Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Select a Marketing Firm: Some Tips From the “Other Side”

The decision to work with a marketing firm or consultant is not an easy one. Lawyers are not necessarily marketers by nature and they don’t teach practice building in most law schools. Hiring a marketing vendor requires an investment and that doesn’t even include the expenses involved in the actual purchasing of ad space, pay-per-click services, broadcast time, printing services, etc. It also does not include the significant investment of time that will be required as well.

But once the decision to move forward has been made, how do and how should law firms go about the actual selection process?

Part of the answer lies in determining what it is that the practice hopes the marketing vendor will help the firm accomplish.  Generic goals such as greater exposure, more clients, more revenue, etc. are not nearly as helpful as tight, specific objectives, such as seeking a 10% increase in new client revenue over a 1-year period, raising the profile of the family law department among the rest of the legal community, or raising the image of the firm so as to justify higher rates. These are more action-oriented directives. One might even call them strategies vs. objectives. And if a firm cannot, on its own, reach a consensus as to these types of guiding directives, then it is probably best served by seeking an experienced marketing vendor or professional who can look at the practice from a holistic perspective. 

An objectives-driven approach is infinitely better than one that simply suggests that the firm needs a new ad campaign, or a revitalized web site, or better signage for a trade show booth. This is because it is often a blending of several marketing tools that gets a firm to where it needs to be. A new ad campaign suggests perhaps a new image altogether, which in turn may affect not just the campaign itself, but the web site as well. A revitalized site is enhanced with a more concerted search engine optimization (SEO) program. And that new signage may be deemed necessary to attract more visitors to a trade booth, though an ad in the show guide, or a press release promoting a giveaway may do likewise.

The point is things work together in different ways and it is incumbent upon the law firm to select a vendor well-versed in the art of developing the best marketing mix…and doing so within dollar and time constraints. For example, too often we have seen a law practice suddenly cut its advertising efforts or its PR campaign in favor of some service offering quick results via SEO or pay-per-click. The truth of the matter is that each of these types of marketing tools serve different purposes and have different strengths and weaknesses. The SEO vendor, the newspaper, the direct mail house, etc., are all there to provide specific services – regardless of the unique challenges of the firm. They may well be part of the solution to a specific challenge, but each is offering that service to the firm regardless of the firm’s unique needs.
Net net, in choosing marketing vendors, it is better to select those that either a) offer a truly holistic approach or b) clearly address how their services can be a vital part of the firm’s overall marketing initiative. 

Once the firm has decided upon the type of vendor it is seeking to hire, the next step is determining the criteria on which it will base its decision. Marketing vendors come in many shapes and sizes.  As stated, some offer very specific services. Others are more broad-based. But the same holds true in other areas as well.  Some may focus exclusively on the legal industry, others, any industry. Some will be situated close by the firm, while others may be in remote locations. Some may be large, others small. Knowing what it is that the firm considers important will make the entire process go more smoothly.

Next, it’s critical that the firm outline very clearly to its potential vendors those pre-determined objectives and qualities which it is seeking.  This is vital as it serves to move the process along more efficiently.

Then the ball moves towards the potential vendors. The firm’s decision makers must ask themselves whether the firm needs all of the bells and whistles the vendor is offering. How do the vendor’s services align with the stated requirements? How well did the vendor “listen” to the firm’s statement as to its needs.  Does the solution offered and/or the marketing tools being suggested make sense in terms of achieving stated objectives?  Is the firm’s budget for the marketing endeavor being taken into consideration? Answers to these should go a long way towards ascertaining whether the vendor represents a good fit.

Obviously, cost is also always a consideration. Suppliers that are either much higher or much lower than their competitors should always be viewed at with suspicion.  But even more important is the existence or lack of chemistry between the firm’s decision makers and the vendor. It is an intangible that is difficult to quantify. Firms must ask themselves whether the vendor matches them in terms of its personal style. A law practice that is by its nature more formal may do well to hire vendors that are similar minded. The same holds true for the practice that has a more casual atmosphere. Flexibility is another key variable…Will the vendor work within the parameters the firm has set and is it able to adjust on the fly when situations change? And last, the least costly, flashiest, most experienced suppliers are worth nothing if they are not serious about simply working hard on the firm’s behalf.

