The professions have embraced communications techniques as firms fight
to establish their own identities. Rob Gray reports
The world of professional services was certainly simpler in the old
days. Prevented by regulations from engaging in the go-ahead
communications activities adopted by other commercial sectors, firms of
lawyers and accountants limited their marketing to little more than the
occasional client lunch - and things, for the most part, went
But when restrictions on how these firms could market themselves were
eased in the mid-1980s to be followed by the recession, the picture
changed. In today’s more commercially precarious environment,
professional services firms have a stark choice: market themselves
intelligently or go out of business.
‘In 1990 it was still possible to find ‘marketing virgins’ in
professional services,’ says Quentin Bell director, Francis Hallawell.
‘Those virgins are now either having sex or they’re not around any
As our league table shows, QBO is among those PR consultancies which has
been successful in persuading professional services clients to leap into
bed with it. QBO works for, inter alia, lawyers Frere Cholemeley
Bischoff and Garrett and Co, District Audit, chartered surveyors St
Quintin, headhunters CCG and patent attorneys Haseltine Lake.
The above cast list shows that professional services as a category
extends way beyond solicitors and accountants, taking in the likes of
loss adjusters, surveyors, architects and headhunters as well. All of
these sorts of firms face similar problems within their respective
‘The biggest challenge facing professional firms is how to evolve a
reputation into a brand with enduring standout from the rest,’ adds
This is the crux of the matter. To clients, one firm of accountants or
solicitors is pretty much like the next - they all offer the same or
‘There is a common thread running through all the professional work -
the need for differentiation in a crowded marketplace,’ says Brahm PR
managing director Dennis Kelly.
‘Clients often perceive professional firms to offer a uniform service.
There is tremendous opportunity to use PR as part of a competitive
marketing policy which allows firms to differentiate themselves and
Brahm has been doing this kind of work for clients including loss
adjusters the Cunningham Group, for which it has helped develop a new
marketing strategy built on PR, corporate advertising and a fresh
Despite their growing sophistication when it comes to marketing matters,
few professional service firms have made real strides in creating a
strong image for themselves that differentiates them from their
‘On the whole, there is not a lot to separate the major players in their
respective professional categories from each other,’ says GCI Group
director Sue Ryan. ‘There appears to be no real investment in the
development of brand character - a corporate positioning which supports
the totality of a firm’s business which is reflected in everything that
it says and does.’
Ryan’s opinions on the sector should be taken seriously. In 1984 she was
the first in-house PR executive hired by accountancy firm Arthur Young
(now Ernst and Young) in readiness for the liberalisation of the rules
on marketing, and has worked for professional services firms throughout
her 13 years in public relations.
She believes that the way to overcome the lack of differentiation is by
building specialist capabilities that allow firms to stand out from the
crowd and to showcase this expertise, together with their most
impressive staff and technology, using a specially developed
This is more important now than ever as firms vie for exposure. However,
Zoe Roberts, account director at Staniforth PR, believes the
opportunities for securing coverage, especially in the regions, are
greater than a few years ago. ‘You read about more solicitors and
accountants than any other businesses in the regional dailies,’ she
Staniforth’s clients include solicitors Lace Mawer, actuaries Watson
Wyatt and the Manchester Society of Chartered Accountants.
But while opportunities for coverage exist, the advantages tend to lie
with the larger firms who benefit from having some degree of name
recognition and have the capacity to devote resources to producing
surveys and other material that is then picked up by the media or direct
by clients. Smaller firms have to work that much harder. But there are
means at their disposal.
Handel Communications client, international search firm Korn/Ferry
Carre/Orban has teamed up with the London Business School to produce a
series of ‘thought leadership studies’ on key management issues as a way
of positioning itself in the market. Subjects tackled include corporate
governance and the executive labour market in Eastern Europe.
Manning Selvage and Lee client Russell Reynolds Associates, also a
leading executive recruiting firm, has opted for similar tactics,
commissioning MORI to carry out research on corporate governance among
over 100 of the UK’s top 250 companies.
