Karlyn Hinchliffe, commercial solicitor at ODEON

Karlyn, firstly – can you tell readers of The Brief a bit about yourself and background?
I trained with DLA Piper in Manchester then qualified into its commercial team. I was always keen to move in-house and after a couple of years with DLA Piper I moved to United Utilities. It was a great place to learn and for over four years I worked across both the regulated and non-regulated business streams on incredibly diverse projects. At the end of my time there, I was bursting with ideas for adding value as an in-house lawyer and the perfect opportunity arose with ODEON.

You’re now a commercial solicitor at ODEON so what does your day to day role entail?
I spend most of my time working closely with our Information Services, Procurement and Marketing teams advising on IT contracts, commercial contracts and promotions but on any given day you could find me engaged on other things such as helping a cinema general manager with a guest disturbance or putting the finishing touches to a full length cinema foyer poster. I am particularly proud when I walk past the huge outdoor digital LED screen at our flagship cinema ODEON Leicester Square to know that I was involved in the project to bring the screen to such an iconic building.

The cinema sector relies heavily on its online/ social media presence to drive traffic & customer loyalty. What is the main legal issue the company now faces?
Our main issue is ensuring that any information seen by our customers complies with advertising and consumer laws. This is a particular challenge where online space is limited and we need to deliver information which is short, snappy and legally spot on!

There has also been a lot of coverage in the press about the importance of data protection. How involved are you in ODEON’s processes?
We have over two million members in our ODEON Première Club loyalty scheme and so as a company we are used to taking data protection very seriously. It is a constantly evolving area and I liaise closely with our marketing team on consumer-facing promotions to ensure best practice in the capturing and sharing of data.

Historically, piracy/ the illegal recording of films has been a real issue for cinema chains. Is that still the case or has the digital era moved things on?
Yes, piracy still remains a threat. All ODEON cinemas now use digital projectors instead of film reels and to combat the increased risk of high quality piracy from digital content we follow industry-wide security standards and use an encrypted projection system. We are also constantly on the alert to prevent unauthorised film recordings, but thanks to the hard work of cinema staff there were only two proven recordings in cinemas across the whole of the UK in 2013.

What do you see as the main challenges currently faced by ODEON?
The main challenges are the nature of the cinema industry itself and the increased competition from film on demand. The film programme is controlled by the film distributors, and each cinema chain has very little influence over its main product - the films! What we can control however is the overall customer experience, and ODEON is committed to ensuring that each customer has a fantastic visit to the big screen.

What made you want to work for ODEON?
I wanted to move to a smaller, fast-paced business where I could have more strategic influence at a senior level and be able to make a real difference. I was also looking for a consumer-facing brand where I could instantly see the impact of my work in everyday life. There’s a certain satisfaction in signing off a marketing email which is about to hit the inbox of over two million happy ODEON Première Club members. Of course, watching unlimited films and walking the red carpet with Johnny Depp had nothing to do with it!

What do you think are the main benefits for a company that employs an in-house legal team?
In-house lawyers have a deep understanding of business direction and strategy, so our time and expertise can be used where they are needed most. We build strong relationships across the business so we can understand what is happening on the ground, and we exert our influence to ensure that different projects are pulling in the same direction. We are readily available to people at all levels in the company - whether they want pure legal advice or just need a sounding board to chat through ideas!

Finally, what advice would you give to someone looking to develop their career in-house and be successful as an in-house lawyer?

My five top tips are:

1. Get the best technical grounding you can in private practice, as once you go in-house you can’t pop down the corridor to speak to an expert!

2. Pro-actively build relationships across the business and understand what makes your stakeholders tick.

3. Network with other in-house lawyers to share ideas – it’s a very supportive community.

4. Be as friendly and accessible as you can - not everyone in the business will be used to dealing with lawyers and they might find it daunting!

5. Work in a sector that you are genuinely interested in – this makes everything you do much more enjoyable