Ultimately, in order to get the most out of a marketing firm or consultant, there has to be a true partnership.  From a business perspective, the relationship between a law firm and its marketing provider is an intimate one. Hence, it’s important that that relationship be one of honesty and true benefit. And, if everyone actually likes each other and can also have a little fun along the way…so much the better!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Literally hundreds of variables determine where your firm’s website will rank on a search engine directory. One of the most important of these is the existence of new content. Google, Bing, Yahoo and all the others absolutely love fresh material and reward those who consistently update and enhance their sites.

When you stop to think about it, this makes good sense. Like everyone else, the search engines need revenue to survive. They get a lot of this through advertising dollars. The greater their share of the market, the more they can charge advertisers. How do they gain market share? By providing internet users with the most relevant information possible. And what could be more relevant than content that pertains to the latest happenings – whether they are at the firm itself, in the legal community or in the world at large. Further, constant updating and enhancing of the site indicates that the firm is “alive and well.”

The importance of fresh content should be good news to law practices – particularly given the many marketing restrictions on the legal community. And it is especially good news for those firms that are, perhaps less well-heeled financially and not in a position to promote its services through more traditional means.

There are several areas to which the law practice may look to find fodder for such material:

Firm News
This can include anything and everything that is happening at the firm: new hires, new clients, new attorney accreditations, cases won or any other type of achievement. It might also highlight anything from the restructuring of a particular department to the opening of a new office to the fact that one of the firm’s attorneys has been asked to sit on the board of a non-profit organization.

Happenings in the Business and Legal Communities
The legislature passes or is considering a new law that will affect your clients and/or prospects… A decision has been handed down on a matter in which your firm is not directly involved, but on which you can provide expert insight and analysis… A business transaction occurs that promises to have major ramifications for the firm’s B2B clients… All of these events are potential gold mines of opportunity for the firm to develop new content, establish credibility, provide a service to its site visitors and most importantly, keep the search engine directories happy.

Specific Areas of Expertise
… And by specific, I do mean very specific. The law practice that focuses on personal injury can make some serious hay by developing content dedicated exclusively to motorcycle accidents, knee implant recalls, accidents involving pedestrians or anything else in which they’ve amassed a great deal of knowledge. Similarly, a family law firm can develop extensive content on divorces involving same sex partners or on pre-nuptial agreements. This is as true for the B2B firm as it is for those that target the general public. The practice that offers services related to business transactions can generate great deals of content on those transactions pertaining specifically to franchisors and franchisees. And by content generation, I am not referring to the prototypical web site practice area page that gives a brief summary of what that area is all about and why the firm is so talented in this field. Rather, I am suggesting that the firm develop detailed (though inherently user-friendly) content which actually shows its understanding of that field. It is amazing all that one actually knows about his or her chosen profession when one takes the time to think about it. It’s also how amazing how foreign it all is to the lay person and how much it’s appreciated when information of value is provided. Smart law firms leverage that fact.

…Then post them on your site. This ties in to that mentioned above, but it’s even better when the material’s been published. It is important to note that so many times the same content can be used in a multiplicity of ways. An article can be posted on the firm website, used as a blog piece, or even used as content for an email blast or e-newsletter and promoted through social media.

Announcements & Offerings 
By these, I mean the kinds of announcements that prompt inquiries, telephone calls, leads, etc. These can be the promotion of a seminar, the offer of a free informational booklet or anything else that might sway interest in the firm. In most cases, I wouldn’t suggest inundating the firm site with such content, but at times they do make sense…and once again they can only help your firm’s SEO efforts.

