How Maurice Blackburn is turning law firm marketing on its head

GM of marketing shares the insights and internal work that's driving a completely different approach to marketing

By Caroline Ruddick’s estimation, the marketing of law firms has traditionally resembled wallpaper – visible, but easily dismissed.

“It is probably the world’s most ignored category, until you need it,” she told CMO.

Now, as the general manager for marketing at Maurice Blackburn, a 100-year-old Melbourne based firm with more than 1000 staff nationally, it is her job to turn that perception around.

Ruddick joined Maurice Blackburn in late 2020 as general manager of marketing following an extensive career in financial services, energy, transport and other sectors, including stints at digital and traditional organisations. In taking on the marketing role at Maurice Blackburn, she also took on entrenched perceptions regarding law firm marketing – that it was bland and easily dismissed. Yet she found these to be at odds with her new employer’s culture and the positive impact it had on clients.

Her response has been to launch the firm’s first ever brand campaign, based on a brand strategy created by Re, with campaign creative from Howatson + Company and media strategy from Half Dome.

“When I was recruited into the role, one of the things they were after was someone who had a digital view of the world, as well as a branding background,” Ruddick said.

This led to an extensive program of client-based research that yielded numerous insights essential to the campaign’s development.

“We spent a lot of time researching and understanding how people felt when something happened and what it meant for their lives, and how they went about moving forward,” Ruddick said. “It was critical that [the campaign] needed to be about us and what we did. It needed to communicate our differences of support and empathy and guidance, and it needed to cut through and be different to anything else out there.”

Consumer insight-led marketing

One key insight uncovered was that when people sought a law firm, it was often because something had turned their whole world upside down. This insight was subsequently used as a visual metaphor, with video assets commencing with footage that has been flipped 180 degrees horizontally, before being rotated back to normal.

“When people see the ad for the first time, if they are watching on an iPhone, they want to turn the iPhone the right way up,” Ruddick said.

More importantly, she said the visual metaphor creates an opportunity to communicate Maurice Blackburn’s brand values, including its attributes of trust, empathy, and support.

“We have helped over half a million people turn their situation around,” Ruddick said. “Our purpose at Maurice Blackburn is to extend access to justice to everyone, and especially those who can’t afford it. That has a big impact on our culture. The type of people who come to work at Maurice Blackburn are very supportive and empathetic because they are motivated by helping people. Interestingly, we have an 80 per cent female workforce.”

Ruddick said Maurice Blackburn’s status as a law firm meant needing to ensure the campaign conformed with all regulatory requirements for each state it operates in.

“I had one member of my team and our general counsel who were superstars, who went through every script for everything - visual, auditory and written - making sure everything complied with regulations,” Ruddick said.

As a partner-based firm, Ruddick was also conscious of ensuring the campaign was properly communicated to internal stakeholders. This led to the creation of a guidance group.

“We came with data and evidence at every stage, so it was a very extensive process,” Ruddick said. “I’ve been this way in every organisation I have worked in. There is a real science to marketing, and if you have that data and evidence, people build confidence.”

Aside from the campaign’s creative content, Ruddick said the media strategy developed by Half Dome will prove vital to its long-term impact.

“We have a broad range of consumers we are after,” Ruddick said. “We have some that are highly TV-driven, and some that are non-TV at all. It was critical we had effective media presence in digital channels from an awareness point of view, then traditional TV channels for those audiences that don’t have the same digital usage.

“Our motivation is that people need and deserve justice, and if we weren't here, they wouldn’t get it. What that means for our clients is they have people who really care that they get the help they need, so they can put food on the table and continue to pay their rent and have a positive life as a result. So most of our media buys are focused on that socio-economic group.”

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