Being more strategic - Case studies and insights (Ireland May 2023)

I was delighted to return to Dublin to lead an in person training workshop for PM Forum Ireland  on “Being more strategic” with delegates from law, accountancy and consultancy firms. We considered strategic thinking, business strategy and marketing and business development strategy. So there should be something for everyone – a summary of the workshop discussions, examples of notable UK and Irish professional service firm strategies and some strategy insights. Thanks to Pinsent Masons Ireland  for hosting in their fabulous offices on a former studio site. Being more strategic – Case studies and insights.

Summary of workshop discussions

Topics of interest

Amongst the topics the delegates were keen to discuss were:

  • managing major strategy programmes
  • navigating resistance and blocks to change
  • the impact of artificial intelligence (AI)
  • marketing strategies to drive growth
  • the proliferation of video content
  • the lasting impact of Covid on sales strategies
  • slower decision-making by clients
  • increasing accountability for marketing
  • encouraging follow up
  • growing the M&BD team

Step back and take a long term view

The pace and pressure of work means that there is rarely time to step back and consider the strategic aims of the firm. And then to consider how marketing and business development could add most value in their achievement.

Conducting a detailed strategic analysis was felt to be a powerful and valuable activity to identify future opportunities and threats. And to keep an eye on the changing competitor landscape and evolving market and client needs.

Strategic change takes time and energy. Too often, firms are focused on delivering short term wins which detract from the efforts to achieve longer term and more substantial gains.

Anticipate client needs

A core role for M&BD was to learn about the pain points of the target audiences.

This again required a step back from day-to-day activities to assess the market and client reaction. Most firms had client listening and research programmes to support this work,

We need to ask questions about what fee-earners are seeing and hearing from their clients today and to help them consider what this might imply about the future needs. This enables early action to position your firm appropriately.

The challenge of competitor analysis

All agreed that competitor analysis was tough. Competitor strategies had to be inferred from the wide range of publicly-communicated content. Furthermore, many large, complex firms had different strategies at both sector and service levels without a unifying firm strategy. Competitor analysis is discussed further here Pitching, differentiation and competitor analysis (

It was interesting to read about the success of a “one firm” strategy Capturing the value of ‘one firm’ | McKinsey (May 2023) where research across 2,000 companies shows that it pays to operate as “one firm.” The article states “leading professional-services firms are considered the gold standard for operating as one-firm firms. Whether Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, or Latham & Watkins”. It concludes “Firms that have adopted a one-firm operating model are 2.3 times more likely to be in the top quartile of healthy and high-performing organizations”.

Funnels for target client segments

Another approach considered was to focus on the customer journey (marketing) and buyer funnels (sales) for a few selected segments (or personas). And then concentrate strategy on improving and differentiating the experience and proposition through those segments.

Relative growth rates

We reviewed comparable growth rates for UK and Irish markets


  • The UK legal industry grew 20.8% during March 2023 (Office of National Statistics) with the highest recorded turnover of £4.16 billion
  • The UK legal sector outperformed the broader business sector which experienced a 16.5% increase in the turnover during the same period
  • Ireland’s law businesses prepare for slowdown in growth although revenue (2022) increased for the majority of firms (55%) this year
  • 93% of the top 20 Law firms, 67% of Dublin based firms, and 44% of regional firms reported an increase in their revenues in the past twelve months
  • In the last 12 months, more than one in three firms surveyed had been approached or made an approach with a view to a merger and most of them were approaches made by a UK or International law firm. Currently seven of the Top 20 firms in Ireland are now international and or UK firms.


  • UK accounting industry turnover up 16.6% to £4.3 billion in March (ONS)
  • The Spring Managing Partners’ Forum Confidence Index  recorded a net expansion and contraction in projected activity levels of 84% in April 2023 compared to 43% in October 2022
  • The Finance Dublin Annual Accountancy Survey shows a return to robust fee income growth in 2021 for Ireland’s leading accountancy firms, bouncing back strongly from the COVID 19-induced slowdown in 2020. The figures for this year’s survey show Republic of Ireland fee income rose by 12 per cent in 2021, compared with just 1% in 2020 – Ireland’s top accountancy firms roar back to double-digit growth in 2021
  • Accountancies and Tax Consultants revenue is expected to expand at a compound annual rate of 1.3% to €3.7 billion over the five years through 2023, including a 0.5% rise in 2023, when the average profit margin will be 18.4% (IBISWorld)

Professional service firm strategy mini-case studies

We reviewed various examples of professional service firm strategies – in the UK and Ireland – including:

Accenture brand

Accenture is generally felt to be one of the leading professional services brands with clarity around who it is and what it does. However, the business rebranded its £13 billion digital communications arm (30 global agency brands) in Spring 2022 from Interactive to Song. Mark Ritson’s commentary was less than enthusiastic: Accenture Song is not a great rebrand, but it could be worse ( The article reflects on a number of other professional service rebrands.

