31 May 2005

You might have thought this was branding.

Here's what happens when a law firm decides that it has a brand.

We were curious when we picked up Friday May 27 Australian Financial Review, "Gadens' brand: you have to laugh", to read that Australian law firm Gadens has gone out on a limb and said that unlike most law firms, "We actually are different and we prove that by behaving differently".

According to Managing Partner, Michael Bradley, at the firm's Sydney office, Gadens is known for its "irreverant and relaxed" culture. Well we went looking for it. And here's why.

Last year we were approached by a large second tier law firm looking to rebrand and reposition. We were excited at such an opportunity and did some extensive benchmarking on Australian law firm brands. An opportunity was ripe for the picking. We did the right thing, flew out to the meet them at our own expense, wrote a lengthy proposal, providing them with plenty of evidence that law firms (let alone most profeessional services firm) don't know how to differentiate themselves, let alone how to brand, and then waited. And waited.

Sure the Managing Partner and his marketing manager thought it was a great idea but he'd have to get it through all the partners in the firm, and he really wasn't prepared for anything even closely resembling evolution. We pitied the marketing manager.

So let's hand it to Gadens. Internally their brand activities concentrate on developing a unique culture, which will inherently serve to enhance and develop distinct brand attributes such as irreverence and ease and which will differentiate it from most of its competitors. And they are making attempts at reflecting this in their recruitment advertising. But is this just the activity of their Sydney office, because we see no evidence of this brand position in what is a crucial part of brand articulation - their website - nor in their visual articulation - their look and feel.

Here's a sample from 'About Us' on their company website:

With more than 85 partners and 720 staff throughout Australia, Gadens Lawyers has the infrastructure and resources to partner with clients at local, state and national levels. Importantly, as the only Australian member of the International Lawyers Network - one of the world ’s largest associations of independent legal firms - we have access to 80 high-quality, full-service law firms with over 4,200 lawyers world-wide. The Network provides clients with easily accessible legal services in 61 countries on six continents.

So where does it say they are "irreverant and relaxed"? We couldn't find any jokes on the site and even Michael Bradley's own bio is more reverant than irreverent.

So, we think this is what happens when a firm only does part of the job of branding [or is there more on the way?]. Perhaps this was a publicity exercise and perhaps they are not what they seem, but branding is much more than an exercise. It is completely holistic and it should, as Gadens does in part understand, permeate the entire organisation and be part of all its communication. It's an idea we're still waiting for companies like Gadens to embrace. So for now we will just have to wait and see.

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