Tuesday, August 7, 2018

How to Get the Most Out of Your PR Agency



You’ve made the decision. You understand that marketing must be seen as an investment and not as an expense. After much hemming and hawing and perhaps extensive interviewing, you’ve decided to hire a public relations
firm. You like these folks and they like you and together, you’re determined to make the faucets of firm publicity turn on to allow an overflow of wonderful exposure.

Flash forward six months later and all you can point to is an article in a second tier publication and that press release announcing your new associate’s hire.

So what happened?

Well, in truth, it could be any of a number of things, including the possibility that you just hired a lousy PR firm.

But all too often, when a law firm contracts with a PR firm, it fails to take an active role in the publicity generating process.

So with this in mind, here are some “best practice” thoughts for how to get the most from your PR provider:

Let Your Agency Know What’s Going On at the Firm
This is perhaps the most point of all. Your agency cannot help you or generate publicity on your behalf if it is clueless as to the cases on which you are working, the nature of your work, the accomplishments of your attorneys and the “victories” the firm achieves.  Regular status meeting to update the agency on these matters is one way of assuring that PR initiatives do not get subjugated to the back burner.

Make Sure Your PR Professional “Knows” Each of Your Attorneys
In line with the above, the best way to truly “know” the firm is for the PR folks to “know” the key player or players at the firm. Allow your PR professionals to meet each of your firm’s attorneys or at least the partners and department heads. In addition, be sure to provide your agency with resumes, bios, headshots, etc. of each of these key personnel.

Focus on Media Credentials as Much as On Your Legal Credentials
Having great legal credentials is terrific. But editors, reporters and producers also want to know that you will give an insightful interview, that you will feel comfortable in front of a camera, and /or that you (or your ghostwriter) will be able to write a substantive article.  Anything you can do to convince the targeted media decision maker of your prowess in these areas will help your agency to serve you better.

Recognize Which Cases Make for “Good” PR Stories
As much as we may want all the publicity we can possibly muster, it is safe to say that from a PR standpoint, not all cases and stories are the same.   Trying to sell the media on cases or ideas that will not be of interest to their audience only serves to damage your reputation as a provider of good, informative material. Focus on cases and stories that have some sizzle.. These can include those that a) concern a high profile individual, b) involve a large sum of money, c) has or will break new legal ground d) involve sex or violence (you had to know that these would be on this list), e) affect a large part of the overall population, f) are a response to something in the news and/or to a new piece of legislation.  

Inform Your Agency What Is and Is Not Confidential
Clearly, the details of some cases cannot be revealed because of confidentiality agreements, gag orders or otherwise. When pitching or writing a story regarding a particular case, be sure to let the agency know what can or cannot be communicated. If necessary, redact confidential information from relevant documents.
 
Look for Story Ideas From Cases On Which You Are Not Working
There is potential PR fodder in cases that you are not handling. Unlike the attorneys working on such cases, you are not subject to any gag orders, client confidentiality agreements or anything else that precludes you from speaking with the media. Journalists are hungry for fresh perspectives on high profile stories, affording the astute attorney or law firm with an opportunity to provide just that.
Communicate to your agency that you expect them to be vigilant for stories and events on which you might be able to offer unique and professional insight.

Get Back to Reporters
This is critical. In terms of PR, reporters, editors and producers are your lifeblood. If your agency gets you an interview or an article placement, it is very important that you respond within a reasonable amount of time. What is a reasonable amount of time? Well, it depends. If a story is of an emergent nature, then that might mean getting back to them immediately. If it’s a “thought” piece, you may have the luxury of more time. But don’t take too much comfort in that. After all, there are scores of other lawyers more than willing to offer their expertise as well.

Most important, ignoring the media or being late to respond to them reduces your agency’s credibility with them. This makes it much, much more difficult to garner future PR “hits” with that publication or station.

Remember PR Professionals are NOT Lawyers
Part of a good PR professional’s job (particularly those involved in legal marketing) is to translate your “legalese” into language that the layperson can understand. Give them the tools to do so by taking the time to be interviewed by them and by suggesting relevant resources for further research if necessary.

Review Everything that Goes Out
This should go without saying. You’re a lawyer and anything you write or have written in your name can potentially be seen, not just by the media, but by your prospects, clients, other attorneys and judges. That’s why it is especially important that you review the agency’s work – not because you don’t trust them, but because you can’t afford to have anything go out that’s incorrect or puts you or your clients at risk. 

