Last week, Jo Aitken, Director at Acritas, interviewed Stuart Fuller, Global Managing Partner at King & Wood Mallesons about the firm's rise in the 2016 Acritas Asia Pacific Law Firm Brand Index. She also took the opportunity to find out a little more about the firm's wider growth and approach to marketing in this dynamic and diverse region.
Jo Aitken (JA): How do you feel about King & Wood Mallesons taking the top spot?
Stuart Fuller (SF): Wonderful! As a global law firm born out of, and headquartered out of Asia, we’ve taken the view that we need to be number one in that region. When we slipped to number two [last year], we set it as a priority to come back and I think it actually reflects the momentum we’ve seen in the firm in the last 12 months. The M&A transactions, the capital markets transactions, our ranking in international arbitration, and opening the Singapore office - all of those things have contributed to the momentum of the firm, and hopefully this result.
JA: What do you see as the challenge in terms of sustaining the success and building the brand growth in the region?
SF: The biggest challenge is improving year on year. Getting the quality and the consistency of our client experience, which we have put a lot of effort into this year but also how we keep reacting to changing client demands. Asia is a very dynamic part of the world and the client base is evolving rapidly, both in terms of the depth of its business and its sophistication, but also what it wants from its lawyers. Keeping our performance both across awareness and favorability, but also that client experience and the depth of insight we can bring to global markets will be our challenges for the next 12 months, and beyond.
JA: Do you think that countries within the region or the region itself responds to different approaches in marketing and communications, relative to the rest of the word?
SF: Absolutely. It’s both a younger market, in terms of its maturity, both of the legal profession, in many cases, but also its business generation.
The evolution and the pace of change in the market in Asia I think far outstrips any other market that I’ve seen, or that we’ve operated in. The clients are evolving rapidly, their businesses are globalizing rapidly, and their businesses are becoming far more pan-Asian than they’ve ever been before. So all of that puts the pressure on service providers whether it’s law firms or others to adapt for those clients in those markets.
In fact, every one of those markets is a local market. So even though firms like others and us operate across a number of the markets the business culture, the client requirements, the market dynamic, the people and relationships that you need to have do vary between those markets which means you need to adapt your marketing and communications strategy to each of those markets.
If you applied a one size fits all in Asia you would fail miserably. Equally if you applied one business model across Asia you would probably struggle.
The one commonality is how can any form of BD and marketing or communications (how can it actually) have a business insight? So something that brings genuine depth and insight of the market, not just a dot on the map kind of organization, but one that can bring that genuine insight into what is happening in the market. And secondly, how can you help clients make money?
I think the cultural difference is it’s all about business, and that even as a professional services firm bringing professional advice, quality and depth of advice, you need to have a real business - how does it add value to the client? How does it help the client help its business? How does it help the client make more money?’ And if you don’t have that approach, you just won’t succeed in Asia.
JA: Do you see any particular hot markets that are of interest for you at the moment?
SF: It’s a great question because there are a lot of opportunities in our client base and particularly our Chinese client base coming down through ASEAN - moving many manufacturing and other facilities out of China as the labor cost and the business environment matures in China. So I think any market in ASEAN, but centered around Singapore, we would see as critical and that's one of the reasons we open to Singapore office in the last 12 months, to put the firm's own footprint down in that market as the gateway into and out of ASEAN for our major plans. But then you come back to the big stable economies like Japan and Korea and Australia which still generate significant amounts of work not only in their own markets but increasingly into the region. I think you need to very much have a where's the core and then where are those core markets extending into, but certainly ASEAN and Singapore would continue to be a priority for us.
JA: Do you see from your perspective any particular brand differentiator you have in the region, relative to your competitors?
SF: Of course! Being the first is always a great brand differentiator. So being a firm that took the first step in creating and combining East and West is a great differentiator for us because we combine that with quality and depth. So not only the first firm of its type but firm of equivalent quality across the offices, having depth and insight into the markets. So we're not a dots on the map firm but bringing real insight from the local depth of the firm combining that with the global platform. And then secondly all of these businesses work on people, so whether it's ourselves with our clients or within the firm the partners to the partners and the lawyers to the lawyers – and nothing can make up for type.
So the brand differentiator that we see happening on more of an exponential basis as our relationships internally and externally have more time to them, the business opportunities we can have for our clients and the business opportunities our clients make for us increase and of course that all drives brand.
The more deals we do the more active we are in the market, the stronger the capability of the firm the stronger the brand. So nothing can take away the four and a half years we've had of driving this global business from Asia.