Wednesday 23 January 2019, London

On a chilly Wednesday evening, PM Forum members gathered to hear the findings from the annual Marketing Leaders' Benchmark and discuss what the professional services industry can expect to see in the year ahead. 

Held at Clyde and Co’s office in the City of London, the event was led by Alastair Beddow of Meridian West who was joined by an esteemed panel made up of Stephen Arnold, Clyde & Co; Virginia Cook, Coffin Mew; and Jess Gowar, BDO. 

Alastair opened the presentation by posing the question: “Where do we think we are now?” and taking a straw poll from the audience. 

The findings from the floor showed: 

  • 1/2 seemed optimistic
  • 1/3 less optimistic
  • Rest of group said they didn't know - or were hesitant to provide an answer, perhaps  until after 29 March! 

“Seize the opportunity!”

Each of the panelists agreed that there is scope for opportunity in the year ahead in spite of any political uncertainty. 

Jess who is currently working on the merger of BDO and Moore Stephens, mentioned a catalyst for change will be competing with the Big Four and moving into the legal services market and with that there will be a need for marketing teams to “deepen your resources”.

Stephen commented, “We’ve got the client base and are feeling optimistic”.

Virginia commented that they were still “Bullish with lots of opportunity in South Coast and Thames Valley”.

Alastair then proceeded to deliver the results of the survey and the key themes.

• Growth, Efficiency and Business Transformation drive the agenda:

66% say Growth is the top priority and of those surveyed and 97% stated Growth as a top three priority followed by Efficiency at 21% and Transformation at 14%. Stephen stated that marketers need to be aware of ‘initiative overload’ and to “zero in on growth as a strategy” and keep initiatives to fewer, key projects that are focused. “Keep an eye on the competition, but don't get caught up n the noise". It was also discussed that marketing will play a key part in business planning with 24% expected to refresh their strategy.

• Spending priorities: 

Marketing budgets have increased on average to 2.4%.  However organisations are looking to leaner teams to drive strategy.  One notable point identified in the presentation was that the role of marketing and the level of which it is understood with results depicting 58% of those surveyed showed no change in the last five years.

• Client Listening tops the list of hard and soft skills gaps: 

A key area of focus will be Client Development and helping fee earners improve their CRM initiatives as well as the importance of being the ‘owner’ of your (market) space, with 47% of those surveyed listing Client Listening as a key area for implementation and the largest skills gap, whilst Emotional Intelligence was the lowest statistic at 5%. 

• Appetite for mergers: 

The panel also touched on their involvement in mergers and offered their insights.

Make sure you “pick the right company," commented Jess and “leverage the possibilities between you.”

Virginia stated Coffin Mews have engaged in merger activity and were “hungry for another” firm outside of London.  They are underpinned by “strategic ambition and energy".

Stephen said they’ve been “addicted to mergers and laterals” and will continue to find and turn around opportunities. He added there is a need to balance the organic with the lateral growth.

• Challenges:

The political landscape could not be avoided in the evening’s discussions and the panel gave their views on approach. 

Stephen mentioned that the “real concerns are global and not just geopolitical” using an example of when a CEO travels to a country and the issues faced when entering certain jurisdictions.

Jess commented that in a list of clients' concerns, Brexit only made number six.  “It’s more about delivery for clients.”

Virginia said that “Businesses still need to operate” and discussed the importance of a diverse client base and being agile in your operations. 

PM Forum Regional Director, Susanne Pugsley also offered that some clients are “holding off” from progressing key projects where there is investment and no immediate return on investment.

• Technology:

Jess raised the issue whether “Tech was overhyped?” and the importance to use technology where you can leverage the results. “Technology becomes the hygiene factor”.  For example, when fee earners believe that developing an App is a means of differentiation.  Marketers need to consider the (over)use of technology to make improvements and not just because it’s there.  The panelists agreed that they will continue to invest in technology

• Flexible working is a key factor:

Hiring managers and recruiters will need to recognise that this is now a big factor in recruitment and is on the increase. Remote working and investment in training and development plays a key factor.

Final points from the panel in delivering performance in 2019: 

  • Listen to client insights to influence what’s needed from the business
  • Make sure senior stakeholders understand the purpose of initiatives and get buy-in
  • Focus on what positivity you can bring
  • Demonstrate the value you add and “speak their language” in terms of how initiatives will: generate ROI, or add value to the brand, or help to transform the business
  • Win the trust of your key stakeholders and they will think of you again and again.

The presentation wrapped up with an opportunity for Q+A and a question was raised on whether the market is calling for the Generalist v the Specialist.

The panel agreed whether you are a generalist or a specialist, you must be able to deliver and demonstrate growth; a key theme from the research.  Another key take away from our panel was to “spot those opportunities” and “push outside your comfort zone!”

As we head into 2019 and although facing political uncertainty, the professional services market is maintains a positive outlook and focused on making a difference. 

Onwards and upwards for 2019.

Christine Baltas
Senior Marketing and Business Development Practitioner