Christopher Young‘s interview with Jon Brewer.
When I sit down with Jon I immediately sense his integrity. His mantra is ‘being a great leader is about making those around you great.’ And I can see that he lives and breathes this.
By his own admission, he’s had a ‘different route’ to where he is today, global head of marketing and sales for Orrick.
We delve into his journey, his leadership approach and what it’s like working for a global firm that focuses on serving technology and innovation.
Tell me a bit about the kind of career history and how you got to where you are today?
“Yeah, it’s probably a little bit of a strange route. I had to make a decision between competitive sport and education because I was on the British team for gymnastics, thinking about representing my country at the Olympics. I chose to pursue sport until I got a serious injury which ended that career.
“So, I started working at PwC and I stayed there for 18 years in a variety of different roles, from Learning and Development to Marketing and specializing in video and digital production. At that time I was working in PwC’s centralised team, Marketing Shared Services.”
So when you left PwC where did you go?
“I needed a new challenge so I went freelance, mainly working for PwC but also with other professional services or blue-chip companies working on campaigns and initiatives from marcomms to digital or video.
“It was a tough time because the market crashed, so it was a challenge running your own business and competing with big firms who could afford loss-leaders as part of their business model.“I started to miss being part of a team, to be honest, and I also felt that my part was quite narrow, I wasn’t involved with the bigger picture which is the part that makes me tick.
“I ended up working with DLA Piper on a freelance project, working for a former PwC Lawyer who joined DLA’s White-Collar practice, he wanted to replicate a campaign that we worked together on at PwC which won an FT Innovation Award. As that project was nearing completion, I started asking them questions about how they are going to use it and they basically said ‘We’ve got a space in the marketing team, do you want to come on board?’, I was looking for an opportunity, so I met with the head of marketing, joined them and stayed there for three and a half years.
“I enjoyed my time at DLA but I wanted to widen my support to beyond litigation and regulatory, and a recruiter invited me to go and see Orrick. I didn’t actually know a lot about them at the time as they weren’t one of the firm’s DLA was competing against internationally but I went along anyway, I liked their sector focus and they appeared to be very entrepreneurial.”
And what appealed to you about Orrick?
“When I met some of the partners and saw its client base was predominantly tech firms, from startups to mature public companies it began to look like an interesting and really attractive role, so I came in and headed up the European marketing function.
“And then three years ago the COO asked me to lead the global marketing team, they wanted someone to make instinctive marketing decisions, to help them with their core sectoral approach and help go-to-market as a global firm, it’s a great firm so I just went for it.
“Which was fun in the pandemic – me being in London and my boss and most of leadership being in San Francisco trying to manage our time zones, but overall, it’s worked really well. The days were long!
“We have some great people at the firm and I can really add value by acting as the glue between Europe and the US which has helps with better integration. In fact, we’re flying! Last year the firm saw revenue rise by 14.2%. Gross revenue increased from $1.15 billion in 2020 to $1.32 billion in 2021. Our London office increased its revenue by 45%, to $90.9 million in 2021”
Do you have a team in London?
“Yeah, the team in London is relatively small, but growing, and a mix of marketing and sales professionals. Our European Venture Capital Practice handles huge volume of deals, and we can help manage the pipeline of work. We have someone in the team who is market facing, helping us to be visible in the European tech ecosystem, to both company and investor side, and he helps generate opportunities for the lawyers and keeps us visible in the right places.
“We’ve also got a sales team on the West coast. It is a valuable, but interesting model, and particularly useful for early-stage tech companies where the lawyers become more like business advisors to the founders. They’re not just lawyers, they’re providing strategic advice to help these companies grow and succeed.”
I’m keen to know how Jon manages the team, especially with his global responsibility.
And what’s your leadership style like Jon?
“There’s a quote, our chairman said it first, but it’s how I approach my role, period! The quote is that ‘being a great leader is about making those around you great.’
“And that’s how I’ve led my team. You know, you have to get your hands dirty from time-to-time, you have to roll up your sleeves but it’s important to lead by example. You need to motivate and inspire, not just hand out orders.
“It’s about giving everybody an opportunity and having the confidence to trust them without micromanaging.
“That mantra sticks with me and it’s what I live and breathe. I try to get my managers and directors to think that way, so don’t take the credit for something if you didn’t do it, promote your team that did it and put them in the spotlight. I see that as a real strength rather and not a weakness.”
How does the sales team function?
“We don’t actually refer to them as a sales, they have a tech title, but internally they sit on our sales team. They are not marketers by background, they come from either a legal, banking or the venture capital world. They wear several hats but predominately we ask them to help develop and nurture exiting high-potential client relationships as well as develop net-new relationships.