If you take away anything from this article, it should be that the hiring of a PR firm does not mean that the firm no longer has a role in the publicity generating process.  In fact, the opposite is true. You’re the legal professional; they’re the communications specialists. Your most effective PR programs will inevitably those in which your separate and distinctive skill sets mesh smartly together.   








Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ah, Those Clicks. But Do You Know What You’re Really Getting?

Everybody loves those clicks. It means your pay-per-click (PPC ) and or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) efforts are paying off. The more clicks you get, the more prospects you’ll likely  have. And with more prospects comes more clients. And with more clients comes more… well, you get the picture.
But is that picture accurate?
We recently finished a monthly report for a client of ours in which the total number of clicks to their site increased by 49.6% versus the previous month. Now, I like to think we’re good at what we do, but something told me we weren’t THAT good.
A closer look at the analytic data explained why.
Google breaks down traffic to your site into 5 categories. The first is Paid Search – those clicks that come from paid online ads. The second category are those visits which come directly from someone typing in your URL address – ergo, these are called Direct clicks. The third type of traffic is Organic which is the result of the coding of your site, keywords, site content, links to and from other sites and all of the other SEO variables. Social traffic stems from those clicks driven by social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
And then there is the fifth category – Referrals. This reflects that traffic that comes to one’s website from other, referring websites. Unfortunately, here is where things start to become a little murky.
We provide our clients with a monthly update as to their site traffic. In this particular case, the client had received only 11 referral clicks in the previous month – a figure which suddenly shot up to 125 clicks in the month being analyzed. That’s an increase of 111 clicks from referring sites alone, or to put it another way, an increase over 1000%.
Fortunately, Google Analytics allows one to see from where those clicks are coming and a quick perusal of such indicated that the vast majority of these referrals came from sites such as uptime-us.net and 127.0.0.1:8888. If you have never heard of these, that’s okay. They are basically crawler and ghost spam sites and they bring nothing to the table in terms of real, live visitors coming to your web site.
Hence, when I deducted the 111 fake clicks, the total increase versus the previous month was 14% -- still a very healthy increase, and more importantly, a realistic one. 
The lesson worth noting in this is that if something seems out of kilter – it probably is. If we are lulled into a false sense of comfort as to our site’s performance (in this case, these referral clicks accounted for about 30% of site traffic), we may well wind up overlooking important changes that need to be made in order to generate even more site visits. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Legal Marketing in 2018: Everything Old is New Again

There was a time, not so long ago, when being “innovative” and on the “cutting edge” simply meant having a web site. Really! Then, if you were an early adopter (of which few law firms are), it meant dipping your toe into social media and later, implementing a full throttled social media initiative on Linkedin and Facebook and Twitter. 
All of these platforms were (and still are) quite amazing as they level the playing field in terms of allowing even the smallest of organizations to get the word out and tout their wares. Moreover, unlike the print and broadcast media where one competed in a world of advertising “clutter” at what was often enormous expense, the new media was relatively “cheap” and gave marketers an opportunity to “reach out” to prospects versus waiting for prospects to go searching for them.
Flash forward to today and my, how things are changing. Today, law firms worry that their site is not on the first page of Google, that their click-through rate is dropping, that they are not getting enough “likes” on Facebook or connections on LinkedIn. Readership of their blog is down and the competition to get noticed online is getting more intense.
What’s a well-meaning, sharp, objective-driven law practice to do?
Well, the answer may lie in turning to old friends for help. With newspaper and magazine readership and hence, advertising down, the opportunity to stand out in a crowd is greater than ever. The existence of so many highly targeted cable networks means the ability to attract new business can be had more cost efficiently. Publishers, eager for advertising are more willing to “throw in” article opportunities – especially as their own staffs shrink. 
Yes, one can run a webinar rather easily and cost effectively, but you still have to cut through competitive messages online, and seminars are still the best means for getting prospective clients to meet you face to face. News… real news, is still of interest to the media, making the old reliable press release still a viable means for getting information out there. And for generating awareness and goodwill, what beats becoming involved in a meaningful cause and/or sponsoring a worthwhile event? 
So, in planning how your practice is going to attract new business this year, by all means, update your web site, run posts on your blog and social media, improve your click-through rate, etc. But, if you are looking to truly innovate, consider being a “new” kind of early adopter – one that re-examines past alternatives in light of the present.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Legal Marketing Support: Choosing an IT versus a Full Service Provider

