Repositioning a firm to win more international clients is a sensitive task, Marco d’Angelo reflects.

As a law firm, repositioning in the marketplace creates both opportunity and risk. You want to present yourself to new audiences, possibly in new ways, to expand your potential for new business and perhaps take your firm to the next level.

But if in the process you alienate existing clients and contacts that are still relevant and valuable to the business, you will only end up running fast to stand still.

The particular challenges thrown up by the globalisation of the legal services market are a good example of this conundrum in action. As the global village shrinks and business opportunities increasingly cross borders, a firm’s identity is suddenly defined by its position on the world stage, as much as in its domestic market – with major knock-on impacts on how it needs to communicate with the outside world.  

As its targets for new business expand exponentially, it is not just its client and referrer audiences that change, but the firm’s own peer group too. No longer is it sufficient to think about how the firm compares with its domestic market rivals; in the global legal marketplace, it will have a whole new set of competitors that clients, potential clients and referrers will be judging it against – and the firm’s communications and branding all need to keep pace with this evolution if its target audiences are to understand what the firm is in the marketplace to do.  

Yet how can you publicly pay attention to these shiny new targets beyond your traditional borders, without making your existing audiences feel they are being shoved into the shadows? And on a simpler level, how can you redefine your brand identity in a way that speaks to two very different audiences (the international and the domestic) equally successfully, and at the same time? This is as much an issue for the smaller law firms looking to optimise their flow of occasional overseas business as it is for the magic circle-equivalent firms, such as ourselves, servicing the multinationals.

In large part the answer lies in being creative, and in having an eye for the commonalities between vastly different marketplaces and audience groups, in terms of what they hold dear and how they value what their legal advisers have to offer. Another key is in being able to spot ‘coincidences in meaning’ amongst the different brand elements, (typography, colour palette, imagery), that play out equally well to multiple audiences.

Taking our own brand refresh as an example, our choice of brand elements was underpinned by our understanding of how our domestic Italian clients respond positively to us expressing pride in our Italian roots; and how this chimes with international audiences’ respect for the ‘passion’ and ‘excellence’ that the best of our country is known for.

Indeed our bold choice of the colour red is the internationally recognised signifier of just this. Further, our choice of the Bodoni font speaks to our domestic audience, being a subtle nod to Italy’s long history of creative innovation (Giambattista Bodoni was the man behind the first modern font) and at the same time speaks to global audiences, being a reference to Italy’s long-standing international reputation for elegance and design.  

And finally, our choice of photography by internationally renowned Italian photographers such as Luca Campigotto and Angela Lo Priore (used on our website and in our other marketing collateral) underlines the creativity that Italy is known for globally, at the same time as showing our domestic audiences that we respect our roots.    

In conclusion, the key is to give all these aspects very careful thought. This sounds simple enough, but it’s harder in practice. Avoid being glib, for sure. And never take a longstanding, loyal client base for granted, however excited you are about reaching out to glitzy new audiences and prospects for business. Otherwise risk losing as much as you gain. But manage the balance sensitively, keeping close to your ‘heritage’ client base whilst expanding your reach, and you can achieve a win:win.

Marco d’Angelo is marketing director at the leading Italian law firm that has just rebranded BonelliErede