John Denholm
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THE TIMES: Brand new way to reflect a firm’s strategy

In an era of multimedia and mass communication, it seems absurd that until 1985 there was a blanket ban on solicitors in Scotland advertising their wares. This was based on a belief that advertising “diluted the relationship of trust between solicitor and client by suggesting that the relationship was one from which a solicitor would gain” (perish the thought) and was “precluded by a solicitor’s wider duty to the public”

Although the ban was lifted in 1985 and relaxed several times subsequently, a sense of reticence to shout loud seems to persist among elements of the profession in Scotland..

“I think, unquestionably, that history held the Scottish legal sector back. Any form of promotion was a dirty word and the culture persisted in many areas long after the ban was lifted,” says John Denholm, co-founder of the Leith Agency and now chairman of Denholm Associates.

“Marketing and brand strategy was regarded with suspicion until relatively recently. Its exponents were people you should keep in the basement who weren’t central to company strategy.”

Times have changed, says Denholm, but perhaps not that much. “The importance of a powerful brand is now understood among established law firms; whether a brand plays a central role in a company is more debatable.”

“Often, lots of time goes into creating a nice logo, colour scheme and typeface, but a real brand is the image people carry around in their minds. That’s about quality service across the whole business.”

Denholm thinks that there are increasing opportunities for powerful indigenous Scottish legal brands as some of the strongest marques of the past disappear; McGrigors became part of Pinsent Masons in 2012, while Dundas & Wilson joined forces with CMS Cameron McKenna in 2014.

Philip Rodney, chairman of Burness Paull, one of those powerful indigenous brands (500 staff, 264 lawyers, 58 partners), agrees. “If you work across a large number of markets globally, you need a consistent brand and that can be quite anodyne,” he says.

“It’s different for a firm like us, embedded in the Scottish market; we can be more agile and have more ownership of the development of the brand — and show that we are intimate with the market, but at the same time have an international outlook.”

Mr Rodney thinks that a brand has to clearly reflect a firm’s strategy. “It’s about tone of voice, consistency of message, authenticity,” he says.

He stresses the need to reflect a firm’s vision, values and culture: “We had a go at our values seven to eight years ago and the management went into a huddle and cascaded them down. It didn’t work. When we did it again, we consulted every single person in the firm. Your values are your DNA, not your USP.

“Our values are focused on three key points: ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ and a sense of collective benefit; a culture of continuous and consistent improvement; and linked to that, always being future-facing and having real ambition.”

Catriona Watt, the partner at Anderson Strathern who led the 2015-16 rebranding with the creative agency Whitespace, agrees staff have to be signed up every step of the way.

Employees were fully involved, from the research stage to the launch, and were first to see the refreshed look — and they are “buying into it” very strongly, insists Watt.

Why did Anderson Strathern re-brand at all? “We needed to look again at the brand because the marketplace had changed greatly in the decade to 2015 and we had to examine our own voice and image within it,” says Watt.

“We wanted to answer the question ‘Why?’ Professional services firms had lots to say about what they did and how they did it. We tried to get underneath that: why do we come to work? Why should clients choose us?”

The exercise led to Anderson Strathern (rather than just AS) appearing on the brand, a subtle change of colour and design and a new slogan (“For where you want to be”), which aimed to reflect the aspirations of all the firm’s clients.

“We didn’t rebrand, we refreshed and revitalised the brand and spoke out clearly in the new marketplace,” says Watt.

Denholm thinks, 30 years on, that Scottish legal firms are starting to get it. “They seem to get now that branding is not about the superficial application of a marque; it’s about hard work, longevity and quality of service,” he says.

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Our Community

As well as working in close collaboration with our clients, and the online marketplaces, we are active members of groups that have been established to combat illicit trade. These include the Scottish Anti-Illicit Trade Group, the European Intellectual Property Office, The Scottish Business Resilience Centre, the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, and the China Britain Business Council. Members of our senior management sit on the boards of ACID (Anti-Copying in Design), the Scottish Ministerial Trade Board, and the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s Observatory Panel for SMEs, amongst others.

Each team member nominates good causes or charities that are supported on both an individual and corporate basis. Wherever possible, we support the employee’s involvement whether through time or fundraising events.

Our Environment

We deliver purpose-driven work from an extremely welcoming environment near the City Centre. We actively encourage the responsible use of resources, from using public transport to reuse, recycling, and, of course, a minimal impact office environment. We have benefited from the advice of the Energy Saving Trust and Resource Efficient Scotland. Our waste contractor also provides us with a monthly report on volumes and types of material and the carbon emissions avoided through recycling.

Over 80% of our employees can walk or cycle to The Lair and, pre-pandemic, 10% were using public transport as their normal daily commuting mode. Without doubt, online meetings will replace considerable miles, going forward, saving resources, time and energy. Where possible, when possible, the train remains our preferred option. 

