A Lesson in Corporate Compliance From Dechert Also Teaches Us a Thing Or Two About Video Content Marketing

A Price Worth Paying? is a superb quality film which raises awareness of important issues facing a board in the most dramatic fashion. It has been cleverly designed to provoke uncomfortable, but much needed, debate…” -Alan Thomson, Chairman of Hays plc and Bodycote plc, Non-Executive Director at Alstom and HSBC

You’ve never seen a compliance training film quite like this. And to be sure, this half-hour movie is not just a lesson in corruption, whistleblowers, and related matters for corporate boards. It’s also a terrific lesson in clever content marketing (specifically: video marketing) from one of the largest law firms in the world. Here’s the scoop:

Written by Duncan Wiggetts, a white collar crime attorney based in Dechert LLP’s London office, A Price Worth Paying? tells the fictional story of Maartel International and how the struggling company’s board responds to the difficult (and very real) issues of executive compensation, risks in emerging market acquisitions, audit committee enquiries, and whistleblower allegations. The Wall Street Journal’s Reed Abergotti recently wrote that the movie “might just be one of the most professional, star-studded examples of an underappreciated genre: The corporate training video.”

A Price Worth Paying? is not Wiggets’ first corporate training movie, but it is his first using an acclaimed, professional director (Nick White) to produce the piece – to say nothing of well-known actor, Phil Davis, who once had a role in The Who’s Quadrophenia.

[Above: trailer for A Price Worth Paying? The full movie has been screened for audiences of in-house lawyers, included an ACC-sponsored event recently in NYC. Additional screenings/workshops are planned.]

Here’s the story behind the story, JD Supra Q&A with the writer and creator of the terrific film, Duncan Wiggets:

JD Supra: The governance issues you address in ‘A Price Worth Paying’ are very real and – as a quick scan of newspaper headlines on any given day will confirm – have serious consequences for multinational corporations and the executives who run them. Do you find that in-house counsel and business leaders still aren’t taking the risks seriously enough?

We see companies who have either completely insufficient compliance processes in place and also companies whose policies look great but whose employees still do not understand what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior…

Wiggets: Whilst there are a lot of companies, directors and in house counsel who work hard to produce best possible governance processes and introduce procedures to reduce fraud risks and who react very properly and thoroughly to any suggestion, suspicion or allegation of wrongdoing, there are still many examples of real life cases where, for instance, board members have agreed to a course of action without seeing all of the relevant documentation or without a full and frank debate. In our practice at Dechert we are still seeing investigations which are either not started into whistleblower claims due to concerns about the credibility of the complainant or investigations being curtailed before reaching conclusions. We also see companies who have either completely insufficient compliance processes in place and also companies whose policies look great but whose employees still do not understand what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Our experiences are borne out also by the stories we read on a weekly basis about failures within the compliance regimes at other major companies. Unfortunately, sometimes, the General Counsel is seen by the business leaders as someone putting in place obstacles to increasing revenue by, for instance, objecting to certain transactions or by introducing further checks and balances into payments being made to third parties.

The film has clearly generated a lot of buzz for you and for Dechert. What types of responses are you getting and from whom? Can you link any new client work back to the film yet?

All of the reaction to the new film up to now has been incredibly positive with nearly all directors and General Counsel who have seen one or more of my previous films believing this to be the best one yet…

As the new film has still only recently been launched in the UK and the US and has not yet been launched in other countries, we would not be expecting to be able to link it to new client work yet. We are hoping, however, that new potential clients will be impressed by our deep understanding of the issues which run through the film as well as our innovative way of raising these important issues. Indeed, the workshops that we have built around the film give the audience an opportunity to hear from partners across several of our practices on these themes, including executive compensation, the risks associated with acquisitions in emerging markets, and others risks that the main characters must address. The workshops give us an additional tool to demonstrate our expertise to very senior audiences at new potential clients with whom we might not have an existing relationship.

All of the reaction to the new film up to now has been incredibly positive with nearly all directors and General Counsel who have seen one or more of my previous films believing this to be the best one yet. In many respects, it should be as I was able to persuade a young BAFTA shortlisted director to get involved with the project who, in turn, attracted a quality cast so the production quality is far better. I also had far more input this time around from several experienced chairmen and General Counsel who wanted to be involved in the creative stages, providing comments on the original story book and on the early scripts. Particular thanks has to go to Alan Thomson who sits on the boards of Alstom and HSBC and who chairs Hays plc and Bodycote plc who became so enthusiastic for the project, he spent many hours of his own time helping me get right the governance issues and the board scenes.

We understand you had a stipulation in your Dechert contract to produce your first movie within a year – and that this is your fourth such training film since 2005. That’s makes you an early adopter in the world of content marketing (especially in the legal profession)! Tell us how you started with these video projects? What inspired you in the first place?

I made my first film, whilst Senior Counsel to PwC’s Audit business across Europe, to try to help auditors understand the importance of asking challenging questions if they had concerns about the integrity of any figure included in financial statements or the integrity of any important member of client’s management team so that they were satisfied on all integrity issues prior to signing off audit reports. This was important as the regulatory landscape had changed considerably since the introduction of the Sarbanes Oxley Act which increased the responsibility and consequences for European auditors signing audits of US listed companies and the change in Europe from self-regulation to independent audit oversight bodies. I believed that the best way to change behaviors and to inspire auditors to be brave enough to ask the difficult questions of clients would be to create a realistic drama showing graphically the adverse consequences which might result for both the audit partner and his client if issues were not pursued to a satisfactory conclusion.

What’s next? You’re not likely to run out of corporate governance issues you could tackle. Are you planning another film any time soon?

A large part of the rest of this year has already been allocated to further events and private client screenings in the US, Europe, the Middle East and in Asia…

There are no immediate plans to make another film. Our focus now is to use the current film to facilitate discussions with our clients about how important it is to set the right tone from the top on corporate governance issues.  A large part of the rest of this year has already been allocated to further events and private client screenings in the US, Europe, the Middle East and in Asia.

Finally, maintaining an active international law practice is hard. And so is writing and producing a professional film. Two questions: What was your favorite part of creating this latest release? And do you ever sleep?

The best moment in creating the latest film was when Nick White, the film director, called me to tell me that Phil Davis had committed to play the lead role of the Maartel International Chairman, Michael Murray. Phil Davis is such a well known face on UK television, most recently for his starring roles in popular drama series Silk and Whitechapel but historically also his roles in The Who film Quadrophenia and Vera Drake. It was quite bizarre sitting down with him explaining how a board meeting would be run and how a Chairman would act. It was quite surreal when, in his first interview after winning his Oscar for Lincoln, Daniel Day Lewis referred to Phil as being one of the four most important influences on his career as an actor, being named in the same company as Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep, and he was an actor in my film!

I do sleep but I have to admit that I was getting to bed quite late during the crucial two month development stage when I was having to meet deadlines for various iterations of the script.  We were so busy last year with dealing with real life dramas I was having to work on this project in the late evenings.  We also ended up shooting most of the new film during the August bank holiday weekend as this was the only time when I could commit to being available for 3 consecutive days – it was a long weekend!  The positive reaction we have had to the new film has, however, made all those late nights worth it.

Q&A written with help from @lancegodard