“You can be the best lawyer in the world, and there are some great rainmakers, but many get buried in the actual work they are doing, some afraid to take risks and others not great about thinking about expanding relationships. So a lot of the focus is on introducing services at the right time as the client scale-up, because if we’re not careful thinking about delivering the right service at the right time we are going to miss out on opportunities, and even worse lose them to a competitor, especially when they exit.”
Is it fair to say that the future of marketing and sales is doing roles like this so that the partners can focus on fee earning?
“I think it only works for certain industries, for instance, I don’t think it works well for the financial services or energy sectors because more often than not the GC’s or business teams want to speak to lawyers.
“But sales teams do have some value as tech collides with other industries such as finance and energy as we’ve seen with fintech and energytech, there’s a lot more value in ‘tech savvy professionals’ because they have a deeper understanding of the ecosystem.
“In the future, I think they’ll be a combination, I don’t think one will replace the other. But I can see more market-facing roles in marketing teams. And then I can see the marketing teams being more centralized. For me, the future marketer is somebody that’s adds real value to a client relationship partner to support them in growing and broadening the relationship.
“I think we’ve got a duty to make sure that our marketing teams understand the firm’s market-leading practices globally, helping to join up the dots, otherwise, they’re just not going to be helpful to leverage the internal platform to drive revenue growth.”
I’m curious to know how Jon’s team prioritise their workload, especially given the size of it and the global scale that they work across.
And how do you prioritise the workload? Is that a challenge for you?
“Client strategies have to be front and centre of what you do. And if you’re doing an activity that’s not working towards that, you have to question whether you should be doing it at all.
“So we’ve actually been tackling it a few ways. One is we’ve looked at the things we just need to absolutely stop because it’s not worth us doing, like internal newsletters with low open rates. That frees up the team to provide support on strategic activities.
“We’ve also been working on streamlining certain processes and using tech to assist us. We’re currently exploring how our internal systems can feed dashboards to deliver that information in an automated way rather than having to manually collect and push it. We’re trying to be a little bit smarter and more efficient in what we do. We even have a marketing tech steering committee that focuses on this.
“And we’re hugely focused on right sourcing, which has taken a lot of the admin burden from the marketing teams. We did some process mapping, and if there’s a task that involves a collection of information from lawyers we factor in the EA’s, secretaries or even some outsourced services into that process instead of marketing.”
I’m really enjoying Jon’s pragmatic no-nonsense approach, using people for their skills instead of overwhelming them with administrative tasks.
How would we encapsulate your philosophy about how to do marketing?
“Well, for me, it’s about being able to tell the right story to the right audience. You know, I’ve seen so many fantastic initiatives, but the audience has been wrong. So it’s lost, or I’ve seen a great audience and the messaging has been loose or, wooly, and hasn’t resonated or driven home that differentiation. And I think you really need to understand what the story is but deliver that in a way that talks about solutions for clients.
“I see far too often on social media law firms sort of slapping themselves on the back for things that clients couldn’t care less about because they’re just not of any value or very self-serving. We have to make sure that we tell the story in a way that’s going to add value to a client, provide them with insights or is going to capture the client’s attention, or it’s just tailored to them. Doing less is doing more.
“It’s all about understanding your client’s needs, being very distinctive, and being visible in the right places to demonstrate your USP.
“But I also think it’s a sophisticated buying world. And sometimes we’re not always talking to the legal team, sometimes we’re talking to a procurement team or we’re talking to legal operations, or business teams.
“You need to understand this when you’re pitching or speaking to clients, so it’s really knowing your audience and delivering distinctive messaging that will resonate with them based on your strengths.”
And tell me about the proposal side of things. How does that work?
“There’s a series of questions we go through to see if the opportunities are worth exploring. And, it’s not always the monetary value that is based on winning that piece of work. It’s all about making sure the clients are aligned to our ore sectoral strengths so in our sweet spot.
“We do look at the pitch data and we capture every pitch in our system. We capture the opportunity but also other factors like who was the deal or matter team, what was the client asking, and what was the outcome.
“Then at the end of the year, I can use that data to show us what’s been successful, what we need to continue and also what we need to stop.
“I think it’s really important to look at language as well, see how the client talks, or even just their leadership team in the media, and mirror that language in your approach – we did this in a client pitch recently, and although we were always going to be challenged on the rates the client said ‘your response really resonated with our organisation and growth strategy.’ So language and tailoring are really important.”
With more burning questions but not enough time left I had to stop our interview here. I get the impression that anyone lucky enough to get Jon’s time should bring a notepad – he’s a man with a lot of good advice.