Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are New Jersey’s Efforts at Curbing Attorney Mail Solicitations Missing the Real Issues?

New Jersey legislators are currently considering statutes that would require attorneys to wait 30 days before contacting defendants or victims of accidents. The proposed bills reflect a response on the part of those seeking tort reform to curb what many deem to be activities that undermine the image of the legal profession. They may, in fact, be quite right.

But the proposed bills also raise some other interesting questions as well. As a legal marketing company, we are often pressed to determine the optimal way in which to promote our law firm clients’ services. Because of the ethical considerations involved, this is a little trickier than it might be for other service businesses. Attorneys are limited in the manner in which they may promote their wares and reach out to potential clients. Hence, to limit their right to contact prospects based on information gleaned from public records is to restrict attorneys in ways most other service businesses are not. Marketing is really just about educating others regarding the benefits of a given product or service. Should not a law firm have the same right to “market” as any other business entity? Is not that part of their first amendment rights as well?

The answer is not a simple one. In directing mailings to individuals based on public records, many feel that attorneys are nonetheless also invading the privacy of these very same people. The problem is exacerbated when such mailings contain content that either misleads and/or misinforms the recipient. Yet, cannot the same be said about the scores of tacky attorney television commercials that promise, by word or implication, to obtain oodles of money on the injured person’s behalf?

From our perspective, it would seem that the real question concerns not the medium employed as much as it does the content of the message. When attorneys and law firms are allowed to convey the benefits of their services in a manner that is informative, it is not just the law firm that is best served, but also the individual solicited. Armed with information, that person can make better, more educated decisions. Ambulance chasing only becomes ambulance chasing when it smacks of opportunism. This is true regardless of whether the medium employed is direct mail, television, radio, newspapers, billboards or online. And it’s true regardless of whether the individual becomes a recipient of a message on the day of an accident, the next day, or on the 30th day thereafter. Hence, the legislative focus should be not on limiting attorneys’ marketing alternatives, but rather on developing clearer, fairer guidelines as to what information about itself a law firm can rightly tout -- while still protecting against the vulnerability of the individual. When communications to defendants or accident victims provides valuable information versus unsubstantiated hyperbole, it is doubtful whether these same individuals will feel quite as strongly that their rights to privacy have been violated.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Free Webinar on “Building the Family Law Practice: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now”

Thursday, December 2, 2010 9:00 AM EDT.

This fast-moving 1-hour program will highlight no cost and low cost tactics that family law firms can implement immediately to generate new client revenue. And you’ll learn it all without ever leaving your desk.

Content to be covered includes:
• Understanding the Money vs. Time Conundrum
• Integrating Marketing Efforts for Maximum Efficiency
• Public Relations for the Short-Term
• Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click
• Investing Time Wisely in Social Marketing

Webinar will be presented by Les Altenberg, President of A.L.T. Legal Professionals Marketing Group and author of numerous articles on legal marketing that have appeared in such publications as The National Law Journal, Law Practice Management, Texas Bar Journal, North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, and the Legal Intelligencer. He has over 20 years experience in helping law firms build their business.

Register for this FREE on-line event

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Assessing the “Cost” of On-Line Social Marketing

About 15 years ago, we used to advise our law firm clients that unless they were prepared to invest heavily in developing a web site, it was probably not a wise idea to create one. We said this, not out of any doubt that web sites would some day play a big role in conveying information about law practices. Rather, our recommendations were based on limited budgets and the feeling that being a “pioneer,” should be left to the big boy advertisers with deep pockets who were inclined to experiment with new types of media. I still believe this was good advice at the time, with the operative words being “at the time.”

Flash forward those 15 years and I cannot imagine recommending that a law firm refrain from developing a web site. In fact, we are often in a position where we feel just the opposite, emphasizing to our clients the importance of not just having a web site, but creating a dynamic, interactive, portal of information that conveys the firm’s identity in the best light possible.

With the advent of social media, I find myself back to where I was when the internet was first all the rage. I understand social media. I can see its benefits. But I am also cautious in how I suggest law firms utilize the new promotional tools available to them.

The primary thing that bothers me is the misperception that somehow social media is “free” or something close to it. As I see it, nothing could be further from the truth.

For the most part, social media consists of three main parts. There are blogs, networking sites (e.g., Facebook, Linkedin, etc.), and online groups (listservs) in which one can ask questions and/or exchange thoughts and ideas on specific issues. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Writing a blog has proven to be a great generator of leads for many – particularly those that started early, found a niche, and most important, kept at it all the time. Blogging has many advantages in that not only are you conveying expertise on a certain subject matter, but you are also, hopefully, also developing followers. Further, the more people who connect to your blog (and perhaps indirectly to your firm’s web site as well), the more likely you are to see your name, your blog and your web site ranked high in the search engine, all for a very small financial investment. But, and it’s a big “but,” blogs take an enormous amount of time and tremendous discipline to maintain. You will need to not only write a piece at least once a week (and probably more), but will also need to keep coming up with fresh, new and relevant topic ideas. Hence, if you spend 2 hours each week, just about every week of the year, and multiply that times your billing rate, you’ll get a good sense of the real investment that’s involved. Further, if you also include the time spent following and commenting on other people’s blogs as a means to attract more visitors to yours, that investment goes up even further.

