Are you recession ready?

Nobody likes talking about the R word. It’s possibly the only non-profanity that’s less popular with business than the B word. Deal-makers, bankers and accountants: no one likes to say that deal volumes are down. Lawyers possibly least of all. After all, financial services is a lofty confidence game and nobody wants to startle the horses.

In my experience, the first sign of an upcoming recession is: people writing stories about the first signs of an upcoming recession. (This is one of them, so you have been warned.)

And the second sign is that Linklaters does something out of the ordinary. Oh, and maybe Slaughters. Linklaters traditionally through saying and then doing, and Slaughters through doing.

What happened in the last recession?

Linklaters has taken a first mover stance on the last two recessions. It acts early and decisively.

In the 2008 recession, Linklaters famously hived off their CEE practice (and Kinstellar was launched – an anagram of its former mothership, no less).

Linklaters also took the McKinsey approach and said that would no longer act for clients who they’d been billing less than ££70k a year for. It chopped off its long tail. Sure, it makes sense now and it made theoretical sense then, but it was a brave move in challenging market conditions. They positioned themselves as a pure play premium brand, sent out work to loads of other firms who were happy to pick up clients billing up to £70k a year. They moved early, they were clear, the market understood their positioning (clients, their own people, the media, targets, everyone) and that meant that they didn’t need to waste time having conversations that were not going to go anywhere. Hence, a leaner, meaner more profitable machine.

Advantage Linklaters.

And so to Slaughters. Until the past few years, Slaughters has always been something of an enigma. The mystique that surrounds the firm is down, in no small part as it being (rightly, in my opinion) the only firm to refrain from becoming an LLP in the top 50. Add to that the fact that they never officially confirmed their financials, and had no press office function until relatively recently (although the one they do now have is excellent). And the fact that it is probably the best connected law firm in the UK. Constantly winning the kinds of mandates that any firm would want to win. Their strategy: do good work and stay close to clients, listen for opportunities. Obvious, hackneyed and hard to replicate. Any attempts to copy Slaughters’ strategy reminds me of that Bob Hope joke:

‘How do you become a millionaire? Well, you start will two million dollars…’

And – for me – the moment that Slaughters’ strategy shone most brightly was in October 2008. Gordon Brown’s government needed to save the banking sector as the bedrock/engine of the UK’s economic well-being and Slaughters accepted the mandate.

According to the profile of Slaughters’ partner Charles Randell in The Telegraph around that time:

Over the course of 72 hours over one weekend, Mr Randell and a team of colleagues raced to recapitalise the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds TSB and HBOS, while at the same time forming contingency plans for a raft of other City institutions.

But I think it’s fair to say that Slaughters had not primarily been advising the Government or Treasury in the years leading up to that weekend. It had been advising corporates and banks like many other firms. (Although some firms favoured banks over corporates, Slaughters tended to act for both corporates and banks in their capacity as corporates (e.g. on Santander’s acquisition trail in 03/04). It’s very similar to Wachtell’s strategy of being *the* preeminent corporate law firm on the other side of the water.

But it was Slaughters’ ability to pivot and pick up the £33m mandate from the Government that stood out. It had, through Randell, continued to engage with Government even when that was unfashionable or thought of as unprofitable or a little odd.

Even 11 years down the line, one detail sticks out for me. One of the top of equity partners at Slaughters took the lead over that weekend on documentation management. That ability to do what needs to be done, to pivot, to get your ego out of the way and act: that is the sign of a genuinely world-class organisation.

As for that Hope joke, we don’t all start out with Slaughters’ and Linklaters’ advantage of already being among the best connected law firms in the UK. But we can ask ourselves the same challenging questions that they both do every time a recession is upon us:

  • Is our firm recession ready?
  • How would like to emerge from the recession?
  • How can we gain market share?
  • What is in our control that is not in keeping with our strategy? What is holding us back? How do we reposition it?

Are you recession ready?

Would you be ready to pivot and take the UK Government’s banking instruction (or an equivalent for your organisation)?

Would partner egos get in the way?

Would your management committees take six months to act?

How do you know it’s the right time to plan?

I wrote on Twitter last week that the early bird gets the worm, and the second mouse gets the cheese. But nobody wants to be the second bird or the first mouse. But this isn’t (necessarily) acting, it’s planning. Then, when the time is right, acting.

Why bother?

The clearer your strategy, the sharper your story, the more others will understand it and, as a result, work will come to you. You will emerge stronger from the next recession.

The more diverse and varied your mission, the more you’re just one of the masses. The more you’re at the vagaries of the market. The more your survival is down to hope and luck than good planning.

Some firms will go out of business this next two years because they have failed to sufficiently prepare for what happens next.

Big Four will continue to invade your territory and take your work, silently, until you notice too late. Some areas of law are pretty much only done by Big Four now. Fast forward a couple of years and this is only likely to have become even more the case.

The Brexit dividend for lawyers could be real or it could mask the real challenge: that deal volumes will decrease as a result of Brexit/recession/a Brexit-induced recession.