It is always fascinating to learn how individual law firms go about hiring legal marketing vendors. I say that as much because we ourselves are legal marketers as I do because who a firm ultimately contracts with is largely a function of the questions one asks. 
Allow me to offer two different examples of two law firms going about this task quite differently.
In the first case, law firm A determines that it is not getting enough new client inquiries or calls. The management team makes the assessment that the firm is not being readily found on the search engines. It decides to hire an outside provider to address that objective. It reaches out to various IT outfits including some of the larger, well-known legal organizations for bids on developing a new web site and/or maintaining an SEO effort. 
Law firm B makes a similar determination. However, unlike law firm A, it does not conclude that the lack of new business inquiries is a function of lower search engine visibility. In fact, it makes no conclusions at all. Instead, it simply asks, “How can we generate more new business?” For answers it turns to a range of legal marketing providers including full service advertising/marketing agencies, other organizations that focus on specific types of vehicles (e.g., direct marketing, public relations, pay-per-click, broadcast, etc.) as well as the aforementioned IT companies – again including some of the larger, well known legal organizations. 
The responses each firm might get can be rather revealing. Law firm A will typically be promised high search engine rankings for a range of keywords that may or may not match the keywords of a competitive practice. 
Law firm B on the other hand will receive a wide assortment of bids purporting to address the problem of new business by leveraging the unique benefits and features of that particular firm. Amongst these proposals will be those that propose single solutions (e.g., the aforementioned higher search engine ranking) or a multi-faceted approach that may or may not include SEO. If not more important, the firm will probably also receive requests to have a detailed discussion about its marketing exigencies even before the provider(s) submits their proposals. 
Hence, we have a case where one firm has diagnosed its challenges, and seeks a specific solution, while the other understands that the bottom line is about generating new business and thus seeks out different approaches for making that happen.
Which way is better? 
I would suggest that it comes down to accountability. In the former approach, the outside provider (in most cases, an IT provider) is responsible for getting the firm listed high up on the search directories. If that happens – great. But in and of itself, this is no guarantee that the firm will experience a substantial uptick in new business inquiries. In the latter, the outside provider should become vested in generating new business (i.e., the ultimate metric). Without being wed to a single medium or vehicle, its recommendations must bear fruit… or else. 
Hence, in seeking out legal marketing support, it is important to ask the right questions. If you know exactly for what you are looking to generate new business, then by all means, contract with that single-vehicle provider. But, if focusing on your legal services precludes your accurately diagnosing new business challenges with confidence, then a marketing perspective (versus an exclusively IT) will probably make more sense and yield more tangible results. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Legal Marketing? Why Limit Yourself?

Every week, I must get 2-3 calls from frustrated attorneys disappointed in the results they are realizing from their online marketing efforts. The most common complaints? “I’m not on the first page of Google.” “I am getting calls, but they’re not the right kinds of calls.” “My SEO company isn’t providing fresh content on a regular basis.” “Pay-Per-Click has never worked for us.” “It’s taking forever to get my web site redesigned.”
These are all very important concerns. Yet, they also underscore a troubling trend – Why is everyone obsessed with online marketing to the absolute exclusion of everything else?
Don’t get me wrong. Online marketing has many, many benefits. For one thing, costs can be contained. Second, it encourages prospect interaction. And third, the internet plays a integral role in allowing lawyers and law firms to establish their reputations and burnish their credentials. Hence, online marketing certainly has its place.
But it does not represent the full range of tools available to the attorney or law firm seeking to attract new business. And who isn’t? In fact, each of the three objectives noted above can be approached using more traditional methods. 
For example, while most marketing vehicles may not completely approach the lower costs of online marketing, most also do not require the same commitment of time. When an ad is done, it’s done. When a piece of mail goes out, it’s gone. Similarly, seminars and local business trade shows are a great way to encourage interaction with prospects. Finally, a media relations campaign that is intelligently developed and professionally executed is still the best way to highlight one’s expertise in a given area. 
Keep in mind as well, that with all of the attention being paid to search engine optimization, pay-per-click and social media, the playing field is that much more open (i.e., less cluttered) in all of these other arenas.
Net, net… there is no question that online marketing holds a very important place in the arsenal of legal marketing tools. But it is hardly the only one. 
Legal marketers would be wise to take note.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Ten Traits Through Which Law Firms Get in their Own Way

For the past 25 years, I have had the privilege of working with and consulting for a wide range of excellent lawyers and law firms. Yet for all of their brilliance, it always amazes me how much so many of their marketing programs might have been exponentially more successful had they taken stock of themselves. By this I mean, each might have benefitted from some self-reflection as to the nuances of either their own personalities (solos and smaller firms) and/or their firm culture (middle and larger firms.)
Allow me to explain what I mean by outlining ten characteristics of individuals and/or firms that often prevent them from reaching even greater heights.

