Imitation is the in-sincerest form of flattery
News that Newport-based law firm Collingbourne Hennah plagiarised content from competitors' websites is a farcical example of the need for firms to invest time in getting their corporate messages right, writes Gus Sellitto
According to Roll on Friday, Collingbourne Hennah poached the words from at least four other firms, including Slater & Gordon and Irwin Mitchell, to write content for the medical negligence and crime sections of its website. Apparently, whoever wrote the firm's website made such a hash of the cut-and-paste job that they left the name of one of the firms they copied - Stuart Miller Solicitors - in the middle of their own website. When approached by Roll on Friday, a partner at the firm made a feeble attempt to pass the buck to an outsourced third party, tasked with assembling the site. The firm then duly suspended the website while it carried out an investigation. Slater & Gordon was later reported to be issuing a cease and desist letter against the firm.
The immediate damage to Collingbourne Hennah's reputation is clear and it will take time for the firm to rebuild its credibility. It appears the firm has overhauled the text on its website, which is an obvious, but at least positive, first step. However, part of the firm's welcome page espouses that its reputation has been built on 'a historical foundation of honest, sound legal advice.' The word 'honest' reaches to the heart of this incident and the legacy issues Collingbourne Hennah now faces in rebuilding trust among its stakeholders.
The legal profession already faces an uphill struggle in the trust stakes among the public. Lawyers have to work hard to earn 'trusted adviser' status and examples such as the Collingbourne Hennah debacle, as incredible as it appears, do little to help the profession's reputation.
Firms often ask me how they can achieve true differentiation in such a crowded market - where most law firms essentially offer the same services and many look and feel the same. There is no simple answer to this but a clear starting point is to take time in assessing your culture: where does it come from; how does it feel; how would you describe it; and what are the values and other ingredients that go into making it. Involve your staff and clients in this process and then draw on elements of your culture that are different to tell your corporate story and to describe how you deliver your services. By all means, look at a competitor's website to see how they tell their corporate story, but do so to differentiate, rather than to imitate.
Above all, ensure your corporate story is a true reflection of who you are. It's not always about being the biggest and the best, but it is about being honest. As the Collingbourne Hennah example shows, imitation can be the in-sincerest form of flattery. SJ
Gus Sellitto is managing director of Byfield Consultancy and specialises in reputation management for law firms