A&L Goodbody rebrand

This is one of Ireland’s leading corporate law firms. It has won many awards and is considered the No. 1 firm in Ireland. There’s a video of its rebrand in 2017 Brand Identity refresh for A&L Goodbody | Oct – 2017 | A&L Goodbody (

A&O using Artificial Intelligence (AI)  

In February 2023, Allen & Overy announced it integrated Harvey (innovative AI platform built on a version of Open AI’s latest models enhanced for legal practice) into its global practice to empower 3,500 lawyers across 43 offices operating in multiple languages with the ability to generate and access legal content. A&O had been trialling Harvey (based on GPT-4) since November 2022 with a team of lawyers in its Markets Innovation Group (MIG).  A&O announces exclusive launch partnership with Harvey – Allen & Overy (

BDO’s Online store

The firm offers online training courses (including economic crime, Data Protection Act, Gift Aid), compliance and risk products (Corporate criminal offences toolkit, R&D benchmarking toolkit, tax operations, cost projection) and software (e.g. P11D). BDO Store | Online Training | Corporate Criminal Offences | Compliance

Deloitte’s transport advertising of The Green Room podcast

During May 2023, the firm invested in a series of large transport adverts (I saw one at Waterloo train station) promoting its award-winning podcast series (now at 50 episodes). The Green Room Podcasts | Deloitte UK covers a range of business issues including: financial crime, climate, technology, behavioural science, inclusion and the future of work.

EY’s web site end user focus

There were complimentary comments about the end user focus of the EY web site EY Global – Home | Building a better working world. I particularly like the wheel of insights and services for the C-suite role.

Forsters’ industrial real estate thought leadership

A UK law firm (with a focus on real estate and private wealth) conducted research into the real estate sector – typically a role undertaken by property firms. There are infographics and the research report can be downloaded Outside the Box | Forsters LLP | Leading Mayfair law firm

Forsters’ report, Outside the Box: Supporting an Industrial Evolution, is based on a survey by FTI Consulting’s professional research team in the first quarter of 2023. Sixty-one UK-based professional investors and developers in UK real estate assets were surveyed and another four leading developers and investors were interviewed about their experiences in competing for land, investment and occupiers while adapting to the shifts taking place in uses, formats, locations and policy. The firm also created a LinkedIn community Outside The Box | Forsters: Overview | LinkedIn

KPMG recruitment videos

The firm’s video content for recruitment was considered excellent KPMG Recruitment UK – YouTube

Maples thought leadership

Delegates considered the firm’s thought leadership and use of LinkedIn exemplary Maples Thought Leadership. It’s market position as a full-service law firm for the financial services sector was also admired.

Matheson niche

Delegates felt that the firm had successfully conveyed its international reach by pursuing opportunities in a niche created by Brexit. Matheson LLP | Law Firm | Legal Services and Solicitors

Mishcon Future – Innovation services packaging (Brand, IP, digital transformation, data)

In May 2023, Mishcon Future was launched, which works with businesses across all aspects of the innovation life cycle, helping to shape a better world through innovation and create value for our clients and society.

Mishcon Future unites the market-leading experience and expertise of Taylor Vinters and Mishcon de Reya, following the merger earlier this year. It harnesses collective global experience in advising on corporate transactions and funding, protecting and leveraging intellectual property and acting in significant and influential disputes across intellectual property, data, competition and fraud. Clients range from the technology transfer functions of leading universities and research institutes, to early-stage companies and scale-ups seeking advice on growth and acquisition, through to established multi-national corporates seeking to expand and challenge convention.

Mishcon Future builds on its reputation as trusted advisors, drawing on its innovation ecosystem, including MDR Group businesses such as MDR Brand Management, digital transformation specialists MDRxTech and in-house accelerator, MDR Lab. Based in the leading innovation hubs Oxford, Cambridge, London and Singapore, with a presence in Hong Kong through association with Karas So LLP.

VWV digital legal products

VWV Plus launched a series of online legal products in 2017 including: elearning solutions (staff learning packages), policy tracker (£700 pa), document builder, immigration manager and HR review   Home – VWV Plus

White & Case thought leadership on the world in transition

Launched mid-2022, the firm provides a global webinar series (and alerts, articles, insights and videos) on four key themes affecting companies and markets – energy in transition, ESG, future of growth and the changing nature of globalisation. World in Transition | White & Case LLP (

Strategy model insights

We considered a variety of business and marketing strategy models and reports – and I’ve shared a couple of highlights.

Marketing strategy skills undervalued

In March 2023, Marketing Week’s 2023 Career and Salary survey reveals the skills marketers believe businesses are undervaluing, with marketing strategy, brand management and data analysis ranked highest.  Marketing strategy is the most undervalued skill by businesses, marketers say (

Value Disciplines: Customer Intimacy, Product Leadership and Operational Excellence

When discussing value propositions and competitive positioning at the workshop, we considered the relevance of Treacy and Wiersema’s three strategic choices.

In ‘The Discipline of Market Leaders‘  M. Treacy and F. Wiersema argue that no company can succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. It must find the unique value that it alone can deliver to a chosen market. This is in line with Porter’s Generic Strategies in which Porter describes how companies gain competitive advantage by either focusing on low cost (cost leadership), differentiation or a niche market. If a company tries to pursue all of these strategies, it is likely to end up somewhere ‘stuck in the middle’ offering average products for average prices.

Treacy and Wiersema suggest three ‘Value Disciplines‘ to choose from which should act as a central piece that shapes every subsequent plan and decision a company makes. These three value disciplines are: Operational Excellence, Product Leadership and Customer Intimacy. Value Disciplines EXPLAINED with EXAMPLES | B2U | Business To You (

The essence of strategy is now how to change – What strategic actions should your company consider?

In “The essence of strategy is now how to change” Hunsaker and Knowles in the MIT Sloan Management Review (December 2020) there was a helpful table offering ideas for discussion on how you can:

  • Enhance magnitude
  • Reimagine activity
  • Shift directions

across various stakeholder groups (customers, employees, partners, investors and communities). They argue that “when environments are complex and dynamic, strategy is about adaptability”. The Essence of Strategy Is Now How to Change (

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