Kim Tasso

Innovative ideas to grow your firm

Kim Tasso reports on the Annual PM Forum conference, held in London last month – can small changes add up to large gains?

Whilst struggling to believe that another year has flown by, it was good to see a packed conference room again at the Congress Centre this year – both the old timers and lots of new faces. Chair Graham Munday, of engineering company Parsons Brinckerhoff, provided a lively introduction to the day’s agenda which he indicated was heavily influenced by the Forum’s regional committees. He outlined the day’s themes of advocacy, analytics, collaboration, innovation, relationships, technology and thought leadership.

Allan Evans of BDO on collaboration and role models

Mentioning the differences between the needs of Generation X and Millennials (who see a commitment to community as important for role models) he talked quietly, confidently and inspirationally about great role models and teams (“it’s not just about the stars”).

Allan reminded us of the MPF research which showed that CEOs see role models as the top driver of a collaborative team culture. I thought he was brave in sharing the results from the 2,500 surveys in his firm’s people listening programme with a matrix showing intent to stay against employee engagement. Thankfully, both look pretty strong at BDO. It was fascinating to hear how pay and performance there are linked to leadership behaviours of influence, empowerment, inspiration and delivery and about the £75 awards that can be nominated by anyone in the firm for outstanding client service.

Technology and analytics by Search Star and Realityhouse

Dan Fallon and Mike Fieldhouse were a little overshadowed by their superhero companions on the stage (throughout the day delegates clamoured to be photographed with Batman, Superman, Dr Who and Hermione – see #timeforheroes).

The importance of mobile responsive web sites and creative engagement were highlighted through guidance on “all screen, always open, audiences and attribute and measure”. Tight segmentation was a key message with examples from the world of personal injury law, the Law Society and PwC.

Looking at the Twitter responses, some felt that content marketing should have had a little more attention to balance the material on on-line advertising strategies. The speakers encouraged everyone to read the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers which I also thoroughly recommend as food for thought on the potential impact of social media in the future.

Elliot Moss interviews CMOs from Freshfields and Deloitte

The marvellous Elliot Moss, of Mishcon de Reya and Jazz FM radio, did an excellent job of finding out what goes on inside the heads of two leading CMOs. There was a high degree of similarity in priorities from Libby Chambers and Annabel Rake: the client relationship, brand engagement, dynamic infrastructure development and innovative ‘go to market’ strategies (whether by sector, geography or service line). To prepare themselves and their teams for the future they identified digital skills, cultural fluidity and time to step back and scan the horizon.

Creating conditions for innovation to flourish

I chose to remain in the main hall for this overview session which was led by a duo from Columns Design. After a quick tour of some megatrends (globalisation, digitisation, attracting and retaining talent and responsible capitalism) there was a discussion of open mode (requiring space and time to play with ideas as well as curiosity and positivity) for creative thinking and closed mode for implementation.

We were told our briefs must be concise, non-prescriptive and realistic. Then it was group activity time with scissors, card, pens and blue tack to apply our creative skills to a corner shop advertising challenge. There was much laughter at some of the results. Other delegates mentioned how impressed they were with the highly engaging and creative break out session by Claire Mason, of Man Bites Dog, on ‘championing ideas that merit attention’.

Refreshment breaks, where there was plenty of energetic debate and much networking, were sponsored by Spada (communications), Mytton Williams (brand and design) and Objective Manager (software). I had some fascinating conversations with suppliers including Chartered Developments, LexisNexis and Vuture as well as collecting giveaways including fudge and slinkeys and some relevant case studies. It was interesting to see how technology is moving apace at the stands for Manzama (content intelligence), Siteimprove (web governance), RR Donnelly (supply chain), Enable (agile) and Passle (user content generation support).

What do CEOs want from marketing?

Richard Chaplin gently cross-examined managing partners from Reed Smith (Roger Parker) and Lewis Silkin (Ian Jeffery) solicitors. They explained that their roles focused on providing strategy and direction, delivering the financial plan, line management for the C-level team and managing the engagement and well-being of their people. In terms of their requirements of marketing Roger focused on the need to align scarce resources with the plan and Ian identified the crucial challenge that most partners only understood a subset of marketing.

However, there were warnings that CMOs could become too internally focused and that they must “unwrap, unpack and get close to clients”. Information on client buying behaviour and competitor activity was on their wish list as well as deep sector knowledge and data insights to use in the effort to create sustainable client relationships. Both acknowledged that the senior folk in their firms needed knowledge from younger members if their digital engagement was to extend beyond the web site.

Getting influential contacts to attend events

Erin Hepher of Aura, who has worked with firms including Norton Rose and Olswang, shared her research from 12 leading chairmen/CEOs of major organisations on what professional advisers should do to encourage them to attend high level content and social events. Their responses included: utterly focusing on my success, regular and valuable contact, bringing me great ideas, never selling and researched, superb invitations.

Subsequent exercises and discussions added: personalisation, exclusivity, peerlevel contact and powerful platforms. I found it interesting that those surveyed had commented on the successful “relationship machine” at Slaughter and May, and Freshfields and that they received between five to 18 invitations a week of which they generally accepted one or two.

Of the other workshops, I heard extremely positive feedback about the session on writing skills from quietly spoken but genius Paul O’Regan of Word of Mouth Communications and the innovative, interactive drama role plays with candles and clapping from the Steps team.

Testing ideas directly with clients

Historically, this has always been my favourite session of the conference – hearing from the horse’s mouth what clients want. This year there was a slight change of format with Liz Kelly, former Group General Counsel of Nationwide Building Society, who was so forthright with her views last year, interviewing Beth Wallace, a procurement expert and Robin Saphra who is Group General Counsel of Colt telecommunications.

I was shocked to hear that of Colt’s 120 legal advisers only 45 attended a one day briefing that kicked off the selection process. I was also intrigued to hear his glowing testimony of Riverview Law’s operations and pleased that his views echoed my own in that solicitors should be trained in industry. On the procurement side, it was interesting to learn about its role between stakeholder needs and supplier compliance in make or buy decisions and the view that it should save an organisation between two and five per cent year on year.


Whilst ‘big idea’ innovation in the traditional sense might not have been covered, there was an underlying message about remaining alert to the market, successfully riding the constant waves of change and the impact of multiple small changes.

What I did find reassuring was the constant emphasis on the need to put clients centre stage – whether in the intent and actions of the managing partners, the priorities of chief marketing officers, in engaging staff in brand initiatives, in the use of technology and in creative communications. If we continue to track and respond to the changing needs of our clients then we will surely innovate in a way that is commercially successful for both our firms and our clients.

It was also good to hear from some new speakers – especially those from more mainstream marketing environments – rather than those professional services experts that we all know and love so well. The constant stream of tweets (see #PMFConf) from delegates, presenters and suppliers throughout the day provided an added dimension of insight, reflection and fun.

Kim Tasso is a management consultant, author and journalist. Further information at

PM Forum Conference 2014 in 125 tweets!