Saturday, October 10, 2009

Marketing Mix for Dummies

I can remember quite vividly when I was starting out in my career at one of the larger NY advertising agencies, attending in-house seminars on the inherent characteristics, benefits and drawbacks of the different media. Basically, within advertising, it came down to just six different types: television, radio, newspapers, magazines, cable TV, and outdoor. There was something comforting about applying one’s best creative thinking towards the development of media plans that incorporated these six elements.

Flash forward, and now there is a seemingly endless array of traditional as well as non-traditional (i.e., internet) mediums that potentially could be utilized in an advertising campaign. Augment this with the myriad of non-advertising tools such as public relations, direct marketing, SEO, and everything from personal networking to getting a page on Facebook, it’s no wonder that law firms have a difficult time when it comes to creating marketing plans that make sense.

With this in mind, the following offers a handy-dandy, nuts and bolts, “Marketing Mix for Dummies” chart on the positives and negatives of the marketing tools most often utilized by law firms. With apologies to skywriting, bathroom advertising, and in-video game product placement, it should provide law firms with a pretty good checklist of activities to consider (and/or to consider rejecting). No doubt, it will have failed to cite every possible use of every potential tool, nor will it accurately describe every inherent benefit of failing of each type of vehicle. But it’s a place to begin, a place to house all potential approaches under one roof, and an opportunity to examine how different tools can work together to create an effective, integrated marketing program.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you regarding anything I’ve missed or any refinements you might suggest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Effective Legal Advertising Requires Frequency, Unless...

There are thee reasons why legal professionals cringe when the topic of law firms and advertising comes up. The first is that the industry is filled with images of lawyers screaming from their desks that they “get paid only if you get paid.” That’s number one. The second reason is that the legal industry remains reluctant to fully embrace a marketing “tool” that only relatively recently has been open as an option to law firms seeking to promote their services. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot I can do about these first two reasons.

But there is something that can be done about the third reason. When people think about advertising, they tend to think about branding and image-building. It’s certainly true that much of advertising in the legal industry, or any industry for that matter, focuses on such activities. Unfortunately, branding/image-building is usually a highly expensive proposition. That is because the cost of purchasing media space in a newspaper or magazine can be extremely expensive on a single unit basis. Effective branding programs require generating multiple exposures of the firm’s message. Prospects must be exposed to threshold levels of frequency. An advertising campaign does no good unless it reaches a certain number of people a certain number of times. Hence, simple math will dictate that several (and that really means “quite a few”) ads times a high per unit cost translates into big-time bucks.

But traditional frequency-oriented branding campaigns are not the only types of advertising approaches available to the growth minded law firm. We have seen firms achieve terrific results utilizing advertising a) as a means for promoting an event or free information, b) associating itself with a cause or organization and, c) in an opportunistic fashion by being placed in special editions of publications which the firm knows will be well-read by key prospects/constituencies. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Promoting a service by offering a seminar, a free guidebook, a “tips” brochure holds many inherent advantages for the astute practice. For one, it allows the prospect to begin a relationship with the firm in a relatively risk-free manner. Second, it promotes the firm as being especially knowledgeable in this particular area of the law. Third, it allows the firm to create a database of prospective client contacts. And finally, seminars, free giveaways and such can be promoted with a deadline, meaning the usual rules of frequency do not necessarily apply. A smaller schedule of ads ultimately means lower overall costs.

Advertising the firm in a myriad of organizational directories, charity event programs, religious directories, etc. is another way of having the firm appear “all over the place.” The actual circulation numbers may be considerably less than traditional publications, but this type of sponsorship advertising allows the firm to be associated with the “movers and shakers,” as well as worthwhile causes/endeavors. And just because the publications may not be slick, 4-color vehicles doesn’t mean that the firm can not use the precious communications real estate as a means for further branding itself. We’ve seen it work.

Finally, in an effort to attract more advertisers, both consumer and business-to-business publications always create “special issues” focusing on a specific topic. For example, a consumer-oriented publication may decide to feature the topic of divorce. This may prove to be a wonderful opportunity for a family law practice to advertise without committing to an extensive schedule. Similarly, a business publication may devote most of an issue to the challenges face by corporate counsel – again a wonderful opportunity for firms seeking to reach this type of decision maker. Sometimes it is even matter of ego. As a business that serves law firm clients, we often consider advertising in community publications (e.g., South Jersey Magazine) that are highlighting the area’s top attorneys – largely because we know that probably every attorney in the area will be reading to see who’s in and who’s out.

The bottom line is that advertising needs to be looked at in the broadest sense possible. And while nothing can replace the importance of frequency in making a message “stick” with prospects, there are creative means for making an impact cost-effectively.

Monday, August 24, 2009

In Print or On-Line? Where Should those Directory Dollars Go?

One of the questions that consistently comes up these days is how law practices should allocate or rather reallocate their advertising funds between print directories versus directories of the on-line variety.

The issue is a rather complicated one and much depends on the nature of the firm, its areas of emphasis, the types of clients it is seeking to attract, the amount of funds available, competitive activity, etc.

