Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Generating Goodwill AND New Clients by Affiliating with Worthwhile Causes

In this day of digital marketing, one of the most underused and unappreciated marketing tools available to law firms is cause marketing – those efforts in which the law firm affiliates itself with a worthwhile cause, event or other type of endeavor.

Reasons for implementing such a program are several-fold. Affiliating with a cause or special event can:
  • Generate a great level of visibility
  • Facilitate interface between firm attorneys and prospective clients
  • Provide a means for building a contact database
  • Underscore the branding of the firm
  • Elevate the firm’s overall credibility in the eyes of the community and amongst its prospect groups.
Law practices must get creative in developing marketing programs that dovetail with what they are all about. For example, our agency worked with one PI firm (that was unable to compete on TV with more financially well-heeled competitors), to create a campaign directed toward high school juniors and seniors, encouraging them not to text while driving. Another marketing initiative for a full service firm involved promoting the arts among young people. In most cases, cause marketing programs are multi-faceted, with overall costs that are considerably lower than what a full-blown advertising campaign might entail.

In most such marketing initiatives, awareness is generated through a multiplicity of online, traditional and grassroots vehicles. This means looking for ways in which the same promotional material can be used in a multiplicity of ways (e.g., posted on the firm web site, on social media, via press release, as fodder for a feature article, on flyers distributed to the appropriate target audience) before, during and after a particular event. The key lies in looking for those opportunities that can extend the life of the effort.

In short, when it comes to cause marketing, a little creativity can often pay huge dividends for everyone – prospective clients, the community and the firm itself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2016 is Here! How to Budget For Legal Marketing in the New Year

Now that the holidays have passed, it’s time to tackle the inevitable task of determining how much should be allocated to this effort. Unfortunately, all too often, law firms make the decision to make no decision at all. While this can be a reasonable approach to a degree, it also runs the risk of missing some potential opportunities, or conversely, of overspending on initiatives that do not bear much fruit

The traditional approach has been to look at the industry benchmarks in which 2-5% of the firm’s revenue is allocated towards marketing and business development. However, much more effective is to take a task approach. Here, the firm’s marketing budget becomes a function of its objectives (i.e., the more ambitious its goals, the greater its budget).

In taking such an approach, it is important that several difficult questions be addressed, among these:

  1. Will marketing activities be designed to generate new clients over the short term only or should some of the funds be allocated towards the long haul. This will dictate the types of activities utilized and the relative costs involved. For example, a new firm brochure or web site may not get the phones to ring immediately, but can set the stage for significant success down the road. 
  1. How are “resources” being defined? If it only includes dollar outlays, then certain marketing vehicles that are labor intensive, such as search engine optimization and social media may make good sense. If the term “resources” is broadened to include “time,” then the drain on manpower of some activities may make them cost-prohibitive. (Of course, such services can be contracted out, but this then turns the cost of time into hard, out of-pocket expenses). 
  1. Is the concept of frequency being taken into account? Generating awareness and new business requires that prospects be continuously exposed to the firm, and often through a multiplicity of channels. In fact, it has been estimated that the average prospects must be exposed to a  message between 7 to 10 times before being spurred to action. 
  1. Will you consider a “better” year to be one that only involves obtaining new clients or must it also be a function of higher rates and/or the cross-promotion of firm services? Both initiatives may require investments of time and/or money. 

Ultimately, once the determination is made as to a) the firm’s objectives and b) the strategies it will employ to reach these goals, only then can the specific dollar amount (and/or internal costs) required to achieving them be determined. The budget allocation of 2-5% of firm revenue is really only a guideline – and one that may or may not make sense for you (particularly as you navigate through the brave new worlds of SEO and social media). Actual budgets must look at a wide range of variables, including the current image of the firm and the level of awareness it enjoys among its target group.

Les Altenberg is President of A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group , a full-service marketing firm dedicated to the business development efforts of law firms and those who serve the legal industry. He can be reached at 856-810-0400 or via email at laltenberg@legalprofessionalsmarketing.com

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Word-of-Mouth Revenue and the Value of a Client

Toothpaste marketers have it easy. 

