Thursday, March 5, 2015

Legal Marketing: Is There Still a Need for “Creativity?”

Anyone who has ever worked for an advertising agency, a marketing firm or any other type of organization where design and copy play such an important role, know that traditionally, one of the watchwords has been “creativity.”  Agencies sold their wares by highlighting how “creative” they were versus their competitors (a difficult premise to substantiate) and begged their law firm clients, to embrace their innovativeness.

There was a reason for this and it had a lot to do with the very nature of the marketing process. That process began when the firm took out an ad in a publication, produced a commercial or developed a brochure, etc. Of course their competitors did likewise, making it imperative that that ad, commercial, brochure, etc. jump out from amongst the clutter, “grab” the intended target and encourage them to take some kind of action. 

But with the coming of the digital age, a lot has changed, including the fact that the marketing process is now so often initiated by the prospect. This is particularly true online (the vehicle of “choice for many, if not most firms) where, instead of being “grabbed,” that prospect is now “seeking” information about the firm – usually with the prompt being driven by “need,” rather than traditional marketer “creativity.”  Further, those organizations that do “jump out” on line do so because they are at the top of the search engines. This is unfortunate as that ranking is more a function of a) links to other sites, b) use of keywords and c) volume of content than it is of the firm’s ability to convey its reason for being and the benefits it provides.

With “content” and “relevancy” now the new watchwords, is there still a place for “creativity?” The answer, I believe, is that while clever words and pretty pictures may have lost some of their luster, “creativity” still is a critical component of any legal marketing initiative. Often, this is at a more macro level than it is at the single execution of a web site page, an email blast, a pay-per-click campaign, a public relations program, etc.. It requires getting into the prospects’ shoes more completely than ever before and developing the offerings, practice areas and niche expertise of individuals with very specific needs. Being “creative” with “content” and “relevance” means knowing your potential clients better than your competitors and applying that understanding to both the materials you develop as well as how you disseminate that material. I am frequently amazed at how much law firms develop certain content and then fail to deliver that very same content in a multiplicity of ways, when all it would require is the touch of a key or a click of a mouse. Knowing how to “creatively” use the myriad of online and offline tools, and to do so cost-effectively, has become essential.  

Examples? A seminar can be videotaped and turned into a webinar which is then promoted via press releases, e-newsletters to the firm’s contact database, email blasts to a targeted list, social media posts, etc. Following the event, that webinar is then also archived on the web site and posted on Youtube. All of this is done using mostly the same content and will probably cost the firm relatively little.

Another such example is aligning the firm with a specific cause and promoting itself around that cause. For one PI firm, our agency recently implemented a “no texting while driving” campaign aimed at local high school juniors and seniors. Similar initiatives can be implemented across a myriad of other relevant causes.

I would be negligent if I claimed that today all “creativity” is or should be of a “macro” nature.  There are certainly instances where this is not the case.  A pay-per-click ad campaign must be carefully constructed within the very tight character limitations mandated by the search engines.  Similarly, one of the most often neglected aspects of an effective e-newsletter or e-marketing effort is the subject line. Rather than something haphazardly thrown together, it should be considered a “headline,” vital to prompting email “opens.” In fact, it actually requires more “creativity” in the traditional sense than the print ad, direct mailer, or television commercial, because it must prompt an action in just a few words – and with no visual element to augment it.

The net takeaway of all this is that while the ways in which legal marketers can show their creativity may be changing, the continuous need for that creativity in order to facilitate firm growth, remains unchanged.

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