Tim Kenney‘s interview with Roy Sexton.
When I picture the sort of person who would be heading up marketing for a law firm like Clark Hill, Roy Sexton wasn’t who I had in mind. But I’ll be totally honest: I’m glad.
After nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, communications, and business development Roy has risen to the top of his game and now sits as President-Elect of the LMA for 2022. An impressive feat for sure, but what really draws me in is his character.
Roy is a warm, charming iconoclast, pushing his lawyers to bring more to the table than, well, just law. There’s an air about him that he deliberately chooses to be different, almost as if he’s smiled in the face of corporate law and said “let’s try this another way, shall we?”
We spoke about his team, his philosophy, and why a master’s degree in theatre beats an MBA.
How is your team set up, and how do you work together?
“So my boss is Susan Ahern, and she’s the Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer for Clark Hill. She’s based in Dublin, Ireland. The way our team is set up is we have the marketing half of the team that I lead, and we’ve got a business development side of the team that Megan McKeon leads. Alongside this, we have a pitch proposal team between the two and reports directly up to Susan.
Along the way, we’ve built up a pretty robust pitch and proposal system. We have business development managers who help align the opportunity with the content and then Moe Denney is our pitch and proposals manager. She’s steering that ship making sure the content is aligned, and that we’re submitting things correctly.
Back before we all arrived, marketing and business development were two very separate functions, and they didn’t necessarily collaborate well. So, when Susan came on board, she was all about business integration, but she’s also been a great champion of the work internally and externally. When Clark Hill combined with a couple of smaller offices in Dublin, they brought her over because of her background. So she’s got a business development mindset, and I’m this kind of crazy marketing person, and we’ve come together really nicely!
The way I like to see it is that marketing helps you find the door, and business development helps you walk through it.”
What’s been your primary focus over the past year?
“I’m at the top end of the funnel, telling people to pay attention to Clark Hill. We are really pushing thought leadership, content marketing, social media and digital marketing. We reached about 4.8 million people last year, just to raise the profile of the firm. Part of Clark Hill’s strategy was growth through geographic expansion and combination with other regional firms but we had never really integratedproperly..
So we thought going forward with a coherent and updated brand message was an opportunity to integrate the culture inside, and also make it really clear to the outside world. That’s been my primary task.”
How does marketing fit in with the attorney’s work?
“Some attorneys want to accept every RFP. They want to apply for everything. And our business development managers have gotten more involved and might say, “this maybe isn’t the business you want,” or “it is business we want”. They try to help our attorneys see the bigger picture, and I try to help attorneys understand where they should be putting their energy.
So we really leverage the business development managers over here. We have a multi-factor planning process, where we sit down with all of each attorney and ask “who’s your target audience? Who are you trying to reach? What differentiates you? Who are we connecting with? Is this a possibility?” And helping them develop relationships with those people that are in key companies and industries that either we will pitch to proactively, or when there’s an opportunity, we’ll respond.
I think we’ve learned a lot as an industry over the last 10 years about attorney autonomy. They really don’t want to be told what to do. Unless it aligns with their predisposition, they tell you, you’re wrong. So we’re trying to build that infrastructure to help them focus on things that will actually be meaningful opportunities and, overall, looking at the full scope of what we’re doing to elevate the firm.”
What do you think lawyers can sometimes misunderstand about marketing and networking?
“When you’re looking at LinkedIn, think about all the places in real life where you have interacted with human beings in some meaningful way. Because I think a lot of people approach LinkedIn in a sort of siloed, “I’m only going to accept clients and ignore everything else” kind of way. They tend to think “I’ve worked with her, and I’m only going to accept immediate coworkers.” And they miss the value of LinkedIn. It’s called LinkedIn for a reason. Sort of like when you throw a pebble in a pond and it creates lots of ripples outwards, right?
So, if you go back into your inventory of where you’ve been and what you’ve done – if you’ve been on boards, or do community theatre, or maybe you have a church group, you played soccer or your kids’ choir – all of those people are fair game. And that individual might not be someone who’s going to hire you. But chances are they know somebody who’s going to hire you.