It’s not hard for them to figure out the value of a client… or in their case, of a customer.  They know the margin they make on the product, how many tubes that customer will buy and how often that customer will come back to buy it. Moreover, the word-of-mouth phenomenon is not prevalent.  After all, how often do you give or receive referrals on which toothpaste to buy?

But what about the marketer of legal services?

For most practice areas, there is no “typical” client.  And there is absolutely no way of knowing or even estimating how many times that client will come back for more services. But most important, the value of a client is determined not just by the revenue that client brings in, but also by the revenue that client generates through word-of-mouth and referrals.  Unfortunately, most law firms fail to track that information and thus fail to get a fuller understanding of what each client represents to the firm.

This lack of information can have a direct impact on the firm’s fortunes. For example, the revenue obtained from a particular client may be “appreciated” to a greater extent than the smaller client whose contribution to overall firm income is significantly less. Yet, that smaller client may be of greater value to the firm simply through its connections to other potential sources (i.e. prospects) of new revenue.

When data concerning from where referrals are coming is not collected, law firms miss the opportunity to not only understand the value of each client, but also the opportunity to nurture those sources of “down the road” revenue. They may not see that that client who used to send lots of business their way is no longer doing so, and thus they may not recognize that his or her perception as to the quality of their services is no longer what it was. They may not see that Mrs. Smith merits a lunch invitation, Mr. Jones has earned a larger gift basket come the holidays, or that the XYZ Company is in danger of becoming an ex-client.

To be able to act on this information, law firms must first be able to capture it.  Yet this need not be a daunting task, By simply asking the question (as one would regarding through what medium a client heard about the firm), and tracking the revenue generated through these sources, a great deal of actionable data is obtained.

You can find more information regarding the tracking of word-of-mouth revenue and the value of a client at etiometrix.com.

In the meantime, I look forward to the day your firm’s success in business development can be quantifiably tracked to perceptions of its work quality.

Les Altenberg is President of A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group ( LegalProfessionalsMarketing.com ), a full-service marketing firm dedicated to the business development efforts of law firms and those who serve the legal industry. He can be reached at 856-810-0400 or via email at laltenberg@legalprofessionalsmarketing.com

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Changing the Way Law Firms Measure Return on Marketing Investment

Every time a business person decides to run an ad, develop a web site, launch a social media initiative, take prospects out to lunch or start a public relations campaign, the obvious question that hangs implicitly over his or her head is, “How do I know this will work?”

This is especially true for the more than 47,000 law firms and 1.2 million attorneys whose access to hard data is virtually non-existent; where supermarket scanners serve no purpose and there are no audit or rating resources (e.g., Nielsen) that can provide management with answers to very complex questions. 

Searching for the answers to these very same questions in regard to their own respective businesses, entrepreneurs Les Altenberg and Tom Mazanec developed a methodology they call Etiometrix. According to the two, the Etiometix approach crunches lead generation and sales data in a manner that’s never been done before, offering legal marketers the opportunity to assess their marketing and business development activities at the organizational, practice group and even individual attorney level. The result is a service that allows marketers to know:

  • Which activities offer the best returns-on-investment 
  • Who among the firm’s attorneys is best –suited for business development and through which types of activities
  • Which practice areas should be supported and to what degree
  • The role that “word-of-mouth” is playing in the growth of the business
  • How well the business is perceived by the firm’s clients
  • The degree to which marketing (e.g., advertising, online, PR) vs. personal networking is working for the firm.

Their proprietary program can quantitatively track the effects of previously immeasurable dynamics such as branding initiatives and the role “softer” marketing tools (e.g.,  brochures, web sites) play in generating business.

According to Altenberg, who currently heads A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group, a marketing consulting agency based in Marlton, NJ, “The program traces how individuals became customers of a particular business. In most cases, it is because of exposure to several types of individuals (e.g., professionals, referral sources) media, and/or online interactions. Furthermore, the resulting reports forego so many of the interim metrics that we hear so much about these days. Its great that we can know how many people read an ad, attend a seminar, visit or click through to a web site, but those numbers do not really mean anything unless they are tied to the revenue they bring in.”