Countrywide Porter Novelli has been focusing on the unusual offer of its
management consultancy client Gunn Partners, which has evolved a style
of operation called ‘lean consulting’ - a faster form of consultancy
using fewer consultants than usual.
Milton Keynes-based The Reputation Managers, meanwhile, numbers the
Beds, Bucks and Herts Society of Chartered Accountants among its
clients. TRM has been producing a newsletter for the Society since 1993
but in the last few months its brief has been expanded to take in a
media relations campaign to promote accountancy firms to small
businesses in its region. TRM also works for corporate solicitors
Fennemores and has undertaken project work for accountants Grant
Thornton and local solicitors Kimbell and Co.
Changes in professional services communications since our last report on
the sector include Sue Stapely’s move in June 1996 from her position as
head of the press and parliamentary unit at the Law Society to become a
director of Fishburn Hedges.
Not surprisingly, her contacts in the legal world, and the fact that she
is a qualified solicitor, have led to a beefing up of the consultancy’s
client list in this sector. Her clients include lawyers Osborne Clarke
in Bristol, Ormerod Wilkinson Marshall in Croydon, several offices of
Eversheds and work for Fountain Court barristers.
‘The work I do ranges from presentation skills training to issues
management and corporate identity, literature design and general
marketing and promotional advice,’ she says.
The thrust of all this, she adds, is in ‘maintaining client
relationships.’ It is the firms that have embraced the need to focus on
markets and customers, in a similar fashion to an fmcg company, that
Another development has seen the creation of Splash Communications
through a demerger of the PR business that was formerly part of Idea
Works, a consultancy specialising in ‘lateral thinking’. Splash clients
include technical consultancy CSBT, the Federation of Recruitment
Employment Services and Securicor Recruitment Services.
There is no doubt that professional services firms are using PR as never
before. Yet for most, especially those with rigid partnership
structures, the difficulty is in distinguishing their offer from
Case study: KPMG’s successful ways with surveys
KPMG Management Consulting, a division of big six accountancy firm KPMG,
has been trying to raise its profile among potential UK business
clients. One of the main techniques it - together with its PR agency
Marketforce Communications - has adopted is to concentrate
communications on the research and surveys published by KPMG during the
‘Our brief was to raise awareness of KPMG’s management consulting
brand,’ says Marketforce director Mark MacGregor. ‘But also to position
them as people who understand the problems of their clients.’
One of the key surveys published by KPMG this year was the National
Computer Security Survey 1996, released on7 March. As its title
suggests, this looked at the security standards companies used to
protect their electronic systems and data.
The publicity drive was timed to coincide with the release of the
report, but the bombing of London Docklands by the IRA on 9 February
1996 forced a partial rethink. Clearly, given the fatal nature of the
bombing, any response made by KPMG had to be done with sensitivity.
Marketforce wanted to avoid any charges of ‘ambulance chasing’ but
decided it would be all right to offer the media comment on the business
issues arising from disaster recovery. This was done on the day after
On 18 February, KPMG released a ten-point checklist ‘to help companies
cope with major security incidents.’ This was a tool for promoting
KPMG’s one day ‘healthcheck’ for companies concerned about their ability
to recover from serious setbacks, such as a bomb explosion.
On 7 March the survey itself was released, accompanied by a press
release which focused on the striking conclusion that 98 per cent of UK
businesses have not implemented the BS7799 standard laid down as the
minimum for computer security.
The media were given a presentation and briefing on the report and were
issued with computer disks containing graphical data. The survey
obtained about 60 pieces of coverage in national and regional newspapers
and trade titles, as well as radio and TV exposure.
‘It was good solid coverage,’ says KPMG Management Consulting PR manager
Mark Allatt. ‘The beauty of a report like that is that it sits in a
journalist’s file and is continually referred to. In our experience
surveys and conference speaking are the best ways of presenting
ourselves because we don’t actually have a product to show.’
Marketforce has also given communications advice linked to other KPMG
Management Consulting surveys, including Europe - the Battle Continues
on the automotive assembly and components sector, The Internet - A Guide
for Business Users and Electronic Commerce Research Report.
Case study: Giving Richard Ellis surveyors a promising aspect
Richard Ellis is one of the UK’s leading firms of chartered surveyors.
