For a firm with an ever-expanding growing business development function CMO Jeff Berardi discusses implementing advertising and marketing experience at K&L Gates.
Two years after joining K&L Gates as a Marketing Manager for the Boston office, Jeff Berardi was asked to serve as the law firm’s acting Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). He was told at the time by Chairman and Global Managing Partner Peter Kalis, “You’re going to encounter some challenges, but I have confidence that you’re going to overcome them,” Berardi recalled. “[Kalis] believed in me, and that meant a lot.”
Getting & Giving Chances
“Even though I didn’t have any CMO-level experience on the job, I had been at the firm for a couple of years and had built a number of strong relationships,” Berardi said. Today he echoes the sentiment that you can learn a great deal from being “thrown in the fire” with a new career opportunity.
“My view was, once handed the reins as acting CMO, I was going to make it really difficult for them to give the job to someone else,” Berardi said with a laugh. Six months after he landed the acting CMO role, he was promoted to CMO.
Because of this experience, Berardi is a firm believer in giving people a chance. He’s inclined to promote from within if he can, especially when there’s a viable candidate.
“People end up stepping up to really show that they’re the right choice, and it’s wonderful for me to see people mature and develop in their roles,” he said. “In a lot of cases, they learn from their mistakes. That’s healthy. I certainly did in my role.”
Agency & MBA Foundations
Years before joining K&L Gates, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Berardi was a Media Buyer and Account Manager at a marketing agency. “I liked working at an agency, and I learned a lot,” said Berardi, adding that he didn’t always agree with the direction his clients chose. A pivotal moment for him was when he decided he’d like to cross over to the client side.
Right about that time, he also chose to pursue an MBA at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. “The idea with the MBA was to round out some of my edges and bolster some of my weaknesses,” Berardi said. He also came to learn more about the foundational elements of business management, such as managerial accounting and financial reporting.
Marketing the Law Firm
This solid understanding of business fundamentals comes in handy for Berardi, who doesn’t see his role as CMO as focused exclusively on marketing and business development.
“I think it’s much broader than that,” he said. “My role forces me to learn as much as possible about all of the administrative functions, and to have a working background in those really helps me to identify and understand what the overall challenges are for the organization.”
Berardi notes that federal regulations once restricted the ability of lawyers and law firms to advertise their services. Even after advertising became permissible, many in the legal profession initially considered it to be a move in the wrong direction. But as advertising evolved into marketing and business development initiatives, perceptions among lawyers changed, making it possible for firms to more effectively market their services.
Meanwhile, consolidations among law firms and the recent economic downturn created an even more competitive environment. Over the last decade, Berardi has witnessed the marketing and business development function at law firms become much more strategic, primarily because the firms have been getting bigger and need to conduct themselves in a way much closer to a traditional corporate structure.
In today’s competitive environment, it’s critical to convey a clear and compelling value proposition—in K&L Gates’ case, what Berardi considers to be the set of unique attributes distinguishing his firm from the competition. His firm, Berardi added, is strategically positioned at the critical crossroads of three trends: globalization, regulation and innovation.
“We first need to make sure that our lawyers and staff understand what makes us different from other law firms,” Berardi said. “This is largely because of the way our globally integrated law firm is constructed. We have more than 2,000 lawyers from dozens of offices around the world, and they each need to understand and embrace the brand and the value proposition before they can go out and effectively promote that message in an external fashion.”
Favorite Quote: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” – Henry David Thoreau
Books I recommend: “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace and “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith
Apps on my phone I can’t do without: Spotify, Uber
I can’t start my day unless: I’ve had my morning coffee
I don’t consider my day done unless: I have done my best to get in touch with all those who have called or written to me with questions, concerns or other issues.
I start my day by: Rolling out of bed, and immediately begin reading and responding to internal firm emails that have come through overnight from other parts of the world, such as Australia, Asia and Europe.
Favorite leader: John Wooden
My definition of retirement: Traveling around the world—for pleasure rather than business!— with my wife and kids.
One of the best lessons I’ve learned in my career is: Have the courage to make tough decisions when necessary, and equally important, have the discretion to know when to push the envelope and when to back off.
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