Winning hearts and minds

On the verge of a golden era for patent and trade mark attorneys, Dehns is deploying marketing skills in ways it has not done before. Neasa MacErlean interviews the Business Development and Marketing team — Olly Bonser, Claire Whittle and Crystal Hindocha.

Dehns used to be one of those organisations with plenty of presence on the ground but little profile. “Dehns is a leading firm,” says Olly Bonser, Head of Business Development. “But when I joined two years ago, no-one had really heard of us apart from our clients. It was clear that we needed to make more noise.” The first thing to do was to encourage the 100 fee-earners that they should look away from their work occasionally and start focusing on marketing and business development too. Easier said than done. The vast majority are super bright scientists, and about 40 per cent have PhDs; they are not, by nature, marketing animals.

But, digging away in the London-based firm’s data banks, Bonser found exactly the sort of information that would convince sceptical scientists. It turned out that in 2016 Dehns filed the joint highest number of European Patent applications among all European patent attorney practices. In other words, any claims that it wanted to make about being at the top of the tree were true — and its 31 partners and the other 170 personnel could be confident about trumpeting its success.

At first Bonser was on his own but after a few months he recruited Claire Whittle as Marketing and Communications Manager and Crystal Hindocha as Business Development Assistant. Both of them began digging, researching and interviewing their fee-earning colleagues, like Bonser had done. For instance, Hindocha works with fee-earners travelling to the US, China, Japan and other crucial locations for the firm to find out who they should aim to meet when they arrive in Washington DC, Shanghai or Osaka. And this produces results. “The whole face-to-face element is key,” she says. “They are more likely to be remembered.” From six offices in the UK and one in Munich, Dehns is targeting a global market — particularly in the US, UK, Scandinavia and Asia.

Whittle’s research is of a slightly different kind — finding the best ways to encourage partners and staff to market and communicate the brand to a targeted audience. But telling them what to do would not win their commitment. So, for instance, she took a roadshow around the offices in early 2017 to persuade fee-earners of the benefits of LinkedIn. “More people have now set up profiles and are being active,” she says. Similarly, a new intranet approach to internal comms is gaining significant ground. “People internally are aware of it and acknowledging it, and they are more aware of the brand than they used to be. And if an attorney presents content they are usually using our templates now rather than their own system.”

In the 20 or so months that this three-person team has been together Dehns has had its best results ever. The firm does not give turnover information but Bonser says that financial year 2016/17 was the “best year ever” and that 2017/18 is shaping up to beat that. “The market is growing massively,” he says. “There is a huge amount of investment in R&D and technology around the world. And our top 10 to 15 clients are doing really, really well. We are recruiting like crazy. We are getting ready for the next wave of work coming through.”

With the marketing team in place, Dehns is able to use resources better. The German office, for instance, was opened in 1999 around the corner from the European Patent Office. In patent terms, Munich is a world capital. And, partly for that reason, says Bonser, “Japanese and Chinese organisations tend to like working with German attorneys.” In 2013, Dehns collaborated with a local firm to set up a Joint Venture called Dehns Germany. But it is only in the last few months that regular expert commentary has started to flow from the Munich office and onto the firm’s website, twitter feed and other outlets.

The marketing team use Passle software to increase the online content flow. Only a couple of years back, there were just half a dozen new articles on the website each year. Now the rate is 20 times higher, reaching about 100 pieces annually. The articles cover the whole range of the firm’s technology specialisms and IP-related issues, and have been viewed more than 20,000 times in total. Twitter followers are up three times in number from 2016 to about 600, and LinkedIn contacts are up two-thirds to about 1,000.

The marketing team continues to learn more from the practice’s wells of deep expertise and to try to spread them to other areas. “We are very big in Norway so we are working on how we replicate that to the rest of Scandinavia,” says Bonser, giving one example. Another success has been to invest more marketing time in understanding the depth of skill the firm has in trademarks. This resulted in Dehns achieving ‘top tier’ status for trademarks in the 2017 Legal 500 directory for the first time in many years. “We’ve always been top tier for patents but there is very little movement between tiers and now we are there for trademarks as well,” says Bonser. “I wouldn’t say we’d lose work without it but we might not win as much.” Another innovation the team has introduced is to segment the market — into global multinationals, universities and other sectors — and to focus attendance at events and articles into these zones.

On top of these initiatives there is a commitment — as Bonser puts it — to make “ everyone at Dehns feel as if they are part of a bigger team”. This means they recognise “that the contribution they make is to a bigger picture”, not just to their individual team. That is why, for instance, the marketing team published a new internal end of year review this year, including the fact that the firm is Europe’s co-top patent filer and incorporating updates from HR, IT and the other internal departments.

The marketing campaigns are not just about winning new business: at the deepest level, they are about winning hearts and minds. “We are raising the profile of our experts,” says Whittle. “So it’s not just about Dehns speaking: it’s the individuals themselves who speak.”