Our People

Our people are our most important asset, and their mental well-being and happiness are core to our success. We love our diverse workforce, actively embrace flexible working (even pre-pandemic!) and encourage a healthy work-life balance. We have been recognised as one of the most diverse SME workplaces in the UK and are holders of the Scottish Business Pledge which exists to promote a fairer Scotland. We have also just been included in the 2021 Culture Leaders Top 25 – an accolade of which we are very proud!

We are a fully inclusive and nurturing employer and, despite being in tech, the majority of our team are women, leading to accolades in the Computing Magazine Women in IT Awards and the Amazon Growing Business Awards. We currently represent 15 nationalities and speak 20 languages. Age is no barrier, and we recruit for attitude, providing and encouraging appropriate learning and training for each and every role.

We are also proud members of IP Inclusive, a network of professionals working to make the intellectual property industry more diverse.

Our Purpose

Our aim is to combat illicit online trade by identifying and removing counterfeits for sale. Counterfeits not only damage brands, their reputations, and revenues, but can cause significant harm to the end customer – whether as a fake toy or a fake medicine – and the consequences can be life threatening.

Counterfeiting is a significant economic and social issue.

The OECD reports that counterfeit and fake goods make up more than 3.3% of the world’s global trade. Those involved in the trade of counterfeits have been linked to people trafficking, prostitution, and drug dealing.

As such, reducing illicit trade is about much more than brand protection but also about human rights, safety, and social equity.

And this is what we do, every day.

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Communication Advisors

We’re a passionate and professional team who thrive in issue-rich environment and we’re looking for Senior Communication Advisors, Communications Advisors and Communications Executives to join their fast-growing team. 

You’ll have previous agency experience at Senior Account Manager or Account Manager level and be passionate about delivering excellent results for clients. You might be a specialist in PR and media relations who produces compelling editorial content across a range of topics and sectors or you might be a public affairs expert who understands the policy landscape and helps clients build influential relationships. Whatever your specialism, you’ll be an excellent writer, full of creative ideas, with proven client management experience and the ability to provide expert advice our clients.

Your key duties will include:

  • Supporting the key account lead with day-to-day client liaison, providing strategic counsel on day-to-day account matters when required
  • Active involvement in planning and delivering global PR, marketing and digital campaigns
  • Managing content programmes, including mapping out content themes, spotting industry trends and story angles, writing copy when required which may include opinion articles, web and social
  • Building strong media relationships, creating pitches based on your story ideas and delivering content in-to suit the client’s target media and securing opportunities
  • Planning and running client’s social media programmes, and management of their channels
  • Continuously identifying opportunities to grow brand awareness and profile our client’s businesses within their target sector through events, webinars, thought leadership
  • Producing comprehensive and timely reports on client activity 
  • Supporting in the development of client proposals to help grow or win parts of the business


In addition, to be considered for this role, you must be able to demonstrate:

  • Proven background in account handling and direct client liaison – 4 years’ minimum
  • Experience in an agency setting focusing on B2B communication or PR
  • Strong communications skills, verbal and written
  • A background in delivering creative, digitally led B2B communications such as LinkedIn campaigns
  • An innate understanding of earned media, with the ability to create stories and generate coverage across traditional media, digital and social
  • Experience working on content management programmes, with an awareness of the changing way business audiences consume information and an appreciation of search, paid and wider customer marketing activity, and how it all fits together
  • A history of working with clients in a variety of sectors is welcomed but experience in the tech and energy industries is advantageous.

Communication Lead

We’re a passionate and professional team who thrive in issue-rich environment and we’re looking to add a Communication Lead to our fast-growing team. You’ll be a trusted advisor to clients across several sectors in all aspects of communication, external affairs, marketing and issues management. Coming from an agency or consultancy environment, at Account Director level or above, you’ll report directly to the Managing Director and be responsible for a small and busy multi-disciplinary team. You’ll have first-class project management skills, be solutions-driven and excellent commercial acumen too. Alongside the senior team, you’ll work to drive the strategic growth of Aspect.

Your core duties will include:

  • Working with the MD to develop and deliver growth strategies 
  • Attracting and retaining profitable clients across a range of sectors 
  • Leading the creation and execution of strategic communication programmes
  • Inspiring, leading and developing multi-disciplinary teams
  • Developing strong relationships with clients, colleagues and associates
  • Producing high quality pitches and proposals to secure new business 
  • Curating, nurturing and managing a team of talented associates.

You’ll be a skilled communicator, interested and knowledgeable about the key issues shaping the external environment. In addition, to be considered for this role, you must be able to demonstrate:

  • 7+ years of senior leadership experience within an agency or consultancy
  • Experience in Energy, Renewables, Financial Services or Life Sciences would be very desirable
  • Outstanding writing skills and the ability to engage and excite an audience
  • An impressive track record of client attraction, retention and growth 
  • The ability to thrive fast-paced environment managing multiple projects simultaneously
  • Strong influencing and leadership skills to motivate and inspire those around you
  • Excellent planning, evaluation and project management skills
  • To develop new processes, systems and ways of working to drive performance

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