The professions have embraced communications techniques as firms fight to establish their own identities. Rob Gray reports

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

similar services.

‘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

their services.’

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

corporate identity.

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

communications platform.

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

will prosper.

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

everybody else’s.

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

the bombing.

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

      & Lee

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


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