Established in 1773 it has grown into a multi-national practice
employing 2,000 staff at 61 offices worldwide.
Financial Dynamics corporate director Karen Roberts has worked with
Richard Ellis for about eight years, the last three-and-a-half while at
FD and before that at GCI. During this time the way Richard Ellis has
positioned itself in the marketplace has moved on substantially.
Although communicating the transactions that Richard Ellis has been
involved in to the commercial property press remains important, other PR
needs have come to the fore. As in all areas of professional services
the question of differentiation from rivals has become paramount.
‘If we wish to be market leaders we must market ourselves as market
leader and show what is distinctive about the practice,’ says Richard
Ellis head of marketing Stephen Clues.
In order to achieve this, the communications strategy has shifted to put
more weight on building a corporate image. The financial and general
business press has become as much of a target as the specialist property
titles - although, according to Clues, communicating big deals in which
Richard Ellis has played a part, such as the sale of the Lloyd’s
building and lettings at Canary Wharf continues to be vital to
illustrate the ‘translation of theory into practice’.
The main weapon in this assault has been research, which has been used
for both publicity and positioning purposes. Twice a year Richard Ellis
commissions and publishes a Gallup Survey on the attitudes of investors
and bankers to London. This is key because, as Roberts puts it, the firm
‘wants to be seen as the City surveyor.’
Throughout the year Richard Ellis publishes plenty of other research on
subjects such as rental levels and European property markets. Against
this background, Financial Dynamics has been working hard to highlight
its client’s growing consultancy business and areas of expertise such as
its corporate and public sector property groups. Winning business in the
property market in this day and age is all about being to offer added
‘Fund managers and the like are encroaching on chartered surveyors’
areas of business,’ says Roberts. ‘If surveyors just look at their
traditional lines of business they will fall behind.’
Earlier this year, Financial Dynamics handled the PR for Richard Ellis
and four of its rivals as they came together to put properties they were
marketing on the Internet.
All of this is a far cry from where surveyors were a decade ago. Things
have moved on, so much so that Richard Ellis is planning to change its
structure from a traditional partnership into one more in keeping with
today’s business imperatives.
‘It can be like having 50 clients within one client, all the partners
with their egos and targets,’ says Roberts. That should change. As has
much else about Richard Ellis.
Professional services PR 1-30
Rank Company Prof serv income % overall Total UK PR income
(pounds) income (pounds)
1 Shandwick 2,243,000 10 22,430,000
2 Hill & Knowlton (UK) 604,700 5 12,094,000
3 Countrywide Porter 540,313 4 13,507,826
4 Fishburn Hedges 451,142 14 3,222,443
5 The Reputation 420,882 25 1,683,529
6 Charles Barker 381,659 7 5,452,267
7 Daniel J Edelman 376,118 9 4,179,093
8 Burson-Marsteller 330,314 3 11,010,475
9 GCI Group London 299,682 9 3,329,800
10 Marketforce 298,220 62 481,000
11 Brahm PR 294,540 20 1,472,698
13 Staniforth PR 279,220 23 1,214,000
12 Camargue 267,825 15 1,785,503
14 Quentin Bell 264,729 10 2,647,291
15 Ludgate Group 261,257 5 5,225,132
16 Financial Dynamics 249,489 3 8,316,291
17 Fleishman-Hillard UK 224,647 10 2,246,466
18 Handel Communications 209,675 30 698,918
19 Grayling Group 197,144 4 4,928,609
20 Communique PR 196,447 15 1,309,647
21 Harrison Cowley 192,212 7 2,745,891
22 Ketchum PR 186,463 16 1,165,392
23 Manning Selvage 169,269 8 2,115,860
24 Key Communications 165,717 5 3,314,332
25 Cohn & Wolfe 155,433 6 2,590,547
26 ABS Communications 144,690 40 361,724
27 Ptarmigan Consultants 120,252 20 601,262
28 ICAS PR 119,642 10 1,196,418
29 Splash Communications1 119,036 28 425,127
30 Kestrel Communications 117,973 20 589,866