Altenberg continues, “We were always making marketing recommendations to our clients who then inevitably ask, ‘How will we know if this is working?’ Until now, we never had a good quantifiable means for addressing that question.  Now we do.”

More information on Etiometrix can be obtained by visiting etiometrix.com , emailing jarlene@etiometrix.com or calling 856-810-2127.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Someone’s Posted Negative Comments About Your Firm. Now What?

You work hard for your clients, spending countless hours trying to represent them in the best way you know how.  Most of the time… in fact, the vast majority of the time, your clients are extremely appreciative of your efforts. Some give you repeat business or send you referrals or post an online comment attesting to your legal proficiency.

But then, there are those times when someone determines, rightly or wrongfully that your efforts are not enough, that your turnaround time is too slow, that you made a mistake, etc., go online to a blog, or a legal directory or some other site to review, complain, criticize, and perhaps, even insult. Now when a potential client does an online search, up pops less than flattering content about you, your work or your law practice.

What should you do?

But before we address that, let me advise as to what you should not do… and that is, to let your emotions get the best of you. Social media and all the good and the bad that go with it are all part of the business landscape now. Hence, it is the wise professional who understands this and approaches negative comments with the cool, detached demeanor with which he or she would address any other challenge.

This means first taking the time to analyze the validity of the complaint.  If it is legitimate, the best thing you can do is publicly acknowledge the criticism and offer a way of making good on your mistake. Oftentimes, the best relationships are borne out of a problem or misunderstanding. By recognizing your part in the matter, those reading the posts will bear witness to the fact that you are trying to do the right thing – and are doing so in a rationale, calm and professional manner. In private, you may also wish to communicate with the individual who wrote the comment and offer to make amends.  You never know. You may just be surprised to see a follow up comment that is more “glowing.”

If the complaint is not legitimate, the process is not all dissimilar. While you do not necessarily need to concur with the post or the review, you should still convey your interest in resolving the matter. This is not the time to get defensive, but rather an opportunity to show that the interests of your clients are paramount to you. Again, the goal here is to offset the negative by communicating empathy.

A well-crafted response that takes the edge off the negativity is the right way to approach such matters. This is true even if the other party has resorted to nasty comments and name-calling. That being said however, it is generally not a good idea to engage in an extended “back-and-forth” online exchange with the other party.  Get across what you want to get across and then let it go. Otherwise it may take on a life of its own and blow up into an increasingly difficult problem.

Once you have determined the legitimacy of the complaint, addressed it publicly (and perhaps also in private), there remains another, albeit ongoing task to perform. In order to drown out the negative comment, it is always a good idea to generate positive content. Ask clients you know are satisfied with your work to post comments online. The more, the better. The rationale for this is simple. If you want you and your firm to be optimized online, you want it to be for good reasons. And few efforts are better for search engine optimization than content that is relevant and recent.

In addressing negative online ratings, evaluations or comments, it is really no different than addressing them elsewhere. Take an honest look at yourself, acknowledge (where appropriate) your role in the problem, convey understanding and empathy, and offer to make good. Then drop it.

One other thing… As with everything else, when dealing with these kinds of situations, common sense almost always applies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Law Firms and Social Media: Deciding On Which Sites to Engage

social media sitesA few years ago, social media rose to the forefront as a viable marketing tool for law firms. Today, the decision to engage in such activities has become more complex, largely because there are so many more vehicles from which to choose. Hence, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss how law firms should go about the challenge of allocating resources towards this growing medium.

First, unless your organization has unlimited financial and human resources, it is important to focus on those platforms that are most likely to prove fruitful, rather than implementing initiatives in each and every one of them. This requires a true understanding of the nature of the firm’s practice areas, its target prospects and referral sources and the ways in which such targets consume media.

From our experience, by far the most effective platforms for firms engaging in B2B practices are LinkedIn and Google+ … the former for its wide network and business focus; the latter for its search engine optimization potential.  As I’ve posted before, LinkedIn offers a world of opportunity to connect with very specific target prospects – provided this effort is conducted in a disciplined manner and on a consistent basis. Google+ does likewise, but also tends to be favored in online searches because … well, because it’s a Google property.

