Unlike retail or FMCG brands, law firms in Hong Kong do not market themselves through fancy TVCs. Yet in such a competitive market, they can't afford to sit back and wait for clients to knock on their doors. Campaign Asia-Pacific caught up with Nicholas Moore, head of business development with Deacons, the largest and oldest law firm in Hong Kong, and asked him how his firm manages to differentiate itself from its competitors.
Moore (pictured) moved to Hong Kong last February from London, where he was deputy head of marketing at Farrer & Co, to take up the role as head of business development at Deacons. The firm was established in 1851 and is Hong Kong's oldest and largest independent law firm.
Campaign Asia-Pacific met Moore on 1 August in the law firm, which occupies five floors in Alexandra House, in the heart of Hong Kong's Central business district.
Since Moore joined Deacons, the firm has engaged Kreab Gavin Anderson (KGA) and its sister creative agency Doremus to carry out a brand research project, following a competitive pitch.
“Although we are the oldest law firm in Hong Kong, it is a crowded market and we face increasing competition from big global law firms like Baker & McKenzie, US and UK law firms and domestic firms," Moore explained. "We recognise the need to manage our brand and make sure our profile is in the right place. That's why we need outside help."
KGA has just completed the first phase of the project by carrying out internal and external research. This involves asking stakeholders for their feelings about the Deacons brand to see what improvements could be carried out and to develop the brand's strategies, values, pillars and propositions.
Moore's team is presenting the research findings back to the various stakeholders and working on building a consensus internally. Doremus will then embark on the creative stage by revamping the firm's website and social-media marketing initiatives.
The firm sees the need to figure out how it can present itself online, Moore said. "I think law firms are generally a bit slow on the uptake of Linkedin and Twitter and are more cautious in embracing social media," Moore reckoned, "it is more about profile rather than 'this is going to generate new business immediately'."
Moore is of the opinion that historically advertising alone has not been one of the most effective tactics for law firms in terms of profile building and name awareness.
"We are not in the same world as retail or FMCG, and do not do sexy multibillion branding TVC campaigns," he said.
Nevertheless, brand differentiation is important. "Why would you choose one product over another, why would you go to Cafe Cova instead of going to Starbucks?" he asked.
One of the ways the company does that is to articulate its messages around legislation and regulations, which are not just affecting clients in Hong Kong, but internationally, since Deacons relies on referrals from international law firms for its global clients.
The 625-strong (approximately 200 lawyers) Deacons has an office in Hong Kong and three representative offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. Clients include Gucci, Yakult, MTR, Reckitt Benckiser, Tsui Wah Restaurant, Chinachem Group and Sun Hung Kai International.
Moore said law is a ‘people business’, and his emphasis is on trying to help lawyers in the firm to raise their profiles by having them be quoted in the established press. Examples include having the firm's lawyers talk about intellectual property issues in China or capital market issues affecting Hong Kong. He pointed out that when clients read the editorial coverage, "it lends more credibility or weight for us than just advertising alone."
On the marketing front, Moore's team is doing its marketing through media relations, sponsorship, conferences and roundtables. For example the firm might invite an important figure like the head of the Securities and Futures Commission to talk about financial-services regulations, which shows clients the scope of work that Deacons can do in particular sectors, and the extent of its expertise and connections.
"We need to look at these activities as brand and profile awareness and that's got to be more important than any business generation that comes after that," he said. “It's quite difficult if you try to judge the return on investment from an individual marketing campaign, when the relationships that we foster or cultivate are carried out over one, two or three years after we get a new instruction."
Commenting on his move to Hong Kong, Moore said he has been pleasantly surprised to find how welcoming and engaging people here are. “Everything is shifting to the east, it is a great time to be here,” he said. "Hong Kong is so vibrant and dynamic, you could easily bump into someone, talk about sports, exchange business cards and then talk about business, and arrange a meeting the next day. In the UK it may take a little longer to get to that stage. Hong Kong is always moving and things are happening very quickly.”