So, I’ll ask again…

Are you recession ready? Have you planned for what happens next? Have you run the scenarios? What did you learn? What have you changed as a result? Does everyone at the firm understand the plan?

Because planning for it will mean a better chance of emerging stronger on the other side.

And what’s the worst that could happen by planning now?

Precisely.

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Forever friends… Have you got your evergreen content strategy right?

Why Friends is the evergreen content every marketer needs to love

Talk about spotting a hole in your pipeline: Netflix recently paid $100m to extend its contract to show Friends for one more year on its service.

$100m. $2.74m per day. For Friends. Which ended 15 years ago. Which we watched for free at the time. Although they did warn us at the time that ‘content is king’.

Friends is something of a content anomaly: 236 episodes most of which are playing somewhere in the world as I write this. And yet this year, 15 years after the last show aired, Warner Bros will reportedly earn $1bn in revenues for reruns.

In turn, the cast will each earn around $22m this year for their reruns fees (they collectively negotiated for per episode and rerun rights in 2002). This year’s fees will match what they earned in the final years of the show (although, inflation…)

I should have known something was up when my fashion-forward teenager wanted a Friends top from Urban Outfitters last year and it cost £45.

The value of evergreen content

It’s amazing, really, to think that a show that was about friendship and relationships has aged quite so well. Most shows from 15 years ago have some awkward moments when watching them today – perhaps there are some nuggets in there that I’d wince at in Friends, but it certainly has proven pretty timeless.

And this is important for you as a professional or a professional services marketing individual because I think a lot of the content we produce is ephemeral. Timely content gets us immediate clicks and eyeball time, but does it pay the bills?

My experience tells me that that kind of content should have its place in your content marketing strategy (otherwise, why on earth am I writing this article?) but it’s the hare to the tortoise of evergreen content.

Evergreen content should be the cornerstone of your content marketing strategy. Something that:

  • Is timeless or updateable but shouldn’t need too much updating;
  • Speaks to a need that your audience has;
  • Answers their questions and concerns;
  • Is loved by Google; and
  • Keeps traffic tipping in day in, day out.

For each of my clients, I can think about one or two (or more) pieces of evergreen content that we have produced together that lead to instructions. People have an issue or a challenge or an opportunity, they look for corresponding content and then follow the call to action.

It may cost more to produce than the regular updates. And it will take longer than those articles. But I promise you, an evergreen content strategy is what you need.

Let me know if you’d like to find a time to work on yours. I can’t promise that it’ll last 15+ years, or that it’ll definitely make you a multimillionaire among the way. But who knows?


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Sixteen degrees of separation and a man named Dave

Sometime around February 10th 2019, Dave L Clements decided he’d change my world forever. 

I don’t know Dave. You might, but I have never met him. I probably never will.

That said, I *can* tell you a few things that I have found out about him:

First, that he’s “an astrophysicist by profession, working in extragalactic astronomy and observational cosmology, and an SF writer by inclination”. His words but my kinda guy.

Second, I can tell you that he’s got around as many followers on Twitter as I do. Okay, so he has 10% more followers than I do – but near enough. But he tweets a lot more than me. In almost ten years on Twitter (3,605 days, actually) he has tweeted an amazing 64,400 times. That’s an average of 17.9 tweets a day (compared to my paltry 6,406 tweets in 2,661 days at 2.4 tweets a day).

Third, that four people that I follow on Twitter also follow Dave, three of them called Steve. This overlap represents 0.3% of my followers and 0.28% of his). 99.72% of his followers don’t know me and don’t follow me on Twitter.

Which brings me to my final thing I know about Dave: he has connected me to potentially everyone else on Twitter recently.

On  February 10th, Dave’s Twitter connection Simon Bradshaw wrote this tweet:

The book covers game

You’ve seen this kind of thing, right? The game is simple enough: over 7 consecutive days, post seven book covers and tag in a new person each day inviting them to join the challenge.

Well, Simon asked Tim. And Tim asked Clive Chamberlain. Clive asked Welsh Girl Abroad, who asked Rhys, who asked Kathryn, who asked Samantha, who asked Nigel. Nigel asked Dave E, who asked Carol who asked the APPG on Legal Aid Reform, who asked Catherine, who asked Dana, who asked Helen, who asked Christie, who asked me.

16 degrees of separation between me and Dave covered in just 57 days.

What can we learn from the game?

Looking up the chain got me thinking a few things:

Firstly, that the law is a bit siloed – everyone on the list going backwards works in the legal sector until you get to Dave. Sure, some of us are not lawyers, but that’s quite an amazing chain in one industry.

Second that people on Twitter are quite well connected. No-one seemed to struggle to find seven people to ask.

Third, that you get a lot of mentions if you use the standard text and all your people complete the challenge (you’d get mentioned a minimum 50 times if they all did it as structured).

Fourth, the sheer power of our networks.

The power of our networks

Perhaps only half the people involved engaged with it and only did half the task. An average of 3.5 people did 3.5 tweets. This is a pure guesstimate (something that would probably upset Dave given his profession); based on nothing more than eyesight and a gut feeling.

