Dude, your collateral sucks!

Off the back of attending a seminar for corporate counsel and risk professionals on the Bribery Act, and having previously worked with a law firm developing some anti-bribery products for their clients, I decided to see how law firms were marketing their services in this area.

Terry managed to get to the second paragraph of Hernshaw & Co's primer on the Bribery Act

My methodology was scientific and rigorous.

(not really)

A quick Google for .pdf files immediately pulled up a host of “briefing notes” (compelling title huh?), and I picked around 12 from top 50 UK law firms to read.

I can sum up the experience in a sentence.

They were ALL THE SAME!

Not just the content, but the structure, the style of writing and the design. So, so similar. In fact, you could have swapped the firm logos around and struggled to tell whose was whose.

The gist was essentially: “Corruption. New law. Bribery Act. Coming into force. Very serious. New offences. Directors, imprisoned. Very serious. Corporate hospitality. Unlimited fines. Very serious. Facilitation payments. Overseas. Public officials. Different cultures. Be careful. Very serious. New guidance. Contact us.

In essence, it was all very factual, and clearly provided some benefit if you wanted a brief overview of the Act. Most of them provided some very high level suggestions of what to do to prepare, and included a dusting of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), to encourage the reader to pick up the phone.

But where was the engagement and creativity? Surely bribery is the great subject matter for telling some stories? Is there any relevant experience that they could have shared (obviously with client confidentiality and professional obligations respected)? How could they have brought some colour or added some value to the subject?

Something they could have done with the style or design to be a bit different? Maybe thinking a bit creatively about the content or structure?

How could they have made it engaging?

How could you make it something you’d like to read?

Something the reader would remember? Enjoy even?

An honorable mention goes to Addleshaw Goddard, who authored the only note I looked at that was slightly different. Titled “strawberries, cream and porridge” it looked specifically at the implications of the Act for corporate hospitality, and did stand out as a bit more useful than the vanilla briefings I found elsewhere.

One of the best examples of firms doing this type of thing differently, and doing it well, is Lewis Silkin’s employment team, who put out a great newsletter called (from memory) “Newsnotes”, which was one of the few regular newsletters I used to receive inhouse that I’d always take the time to read.

“Why?” I hear you ask. Primarily because it was genuinely funny, and in having a good chuckle, I’d always learn something.

So, apologies to those who spent the time writing the briefings (I don’t mean to offend, and because I didn’t name and shame, maybe I didn’t read yours!) and also to those who did do something a bit different but whose briefing I didn’t find.

It’s a crowded marketplace. Every now and then a change (new piece of law for example!) means clients and prospects will look to our profession for guidance. By all means educate, but also don’t miss the opportunity to engage and stand out!

4 thoughts on “Dude, your collateral sucks!

    1. Ravinder

      I agree – this is very true. The subject matter lends itself to some excellent story telling and anecdotes. I think your review highlights how serious lawyers can be sometimes or they fall into the occupational hazard of presenting (either verbally or in written form) material in a formal and standardised way. I would also comment that some clients do prefer to have the more formal approach, but that said, this really is the way to make it stick out and look different.

  1. Tim Hill

    Totally agree with all this Mark. Last week I tried to liven up our internal business market knowledge management publication with a bit of poetry! Coincidentally it was about the Bribery Act. I had some really positive feedback and my colleagues who are running training sessions for clients had colleagues contact them too. The internal email read as follows:

    Our Shared Knowledge emails have run for a while
    and some of the feedback we’ve had has been vile.
    So we had an idea
    from a chap called Ed Lear
    and we’re spicing it up in some style.

    You’ll still get the technical range,
    of sectors, markets, modes of change,
    and the way we’ll deliver
    might make some slightly shiver
    but the aim is to learn, not derange.

    So here’s the first one of these.
    On the Bribery Act, what a tease.
    It was coming along,
    then Ken Clarke said, “that’s wrong”
    “It’ll surely all end in some sleaze.”

    But when does a bribe break the law?
    There are changes afoot that’s for sure.
    Contracts, policy wording are key,
    saving clients BIG fines, for a fee
    Guy and Tom’s training sessions tell more.

    I then had the traditional briefing note at the bottom once I’d grabbed their attention. It would be fun to send this type of communication to clients – it might surpise them and as you say stand out.


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