In summary, the excuse that there is nothing to add to the firm website or that no good ideas can be generated just doesn’t hold water. In a world where economic conditions make some promotional activities cost-prohibitive, energies directed towards the firm’s site are a good way to market efficiently.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012 12:00 Noon 
EDT Cost: Free

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


The law firm of today is faced with an enormity of marketing choices. One can take the traditional route of advertising, giving seminars, getting articles published, doing the “rubber chicken” circuit, developing brochures and other sales materials and for some, perhaps even implementing some kind of direct marketing effort. Or, one can join the 21st century and engage in such exotic activities as search engine optimization, pay-per-click, podcasts, blogging, and social media. Depending on each firm’s situation, any and/or all approaches can be valid.

Yet, critical to successful marketing is not just generating laundry lists of good ideas on how to promote the practice. There are literally hundreds of good ideas and thousands of communications vehicles. Rather, the key to effective marketing is selecting which of these ideas and which of these vehicles is best suited to achieve firm objectives…. and this is the critical part….within the constraints of its time and dollar resources.

Good marketing is integrated marketing, where the various components all work together complementing and underscoring one another. For example, a pay-per-click campaign with newspaper ads and press releases are used to promote a seminar sponsored by the firm. At the event, the firm’s brand is reinforced through its presentation and the distribution of helpful informational brochures, folders, etc. After the seminar, contact is maintained with those who registered through e-newsletters. More useful information is added to the web site, along with perhaps a new article written by one of the firm’s attorneys. All must “sing the same tune,” but also be done within the confines of time and money.

The individual or committee charged with developing and implementing a marketing program must look at each medium and each marketing-related decision within the context of its overall plan. If its goal is to generate new business immediately, this will lead to a certain set of decisions as to what vehicles to utilize. The same can be said for those with long-range visions, those targeting niche areas or for those with particularly large or particularly small marketing budgets.

Problems arise however when, in seeking the silver bullet for business growth, law firms grasp at single source solutions that fit the provider’s own offerings rather than solutions that address the specific objectives and strategies of the firm itself. The most prevalent, though hardly the only example of this is the preponderance of pay-per-click and SEO firms that purport to take your practice to the next level by promising high search engine rankings, thousands of clicks and even the auditing of phone calls and in-take messages.

The entire premise of “one size fits all” is anathema to what marketing is all about. At its very core, the marketing process is about communicating why an individual or organization should hire the firm versus the myriad of its competitors who are as readily accessible. To expect that a single source solution can address that challenge alone is a byproduct of overselling on the part of the vendor and wishful thinking on the part of the firm.

To illustrate this, let us take a look at a typical small to mid-sized firm seeking to generate more business for its family law section, with particular emphasis placed on reaching an affluent population. A pay-per-click vendor offers to have the firm placed prominently on the sponsored section of the major online directories’ first page. The sell is that whenever anyone searches for keywords related to divorce, child support, custody, etc., the firm name will be the first (or in the top ten) that they will see. The vendor also assures the firm that their efforts will be geo-optimized and directed towards those in the firm’s geographic target area. Given that most internet users will usually not go beyond the initial one or two pages, this sounds like a wonderful way to get a) visibility, b) clicks and c) clients.

But is it really?

The example above fails to address several other variables that would allow for a more considered decision on whether or not to pursue such an effort. First, what is the firm’s organic (i.e., non-sponsored) online positioning? If the firm consistently receives prominent placement on the organic directories, what does an additional pay-per-click effort accomplish? Second, this question becomes even more valid when one considers the enhanced credibility of organic placement versus sponsored placement and the fact that affluent individuals are more likely to seek out those listed in the organic section than they are in the organic.

Third, it is almost certain that the firm will receive clicks off of its PPC campaign. But are they good clicks and at what cost? If they are not good clicks (and by that I refer to those who would never be considered a good prospect for the firm), how much of a financial commitment is being allocated to a program that might better be spent elsewhere. A vendor that emphasizes a single solution cannot answer that question, yet the marketing decision maker at a law firm must be able to do so.

