients are reluctant to go first – it helps to put one’s mind to rest to know that other high-profile individuals are already committed to a project before you sign yourself up!
Despite these issues, we have achieved what we were looking for in our roster of interviewees and are signing up clients for our Asia media activity for the second round of FT pieces and further podcasts.
Our ambition with the campaign has been to illustrate our capabilities through the success of our clients and to create a powerful ‘framing’ technique to capture the interest of other senior people. Just as consumers don’t want to know the technical details of a service, so they also look to those they regard as their peers for information, lessons and advice. We are happy to be able to facilitate this and to be a part of this exchange of knowledge and experience.
Duncan Miller is the Global Public Relations Manager and Paul Askew the Marketing and Business Development Manager for Dispute Resolution at Withersworldwide.