For over 20 years I have attended and reported on the annual Professional Marketing conference. Sometimes I have also presented sessions. The latest conference was reported in the winter edition of PM Magazine. Thanks to editor Matt Baldwin for his assistance. The theme of the 28th conference this year was “Harness the power within your firm – creating stellar marketing for the future”. And it’s interesting to compare the key themes and insights from conference of years gone by which are shown below. 28th PM Forum Conference: Organisational culture, mentoring, digital distraction, ESG and client experience (2023)

Reprinted from PM Magazine 

With 100+ people enjoying coffee in bright orange TUC mugs, the buzz heightened to good vibrations: Connecting with familiar faces and new friends, both old hands and the next generation.

Leor Franks, Kingsley Napley, returning chair for the day, led polls using wonderfully low-tech red and green, emperor-style thumbs up and thumbs down paddles. He reminded us of last year’s themes: post-Covid “normal”, Ukraine and inflation. “Doing more with less” remains a challenge.

Transforming your firm’s culture – Professor Vlatka Hlupic

Self-effacing Vlatka described the “quiet quitting” disengagement that needs a “purpose and people-led” management revolution to overcome toxic cultures.

She has a rare skill translating decades of business school insight into powerful, pragmatic tools driving organizational and individual change. She took us on a tour of well-loved art – Munch, Renoir and Van Gogh – conveying the emotional tone at the five levels in her models. Her assessments provide an “organizational MRI”. The animated questions testified that her words hit a chord.

Book review: The Management Shift by Vlatka Hlupic (

Panel on biggest challenges facing M&BD

Leor chaired a star-studded line-up: Jeremy Ford (Skadden), Francis Mainoo (Moore Kingston Smith – sadly since the conference Francis has passed away. I’d known him for many years and send my condolences to his family and friends), Sally Saadeh (JLL) and Moira Slape (Chief People Office, Travers Smith) answering deep questions:

  • How do we own our careers?
  • Maximise impact in our firms?
  • Keep up with the pace of change? (it was a relief to realise this is a worry for us all)
  • Develop external relationships?

Moira’s advice spanned SMART objectives and career plans, to blend the strengths of those around us and not to fear failure. Sally urged us to use mentors who might see things we don’t, move out of comfort zones and be an early adopter of AI.

Francis argued for empathy, credibility and trust – to hone personal brands and always be on the front foot in external relationships. They all encouraged curiosity, passion, to “be like sponges” and to tune into client needs.

I was alarmed to hear that some don’t find time to read essential reports on new matters and pitch success rates. And that some firms are issuing 70+ items of content a week. Suggestions included: a sideways approach to relationship development, avoid the tsunami of (digital) stuff and share initiatives across international boundaries.

Jeremy hit the nail on the head when he observed that M&BD teams risk segregation. We are in danger of being as siloed as our fee-earners – He rallied for a more “holistic marketing”. Like others, I was blown away by this session and wondered how the remainder of the conference could surpass the pearls of wisdom shared.

Mastering Digital distractions – building focus and efficiency

I felt sorry for a delegate who was forced onto her laptop to deal with an urgent enquiry. So it was timely when Stephanie Henson of TechTimeOut shared a quiz and revealed 69% of lawyers had experienced poor mental health in the past 12 months and 28% were expected to be available 24/7.

To counteract “Tetris-like calendars” she suggested we set boundaries and create healthy habits to avoid the physical, mental and social problems of tech overload. I smiled as she pointed out that tech companies call their customers “users”. She provided tools to focus on our passions, things that energise and skills we want to learn. It resonated as social media was subsequently filled with the “Pomodoro Technique”. The chatter level was high as we moved to the breakout sessions.

Dr Julie Smith (Mental Health Guidance) (

Business case for net zero

John Rastrick, of private equity Flotilla, talked persuasively of the need for data-led, impactful climate action. The climate clock is ticking and presents opportunities for competitive differentiation. Benefits include: operational efficiency, client loyalty, attraction of talent, capital market attractiveness and resilience.

Preparing professionals for the future

I co-presented with Julie McConnell from White and Case. We brainstormed what M&BD professionals need to know and the best way to promote effective and continuous learning.

Julie’s story – how she moved from a career as a construction lawyer to lead a variety of M&BD programmes – kept us all entranced. And made us envious of a global firm’s resources.

Preparing M&BD professionals for the future – learning, skills (

Neuroscience for learning and development by Stella Collins (

Thought leadership

Veteran professional services PR guru Tim Prizeman joined Rhea Wessel from The Thought Leadership Institute. One delegate commented: “Rhea and Tim chaired a dynamic session and usefully focused on practical tips to ensure our marcoms stand out”. Whilst Navjote Chan, Burges Salmon, reflected: “The three steps: ‘Find it, Frame it, Flesh it out’ to improve journalistic delivery”.

Thought leadership manual by Tim Prizeman (

Walking in the client’s shoes

Ben Sutton of Grant Thornton and Alain Thys took delegates on the client journey of the future.  To future-proof client relationships using clarity, empathy, commitment and flair.