Obsessive Compulsiveness

One of the most insightful quotations I ever heard was “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” When it comes to marketing, nothing could be more true. I have seen brilliant executives hold up a major marketing initiative for months as they debated whether a graphic should have a 1/16 or 1/32 border. Regardless of which alternative was “right” (if there even is such a thing), this struggle for perfection meant that a 99% completed project sat on everyone’s computers for months when it could have been out in the market drumming up business for the firm. Put another way: Don’t let 100% get in the way of 99%.”

Procrastination

This is an obvious one that afflicts many – myself included. Perhaps it is a function of the above, but regardless of its cause, it is perhaps the #1 reason why marketing comes to a complete standstill. Everyone likes to get new business, but often the challenge of doing so leads to a quasi-paralysis. Tackling a major concern can certainly be intimidating, but it is better to recognize that than to ignore it. 

Inertia

Similar to procrastination, this trait is more a function of the bureaucratic hassles that come with taking something from a concept to a fully executed ad, campaign, web site, article, etc. When the approval process becomes cumbersome, when political maneuvering gets in the way of clear decision making and when too many “cooks” reside in the kitchen, the result is often a delayed and sometimes “not very good” piece of legal marketing.

Lack of Confidence

This is a biggie and is usually an indication that someone is not comfortable with making decisions – at least not when it comes to marketing. A classic sign of this is when a decision has, in fact, been made, but then rescinded because someone’s mother-in-law mentions she does not like the color green or another marketing vendor questions why the firm decided to do it that way. 

Viewing Marketing as an Expense

This is another one that cuts across all kinds of law practices. Let me be clear. Marketing is an investment, not an expense. Executed well, there will be a positive payout. Everyone is aware of Coca-Cola, Apple or McDonalds. If marketing wasn’t an investment, why would these companies still be advertising as extensively as they do?

Old-Fashioned View of Marketing

Just because your father did business on the golf course and only printed up s single brochure one-time as he built his practice from one to 120 attorneys, does not mean that websites, advertising, public relations, etc. are irrelevant and/or not worth pursuing. “We get all of our business through ‘word-of-mouth” may be nice in theory, but it doesn’t mean you could not be getting more.

Impatience

“How come we are not #1 in the online rankings?” “We just ran an ad yesterday. Why aren’t the phones ringing?” 
Research has shown that prospects become aware of a firm, a product, a service, etc. only through multiple exposures to a specific message. Marketing takes time to build. A lack of patience can often lead to “pulling the plug” on an initiative before it really has had a chance to get going. That means you may very well be throwing money away -- not saving it.

Unrealistic Expectations

There are no magic bullets. Marketing a law practice takes time, some financial resources and the development of carefully considered strategies. Your firm will not grow from one attorney to twelve overnight, nor will your revenue triple in two weeks. Similarly, those interim metrics that indicate enthusiasm for your firm (e.g., web site traffic, number of seminar attendees, etc.) must be viewed with a realistic eye. If you spent $1,000 to promote a seminar, chances are you will not garner 1,000 attendees. If you build a web site, but do nothing to promote that site, it is unwise to expect large volumes of site traffic. Build it, does not necessarily mean they will come. 

Time Management

This is not the same as procrastination. This is simply a matter of not planning your day based on realistic expectations as to how much time each of your tasks will require. When the rubber meets the road, marketing inevitably gets the short end of the stick. This means that it gets pushed off for another day, which becomes another week and ultimately becomes a few months down the road.

Anger

This is my favorite – not because it happens all that frequently. It doesn’t. But when it does, it can lead to some pretty funny marketing. When individuals cannot control their more sinister impulses, start writing scathing critiques of judges, convey a cynicism bordering on contempt – then we’ve got a situation destined for some not so pleasant results.
So there you have it -- ten ways in which the principals at law firms hurt themselves in the marketing function. How to avoid falling into these traps is a matter of looking in the mirror and having the wherewithal to remain objective. Those who lack courage need not apply.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Seven Ways to Fine Tune Your Target Marketing