Having said that, it is important to recognize that the pendulum is certainly shifting towards on-line usage (up approximately 70%) vs. print directory usage (down up 40%). A look at one’s own media consumption habits would probably reveal that if you’re a baby boomer or younger, you use the internet more often when seeking contact information about a company. It’s usually more accessible (computer’s right there), and quicker (not to mention a whole lot less heavy). If desired, you can also immediately find out a great deal more information about a company or firm. In addition, for law firms with a business-to-business focus, or for those who enjoy a broader geographical service area, the print directories may be less influential.

Yet the world is filled with highly successful Personal Injury attorneys for example, who have done quite well for themselves through traditional “yellow page” advertising. Their track record speaks for themselves. But analysis of that track record needs to ascertain at exactly what level that advertising effort paid out. Individuals perusing through what are largely indistinguishable full page or double-truck ads for what should be a serious purchase may be “fishing.” Print directories may offer more prospects, but are they “qualified” prospects? There is a cost in screening out the wheat from the chaff.

In addition to the PI area, print directories may be useful for some of the more consumer-oriented practice areas such as family law and in particular, elder law, where one of the target groups (the elderly) may not be as comfortable with the new technologies.

Probably the best advice one can give is to test, test, test. Determine the cost vs. benefit scenario for alternative scenarios (including maintaining print presence, but perhaps reducing ad size). This may take some time (and effort in terms of tracking), but it will allow the firm to move forward more confidently with its directory program.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Do Your Firm’s Marketing Materials Stand Out from Your Competitors?

It always amazes me to see the same attorneys who spend sleepless nights developing unique, creative arguments for their clients turn around and agree to have a gavel as their logo, the scales of justice on their web site, or the firm brochure littered with photos of court house pillars.

The business card, the web site, the brochure . . . each represents valuable communications real estate. Gavels, pillars and the proverbial scales of justice may indicate you’re a law practice. But they do virtually nothing to suggest why someone should retain your firm.

It is a difficult task to accomplish, but creating any effective piece of marketing material requires creative executions that truly reflect the uniqueness of the firm. The strongest marketing communications are those that convey why the firm is different from its competitors.

Getting at that point of difference involves a great deal of internal soul-searching akin to putting the firm on the analyst’s couch. Law practices that are willing to take an objective look at themselves invariably find that there are distinct aspects about their organization that makes it what it is. Most often, it’s not just that they offer great service, are the largest, the most accessible, the cheapest, the best “value,” etc. These are cliché features and benefits we’ve all seen hundreds of times before. Rather, the firm’s uniqueness can be found in its culture, it’s approach to law, it’s approach to its clients, it’s special expertise, its perspective on issues based on extensive experience, or a vision of how the business of law should be practiced.

Once that uniqueness is uncovered (though when working in committees, don’t expect an “Aha!” moment), the challenge of turning that concept into an ad, onto a web site, etc. becomes surprisingly easier. More importantly, the executions that evolve also are more compelling, more engaging and more convincing as to why the firm is the “best” choice.

Monday, February 9, 2009

How to Set Your Marketing Budget

As a new year begins, it’s important not to put off the unavoidable - establishing the firm’s annual marketing budget. Many either simply abide by industry guidelines which suggest that 2-5% of firm revenues should be allocated towards the promotion of the practice, or they just don’t develop one altogether.

But guidelines are just that – guidelines. Usually a wiser approach to budget-setting is to take a “task” approach. Such an approach requires careful consideration of a series of questions addressed in a very specific order:

What should the marketing effort accomplish?
There may be several answers to this, each suggesting a whole range of possible tactics. A firm may be seeking to raise its profile within the community, promote a particular practice area, educate potential clients, highlight the hiring of a new attorney or any combination of such matters. In addition it should determine the relative importance of each of the stated objectives.

What are the potential strategies for each defined objective?
This includes addressing the key issue of the optimal “marketing mix.” The marketing mix is a function of a number of things including the nature of the services being offered, the target audience, the extent and character of the competition, geographical considerations and the economic times. Any and all possible marketing tools should be explored for their viability in addressing the challenges posed in the first question.

How will each potential tactic/marketing tool be maximized?
It’s not enough to develop an advertising campaign if the ad is only going to run once or twice. The most wonderfully designed web site will prove ineffective if the site is not ranked high on the search engines. And a content-rich seminar will not “pay out” if it garners an insufficient number of potential prospects to “convert” into clients. It is important to determine the threshold level of commitment to each activity that will be required in order to make it a success. How many ads? How high a rank on the search engines? How many seminar participants?

What is the cost to implement each potential marketing activity?
This can require some digging but is necessary in order to determine the optimal dollars required if the firm were to implement everything it wished to do at a sufficiently high/strong level (e.g., running ten ads instead of one or two).

Making the requisite cuts
In most cases, implementation of all possible marketing tools utilized at their optimal levels will result in a dollar figure well beyond the realistic scope of the firm. This is where the art of budget-setting comes in to play.

Two options exist. The first is to cut the level of spending allocated to each of the activities. Hence the advertising campaign, the web site optimization, the promotion of the seminar, etc., are all implemented - but at reduced levels. The problem with this is that the level of marketing activity will fall below the threshold necessary to make any of the programs effective. A preferred option is to instead, focus on just some of the potential activities – but at levels high enough to ensure their success. Which activities should be supported in such a way becomes a function of whether the activity addresses the more important of the objectives as determined in Step 1 and by their relative cost.

If you have questions regarding setting your marketing budget, e-mail Les Altenberg or call (856) 810-0400.