Using data to grow revenue and improve client experience

Tech duo Mark Bilson of ClientRM and David Bennett of Birkett Long (formerly Linklaters and Thomson Snell & Passmore) considered how Cloud-based technology transformed the problematic area of data management.


Whilst tucking into little pots of loveliness (the arancini deserves special mention), we shared reflections and touched base with colleagues from Dubai and Poland.

Meaningful Mentoring

After Leor’s post-prandial reflections (Culture, Concerns and Career), we heard ideas from the forthcoming book “Financial Times Guide to Mentoring” by relationship strategist, Andy Lopata.

Polls revealed the majority had received mentoring – but not so many had provided it (a timely reminder of the PM Forum’s Mentor Match programme).

He tackled the confusion between mentoring and coaching and was evangelical about social learning and paying-it-forward. With five generations in the workplace, there was a greater need for reverse mentoring.

It’s lonely at the top and senior people need someone to talk to. I enjoyed his story about an Emmy-award winning director who called up people with “Can you help me with…” requests. A reminder of the value of vulnerability and the need to “park your ego at the door”. His QR code to pose questions was well used.

Connected leadership – How professional relationships (

Leveraging the “S” in ESG

An additional option was hosted by David Johnson, research analyst of Lamp House Strategy and Caroline Rhys Jones of Stephenson Harwood. Delegates heard stakeholder research on how to maximise ROI in social strategies.

Sam Round of Hazlewoods Accountants reflected “Discussion revealed that clients are most concerned with the wellbeing of people and their social contribution. ESG targets and work is under-communicated and clients will be increasingly interested in purpose versus profit”.

Panel – Are professional services firms truly listening to client needs?

Francesca Lagerberg, CEO of Baker Tilly accountants and regular host of the Managing Partners’ Forum “Retuning your firm” shows chaired discussion with Kate Cooper, Director of Finance at the Institute of Directors and Alain Thys.

As marketers, we must remain tuned into the client voice and this panel provided plenty of food for thought. There were observations about commoditisation and the need to “provide proper answers to tricky questions”. Both parties must understand each other’s context and organisational culture rather than “sell, sell, sell”.

A good client experience was where advisers listened to provide direct and tailored advice – they “get” the client. There was support for a dedicated relationship manager as teams of specialists expand and staff churn continues.

Alain provided the quote of the conference with “Walk in stupid” – never make assumptions, constantly ask questions and triple check that you have understood.

Think hard about what a good client experience really looks like and ensure consistency. Alain mentioned where over 150 experiences were summarised into five key points that every advisor could remember. There were challenging questions on the role of entertainment. And again comments about the data divide between large and small firms.

Leor rounded off with his final summary: culture, challenges for M&BD and client listening. And a reminder of the stark reality of the “dangers of digital”.

Richard Chaplin, CEO of PM Forum, thanked his team: Sam Davies, Claire Mitchell, Larysa Hale and Morag Campbell. Next year the conference will be on 26th September. He repeated his appreciation of the conference sponsors: Vuture, Chorus, TechTimeOut and Bright Space and we gratefully moved onto the drinks reception. Whilst our feeds are dominated by AI, the conference highlighted the critical importance of human warmth, collaboration and wisdom.

Related articles

Case studies: Marketing and Business Development at law ( November 2023

Selling challenges in professional services ( November 2023

Preparing M&BD professionals for the future – learning, skills ( October 2023

Richard Chaplin, PM Forum and Managing Partners’ Forum ( September 2023

Marketing and Business Development (M&BD) Assistants can shine ( September 2023

marketing and business development (M&BD) team structures ( September 2023

Context and curiosity drive commerciality and pricing ( September 2023

Professional services marketing/BD case studies ( August 2023

How to engage fee-earners in the M&BD planning process? ( August 2023

Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis ( June 2023

Leadership Development Programme from the Managing Partners’ Forum ( March 2023

Annual International Marketing Benchmark – PM Forum and Meridian West ( January 2023

Previous PM Forum conference reports

Conference – PM Forum

PM Conference Report 2022: Strategy implementation ( November 2022

Professional Marketing Forum Conference 2021 PM Forum ( November 2021

25th Professional Marketing Forum Conference Report ( November 2020

Professional Marketing Forum conference September 2019 ( November 2019

Professional Marketing Forum Conference report 2018 ( November 2018

Professional Marketing Conference 2017 ( November 2017

Client Experience Management (CEM) in professional service firms ( November 2016

Psychology in marketing and selling from PM Forum 2015 ( November 2015

Client feedback on brand at PM Forum Conference 2011 – Kim Tasso September 2011

PM Forum Conference – The clients bite back (Sony Ericsson, Better Capital and JP Morgan) – Kim Tasso September 2010

PM Forum Conference – Laurie Young on “An alternative to commoditisation” and Andy Bounds on selling skills – Kim Tasso September 2010

Relationships – Highlights of the PM Forum conference 2009 ( September 2009