It’s not nearly as difficult to be a great marketer when you are the big fish in the little pond or when in comparison to your competitors, you have unlimited resources at syour disposal.
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of law firms – that is simply not the case. Being a great marketer requires doing more with less, finding ways to extend your various initiatives cost effectively (see my last post) and determining the optimal marketing mix.
A lot of this involves knowing how to target your best prospects. Again, going back to the largest of firms, targeting can be as broad or as narrow as they wish and deem appropriate. Want to reach corporate executives? No problem. Run an ad campaign in Forbes or the Wall Street Journal. Looking for those recently injured in an accident? Easy. Blast your message away on your local broadcast airways.
The problem is that most law firms cannot really “play in this neighborhood” or at least not go toe to toe. Instead they must find alternative means for becoming a big player, though perhaps in a smaller pond. Often this means, redefining and refining the profile of the firm’s target prospects.
With this in mind, I would like to offer seven ways in which law firms can more effectively target a given geographic, demographic or psychographic group.

Pay-Per-Click & Long-Tail Keywords

Pay-Per-Click is often a great way to target a particular group – particularly if you are promoting legal services to the general public. Unfortunately however, you are not the only one who is going to be doing so and one often runs the risk of being outbid and outshouted. One way in which to get around this is through the use of long-tail keywords. These are keywords (actually phrases) that go into greater depth than their more mainstream counterparts. For example, a PI firm can use “personal injury” as a keyword. It’s a common term that will probably cost a great deal. It might also use a longer term such as “motorcycle accident injury.” But to make full use of long-tail keywords, how about going the full distance – motorcycle accident resulting in brain injury? How many impressions will such an ad generate? Probably not a lot. But for that individual who actually did suffer a brain injury as a result of a motorcycle accident, your ad may generate a higher click-through rate. And probably at a much lower cost-per-click.

Display Ads

Google Adwords gives you the option to run ads that will appear when an individual types in relevant keywords. But it also gives you a second option in which you allow the search engine to display your ad on relevant sites. For example, you’re an attorney trying to reach other attorneys? How about running ads that appear on bar association websites? Focus on adoptions? How about getting on infertility group sites? The possibilities are many. It only takes a little thought and a bit of creativity.

Social Media

Social media is more than just about developing a profile and getting people to befriend you (or whatever the vernacular is for each type of platform). It’s also about interacting with others, and depending on the practice area, can be an excellent ways for law firms to reach specific target groups. For example, you’re a family law practice in Ishbakoobee, Illinois. There are probably a number of area divorce and/or singles groups with whom you could connect (Actually, there’s not because Ishbakoobee is only a fictional place.) Many of its members would thrilled to bear witness to your particular expertise.
But you’re a law firm with a business-to-business focus? Joining Facebook groups not a viable option? Fear not. Linkedin offers the same type of benefit – but with a business focus.

Targeted Lists

Not quite as out-of-the-box, but still a viable option. I won’t go into much detail here as most of you already have some understanding of this approach. That being said, do not dismiss it out of hand. Work with a reputable list broker to segment, segment, segment. Think of the effectiveness of an email campaign targeting Lamborghini owners in your zip code!

Online Giveaways

On the more creative side, how about developing a white paper on a highly specific topic such as independent contractor law and offering it free on your web site? Trust me. The only people who will ever download it are those with a very real interest in this “fascinating” part of our tax code. But before they do, you’ll require a name and email address (you will, won’t you?) And a few weeks later you can start sending them that e-newsletter you’ve been working on… right? Of course, it doesn’t have to all begin with a white paper. It could be an offer to attend a free seminar or webinar – anything that gets your highly targeted prospect to interact with you and your firm.

Content Management

They say content is king… and I do believe this to be true. So, if you’re a bankruptcy practice and want to be the “go to” firm for restaurant owners who are struggling financially, well then, write articles, posts and web sites that deal with the financial problems of these kinds of people. One word of warning however. While this may seem an obvious marketing initiative to implement, the results of such an approach usually do take quite a bit of time to realize.

Cause Marketing

Finally, we come to my favorite tactic. Develop or sponsor an event that directly correlates with a specific target group. For example, if you were trying to carve out a personal injury niche amongst young families, consider developing some kind of promotion in which car seats are distributed free or at a discount. Family law? How about running a seminar in which the proceeds go to a local women’s shelter? Trying to reach corporate counsel? How about setting up a foundation, inviting your best prospects to sit on its board and then hobnobbing with all of them on a regular basis? If you think I’m kidding – I’m not.
You should note that none of these approaches really require a great outlay of financial resources though some may certainly be time intensive. But they all allow you to be “master of your own domain.” And that simply requires engaging in some good brainstorming sessions.