The networking sites such as Linkedin also require a considerable time commitment. Here, you are connecting with all of your contacts and hopefully connecting with their contacts (and the contacts of their contacts) as well. Obviously, the opportunity here to meet, be introduced to, and interact with potential new clients is great as the exponential nature of these sites gives you exposure to hundreds of thousands of individuals and businesses, as well as them to you. However, even if one knew 100 people in a filled Yankee Stadium, where over 50,000 “potential” clients sat, one would be hard-pressed to make a case that being introduced to the most promising of those 50,000 by the 100 one knew, was the best use of one’s time.

There are situations of course, where pursuing the online contacts makes good sense. For example, a large law firm may hire an individual whose singular responsibility it is to pursue new business. This individual, not charged with actually servicing clients, has the luxury of time, and hopefully a far-reaching online rolodex to make such an effort pay off. The solo practitioner probably does not.

Another concern I have is to where exactly do such social media sites go from here. Last I checked, Linkedin had over 80 million subscribers. That’s a large number, but as it gets larger and everyone becomes a member, with everyone (including your competitors) pursuing the same agenda, how much more difficult will it become to work the names and the numbers efficiently.? (I have the same concerns with search engine optimization as well, by the way. How many law firms can be listed #1 on the search engines at any given time?).

Third, while the concept of such networking makes good sense in theory (and in many cases, in practice as well), how eager are you to hear from your second grade classmate asking you to refer him/her to a prospect whom you know? And if this becomes the norm, we will get to that point ad nauseum. The reality is that networking is a very personal activity, requiring individuals to not just meet, but also make a good impression on new as well as old acquaintances. Much as the internet minimizes the need to get out of one’s seat, and however good a writer one may be, it simply cannot replace the firm handshake, the pleasant smile, or the well-placed comment that comes with carrying on an face-to-face conversation.

Last, we come to the online groups, also sometimes referred to as listservs. These are essentially forums for people with similar interests and/or in the same industry, who wish to share information, get answers to questions and hopefully display their expertise. Again, like the two examples noted above, from a dollars perspective, they usually cost very little, if anything at all. From a time commitment however, they are tremendously expensive. Even if one provides all of the relevant links to one’s web site, blog, etc., the opportunity to become recognized as an “expert” can sap one’s “sweat” resources – particularly as more and more groups are created and more and more people join them. As a tool for perhaps getting an answer to a particular question, they can be quite useful. But if one is enticed by their potential as a means for replacing more traditional marketing tools, one needs to be careful about exactly where the trade-off of time versus money becomes less than beneficial.

The point of all of this is not that on-line social marketing is useless, deficient or in some ways, unworthy. That would hardly be true. And the way we use them may improve over time as well. But as with all marketing tools, from advertising to public relations, they do come with very clear advantages as well as drawbacks. Law firms must remain aware of both and remember what has always been true. Nothing is ever free.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Importance of Integrated Marketing in the Internet Age

With the coming of age of on-line marketing, the range of potential ways in which to reach target prospects is almost limitless. There is SEO, pay-per-click, webinars, electronic newsletters, mass e-mails, banner ads, blogs, and all kinds of avenues for social marketing. Yet even with all these relatively new options, implementing “integrated” marketing efforts remains as critical as ever – perhaps even more so today than yesterday. That is because, the whole concept of integrated marketing rests on a few basic premises, including:

1. The most successful marketing campaigns are those in which different marketing tools work to support another.
For example, obtaining high placement on search engines has become an area of prime focus over the past several years. And what’s one of the main ways to enhance such efforts? Getting links pointing to the firm’s site. And what’s one important way of making that happen? Generating “news” in the form of articles, releases, opinions, etc. and disseminating it to both on-line and off-line outlets. Sound familiar? Enhance your site’s rankings by raising your perceived credibility. Same old dog, just new ways of making it do tricks

2. A multiplicity of message exposures is still critical.
Yes, someone may get to your site via Google or otherwise. Yes, they may call you based on interfacing with your firm’s web site alone. But let’s face it, the most powerful marketing programs are those which allow one “touchpoint” to reinforce another. For example, a prospect may see/read about your firm, but when that curiosity/interest is validated through another exposure (e.g., an individual, a published article, a seminar, etc.) the likelihood of creating a comfort level between firm/attorney and that prospect can only be enhanced. This is important when one looks at not just lead generation, but conversion data as well.

3. Measurement of marketing efforts must be holistic.
Is it important to track/analyze metrics such as “hits,” “visitors,” “click-throughs,” the number of PR placements, responses to advertisements, etc? Yes. But because so many of these variables are, in fact, dependent on one another, it’s also important to look at the firm’s marketing efforts in their totality. Without one element, it’s quite possible the success of other elements would have been diminished.

The critical thing to understand is that while the tools to be used may change over time, the basic concepts of marketing remain the same. That is why determining objectives and developing appropriate “strategies” must still be done prior to writing an ad, designing a web site, pitching an article, spending time on a social media program or implementing an optimization effort. Only in this way can one be sure that each element of the marketing program is given the maximum opportunity to help make the whole program succeed.