Another good site for B2B firms is SlideShare. This platform allows you to do exactly what its name states – publish a PowerPoint presentation. Great way to convey information and/or expertise, though it’s not as popular as YouTube, nor as easy to integrate into an overall online program as some of the other social media sites.

For law firms that target the general public, it gets more complicated. Facebook is the biggest social media player of course and offers opportunities for the firm to highlight its wares. But it has also garnered a reputation as a more “chatty,” interpersonal vehicle. If your law practice is looking to start a Facebook campaign, prepare to get very creative in how legal topics can be communicated in easy-to-read, “bite-able” chunks.

Twitter has become the platform of choice for many “thought leaders” hoping to generate followers. However, if you are looking to follow suit, be prepared to spend a lot – not in dollars, but in time. That’s because the most effective Twitter efforts are those in which “tweets” are posted several times a day. If you are not going to do that, Twitter may not be the best approach to take.

Next is YouTube.  This is another platform on which being active can help your SEO. It’s also a good way for conveying more complex information and/or highlighting content that is enhanced with a visual element.  But it does take some effort and time (at least to do it right). You also must decide whether to produce material that will appeal to a large number of people (in which case you may run up against many competitors and lots of online clutter) or develop very specific content, in which case, you may reach relatively few people looking for very particular kinds of information.

And then there are Pinterest, and Instagram. I confess that I have a difficult time not associating these more with my teenage daughters than I do with the legal profession., but then again, I might have said the same thing about some of the other platforms a few years ago as well. Both sites are visually oriented, so they are more likely to benefit law firms that can take advantage of this element (IP? Fashion law? Sports law?). Pinterest is probably stronger for SEO purposes, but not very interactive. Instagram is more interactive, but has only limited SEO value.

As with every other type of marketing vehicle, each social media platform has its inherent strengths and weaknesses. Based upon its objectives and the nature of the legal service being promoted, a law practice should be frugal in how it allocates its resources. This requires being honest with itself, not in how much time/dollars it wishes to devote to such initiatives, but in how much time/dollars it actually will allocate to these activities. Our experience has been that it is far better to engage in one or a few of the most promising platforms well, before overreaching to implement a wide variety of initiatives half-heartedly.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Florida Ruling on Attorney Advertising of Past Results: A Legal Marketer’s Perspective

The recent Florida court ruling striking the ban on attorneys being allowed to advertise past results has been perceived by many as a victory for those who claim such communications are a first amendment right.
I wouldn’t know about that.  I’m not an attorney.
But I am a legal marketer and from that perspective, Florida’s ruling makes great sense – first amendment rights aside.
Part of the reason that some might disagree is because there exists a perception that somehow advertising, by definition, is fake or misleading and that its audience will thus make decisions based upon false information. When we think of advertising for law firms, we picture attorneys screaming into a camera how they are going to make sure you get that to which you’re entitled. And doggone it, they’re not even going to get paid until you do! What could be better than that? 
However, the truth of the matter is that the goal of advertising is not to mislead, but to inform. For decades, attorneys were denied the opportunity to highlight why a prospective client should consider them for hire. Hence, that prospect had little to go on to make any kind of informed decision. In this light unfortunately, legal services can become commoditized. 
It’s a little strange that we don’t seem to have such concerns when it comes to content about attorneys that appear in articles, in magazines, on lists of “best” lawyers, etc. Yet, often times, these can be just as misleading. At least with advertising, the audience intrinsically knows that space or time has been purchased. Misleading information disguised as journalism is actually much more harmful, precisely when it is cloaked in a veil of “objectivity.”
That the claims made in ads should be regulated and monitored goes without saying.  Michael P. Downey, St. Louis, MO, chair of the rules and regulations subcommittee of the Section’s Ethics & Professionalism Committee has it right when he says, “Its good that lawyers can talk about past results so clients can make better decisions”  But he’s also right when he says “It (the ad) must be objectively verifiable.” And there is certainly nothing wrong with disclaimers stating that past results are not indicator of future success.
So congratulations, Florida. Great decision. Not just for first amendment reasons – but because it allows attorneys to distinguish their practice from others and thus is in the best public interests as well. Now, if only the last 5 or 6 states that don’t allow advertising on past results would jump on board the bandwagon…