The point here is not to pick on the PPC provider. There are many good reasons to engage in pay-per-click efforts. The same problems hold true for the advertising agency which wants to run an advertising campaign, the PR company promising high visibility, the printer promising to make the firm’s new brochure “pop out,” or even the business “coach” offering to help firm attorneys network and convert sales. We have seen all too often a provider developing a specific element of a marketing program (e.g., an advertising campaign) that is inconsistent with the look, feel and message of the firm as conveyed elsewhere (e.g., through its web site, collateral materials, corporate ID, etc.)

A vendor selling one type of service will, in all likelihood, not know the trade-offs the firm must consider in selecting one route versus another. But here is the important thing…. even if it did, it would be in its own best interests to sell the medium or service it provides. Seems like an obvious concept, but it’s one that’s often forgotten in a world where the promise of immediacy can cloud good judgment.

Is there is a place for many different vendors in the implementation of an integrated campaign? Of course there is. But someone who understands all of the variables involved must make the decisions related to the full scope of these activities. Failure to do so often results in inefficient and ineffective a la carte programs.

The success of your law firm's marketing plan ultimately rests in determining which mix of possible permutations will reap the greatest reward.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How Law Firms Can Generate Awareness, Goodwill and New Clients by Affiliating with Worthwhile Endeavors

In this day and age of search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, blogs and social media, 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.

There are several reasons for doing so. First, affiliating with a cause or special event can generate enormous levels of visibility. It allows law practices to effectively target a designated group of prospects and facilitates interface between firm attorneys and prospective clients. It can so serve as a terrific means for building a database. And it certainly need not be necessarily costly.

But the most important reason for developing and implementing a cause marketing initiative is to underscore the branding of the firm. By affiliating with worthwhile causes, the firm promotes goodwill and does so in manner which work towards firm’s marketing objectives, but which does not smack of hard salesmanship. As such, cause marketing can serve to elevate the firm’s overall credibility in the eyes of the community and amongst its prospect groups.

Just One Example
To illustrate the above, it is useful to explore how law firms have used efforts to further their own goals. Our agency was approached once by a relatively well-known Philadelphia law firm concerned about the lack of consistent growth in its South Jersey satellite office. Firm partners felt that the major reason for this was that the community was not aware of the satellite office’s existence.

As with most marketing challenges, budget allocations to address these concerns were limited, ruling out traditional advertising and PR efforts. Instead, the agency recommended creating an ongoing campaign around an event which would a) generate awareness b) underscore the firm’s tagline of “Practicing the Art of Law,” and c) create goodwill between the firm and the community.

The approach ultimately selected and implemented was a student art show in which third through eighth graders throughout the area were invited to submit original artwork that addressed the question, “What’s great about South Jersey?” The winning entry for each grade received a savings bond for themselves as well as a cash prize for his or her school.

Over 300 entries were submitted, the competition which culminated in an art show at the satellite offices, received substantial pre and post event publicity. The firm actually garnered four new clients on the day the winners were announced and the long-term effect was to begin the process of integrating the satellite office into the community.

The success of the program prompted the firm to continue the contest in subsequent years using themes like, “If I Were President?” and “Goin’ Green: South Jersey and the Environment”.

Why did it work?

Because from the very get-go, awareness was generated not just from the press releases and on-line announcements, but through the very act of disseminating flyers promoting the event to the schools. Thousands of schoolchildren came home with a registration form in hand, each with the firm name and logo prominently highlighted. Further, hundreds of adults (i.e., potential prospects) were further exposed to the firm when they came to review the work of the finalists and attend the ceremony announcing the winners. Finally, the financial awards themselves were presented to each winner in separate ceremonies at their respective schools. And, of course, releases on all such presentations were sent to the media, extending the life of the campaign that much further.

Getting Creative
The point of the above is not to suggest that every firm go out and implement an art show/contest, but rather to recommend that law practices get creative in developing programs that dovetail with what they’re 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. Again, the promotional elements were multi-faceted, and costs were considerably lower than what a full-blown advertising campaign might have entailed. The high cost of marketing can frequently be offset through creativity and by looking for alternative means to communicate what the firm is all about. The result of such creativity often results in a win-win situation for everyone involved – the community and the firm itself.