I often laugh with our attorneys, saying “folks, I have my master’s in theatre. I thought I’d act at one point, it didn’t happen. And then I got my MBA.” But my Master’s in theatre has actually been the more effective degree for what I do, because of understanding audience and narrative and connecting with people.
With community theatre and semi-professional theatre, sometimes you’re spending six weeks rehearsing with someone who, by the way, happens to be the Chief Operating Officer at x company, and you really get to know them as an individual. And you’ll often find something comes out of that. But even if it doesn’t, it hasn’t been a waste of time!”
What’s important to you, outside of marketing?
So, I’m on the Ronald McDonald House board, for multiple reasons. I really believe in it. My niece actually went through some health issues, and my sister in law stayed there for a while. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a parent going through those circumstances, but having a nice place to sleep and eat must help take some pressure off when you’re scared to death about your child.
So when Ronald McDonald House reached out and said they’d like me to be on their board I was very thankful and humbled.
Is it important to talk about these things in a professional context?
“Purely strategically, there are a few reasons why I promote my activities. At the basic level, I want people to know because I feel grateful to be a part of them. It might sound vain but I don’t care, it’s true! People respond to Ronald McDonald House. They know what it is, and it gives me a kind of cachet to deliver other messages.
People sometimes struggle to engage with legal content, but if they’re following my other content, they might think “wow, he’s really engaged in the community. He loves animals. He wears silly T-shirts. He supports Ronald McDonald House.”
There’s another board I’m on, the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, which regionally is a big deal. Because, you know, 35 years ago, theatre in the schools in Detroit was gone. There were no resources. So this gentleman, Rick Sperling, decided to create an after school program that became internationally renowned – Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Hamilton has even contributed financially to the cause! We also received a sizable donation from MacKenzie Scott last year.
So I like to be involved in that because it’s theatre, and it’s kids, and it’s helping people out. But it also has people thinking “wow, you’re involved with Mosaic.”
I share everything online (it’s just my thing, for good or ill…), and it’s a big mixture of what we did at Clark Hill today, intermixed with my own light heartedcontent, my legal marketing content, Ronald McDonald House, Mosaic. But most importantly, people are paying attention.”
I think this is such an important point that lawyers so often forget, so I push Roy to tell me a bit more about why this is so key for him.
Why is it important to inspire this in lawyers?
I don’t expect the attorneys to do the crazy stuff, so I just ask them “are you involved in some kind of community organisation?” and if so, share it, because people need to see that alongside your legal work. Attorneys just want to say “I’m a super lawyer, and I wrote an article, and me me, me…” and I have to say “No! Instead, show them our culture.”
Part of our brand launch was having videos of people talking about what it was like to work at Clark Hill, because I knew that we wanted to recruit new talent. Clients are increasingly curious about what is your culture like inside.
If all you do once a year is go to the beach and clean it up with your child, take a picture of that and show people. It’s an authentic activity. You’re actually there at the beach cleaning up with your kid and it is making a difference. Yes, it may feel performative. But no one’s going to know you are doing these things, unless you tell them you’re doing those things. And you’ll be shocked at how people respond.
I also use this analogy. When I go into a restaurant, I assume I’m not going to get food poisoning. I assume they know how to cook food. I might not like the food, but I assume they’ve got this. But I’m looking for atmosphere, ambience, experience, noise level, you know. Similarly, lawyers always like to focus on telling people that they’re a great lawyer. Of course you are! But help me understand who you are as a human being.
I think attorneys are very interesting, folks. They’re not dissimilar to me, or you. My job is to help them prove it!
After chatting to Roy, it becomes clear that 25 minutes with him was never going to be enough. I’m sure I’m not the first person to have come away from a meeting with him full of ideas and a hunger to put things into action. Chatting with him has been, frankly, energising.
Passionate and generous with his time, one thing really sticks with me as we end our call: the legal sector could do with more CMOs like Roy.