But let’s play that out, over 16 generations of the game. If 3.5 people ask 3.5 people who each ask 3.5 people… then that’s the same as saying

3.5 + 3.5^2 + 3.5^3 + 3.5^4 + 3.5^5 +… 3.5^16 = 709 million people.

As of Feb 2019, Twitter has an active user base of 326 million.

Clearly, we haven’t allowed for duplications, but it’s a stunning reach given all Dave was doing was sharing some book covers.

Looking down the line

I then asked Julian, Nikki, Tasha, Rich, John, Margaret and Scott to play the game. Some of them have taken up the mantel and the game goes. I have seen some of the people they have nominated nominate others, who have then nominated others. This will continue to reverberate, I assume, for a few more weeks until it peters out.

So what does it mean for us in terms of marketing?

First, I wanted to show the sheer breadth of our social networks. Hopefully, professionals no longer say that they don’t need social media (I will do a separate blog on the day that that conversation died with one specific event). But I didn’t want to examine the total number of users of a social medium, but rather by looking at how quickly we can get into the tens of thousands in our second- and third-degree networks.

In the case of this chain, it’s tens of millions (or more) of book lovers connected by a single social media thread. In my own LinkedIn third-degree network, there are tens of millions contacts, which means that for over ten million contacts, I could be introduced to them by someone that knows me who knows one of their contacts.

Applying the Ben Franklin effect (i.e. that someone will do you a favour if you ask them first (it’s a form of cognitive dissonance)) that means straight that off the bat, we can ask our network to introduce us to millions of people. Think of the power of that. It’s something I talk about a lot with my clients.

And, as you’re an expert at something, I don’t think that asking someone to introduce you to someone that they know is going to be too hard. Maybe not all your followers value your expertise, but enough will do that mean that you are a second degree connection of enough of the right people to never have to cold call anyone ever again.

Final thoughts

Firstly, thanks Christie for asking me to play the game. I’ve loved it.

Second, come on Dave, close the circle and follow me and retweet this blog post, yeah?

Finally, since you’re all dying to know, here are my books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thousand-Autumns-Jacob-Zoet/dp/0340921587
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kill-Mockingbird-Harper-Lee/dp/0099549484/ref=sr_1_1?adgrpid=55975571249&hvadid=259052525490&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9045627&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t1&hvqmt=e&hvrand=4937869349707203526&hvtargid=kwd-39476430&keywords=to+kill+a+mockingbird&qid=1555264032&s=gateway&sr=8-1
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Foundation-Isaac-Asimov/dp/0008117497/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2CZ2AJYWQZHV0&keywords=foundation+asimov&qid=1555264061&s=gateway&sprefix=foundarion+asimo%2Caps%2C155&sr=8-1
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jerusalem-NHB-Modern-Plays-Butterworth/dp/1848420501/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=jerusalem+play&qid=1555264090&s=gateway&sr=8-1
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wicked-1-Years/dp/0755331605/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=wicked+book&qid=1555264108&s=gateway&sr=8-1
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hitchhikers-Guide-Galaxy-Douglas-Adams/dp/1509808310/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=hitchhikers+guide+to+the+galaxy&qid=1555264176&s=gateway&sr=8-2
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mort-Discworld-Novel-Novels/dp/0552166626/ref=sr_1_1?crid=32XAF3HFPMAUR&keywords=mort+pratchett&qid=1555264196&s=gateway&sprefix=mort+pract%2Caps%2C150&sr=8-1

P.S. The photo image at the top of this article was taken by Joanna Kosinska, a freelance photographer. You can see more of her work here.

 

Writing to make you laugh and cry, and think and buy

I’ve been thinking a lot about words recently. About better writing. No change there, then. Specifically, on the back of a marketing report I have had in my back pocket for a while called World Class Bristol, I have been thinking about the difference between great and world class. I’ve done loads of research (and won’t spoil it for you before it’s launched), but one of the things I’d highlight as separating the leaders from others is this: having an opinion, expressing it (and then acting on it).

I will cover getting to your opinion and acting on it elsewhere. After years of working inside professional services firms (and having loved the vast majority of it, I might add), I have spent this last year finding my voice in my communications. Having spent years writing for others, it’s new and different and I enjoy it.

For the purposes of this post, I wanted to know what others like me had written about that had been most successful and had most inspired them, so I asked them in a group called Freelance Heroes on Facebook. An innocent query landed me over 100 responses, some of them with the most startling writing.

Here are some of those beautiful pieces please read/share/retweet as you see fit.

The one that made me stop and think

Balancing motherhood and a freelance career: five lessons” by Stephanie Reed

The one for the fellow freelancer

Why I gave up looking for work” by Chris Worth.

The one that tackles the unmentionable fear

Breaking up with the Sunday night fear” by Helen Campbell

The one that made me cry

{Jaxon’s Birth Story} Dear Blueberry Week 1” by Hannah Johnson

The one that made me laugh

How Long Should a Blog Post Be?” by Gareth Hancock

 

Inspired and want to improve your writing? Next steps…

Please drop me a line if you’d like to learn how to write better articles that are shared and read by hundreds/thousands of people. Feel free to send me your own favourite blog posts.

 

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