Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Marketing the Firm vs. the Practice Area vs. the Attorney

Our agency often receives calls from individual attorneys (usually from larger firms) seeking our assistance in marketing their services. In most of these situations, these lawyers are under significant pressure to originate new business. Our advice to them is not all that different from the recommendations we might make at the firm level.

But it does raise two interesting questions. Should law firms market the firm at large, its disparate practice groups and/or its individual attorneys? And if so, how should it allocate its energies towards each?

The answer to the first part is easy. If possible, the firm should be supported at all levels. But what if resources are limited? I believe that everything goes back to doing what is best at the firm level. Why is this firm “the best?” What makes it unique? Why should someone hire it versus the other bunch of folks down the block? If one can establish a rationale for the firm’s existence (beyond providing sustenance for its partners and employees), one has already gone much further than most of the competition. As important, a halo effect is created that will carry over onto the practice groups and eventually onto individual attorneys as well. Given limited financial resources, it is critical to focus on the big picture first, then individual groups and finally individual attorneys (unless an attorney is the next incarnation of Clarence Darrow.)

Supporting individual attorneys with major cash outlays may be unfeasible. But in most cases, that’s okay. If one’s financial investment is geared toward the firm as a whole, then time can be the major source of investment at the attorney level – providing one gives the staff the freedom to do so. One can’t expect the firm’s lawyers to be originating business if they are not being given the flexibility to attend various functions, implement social media efforts, write articles, etc.

Marketing at the practice group level is where it gets a bit more complicated. As mentioned, that halo effect does carry over. However, sometimes practice groups need a bit of their own promotion. Which ones get this boost and to what degree is usually a function of the particular groups (e.g., PI usually gets a lot) and whether the firm’s marketing plan calls for leveraging particularly strong areas or beefing up relatively weaker ones. If the goal is only to get through this year, the wise choice may be to play one’s best hand. If thinking long-term however, then consideration must be given to how the weaker department is going to get from here to there. Obviously, it’s not all black and white, and sometimes office politics can get in the way (e.g., “Why do they get their own
enewsletter and we get nothing?). But again, with initial buy-in of the overall program, such problems can be somewhat mitigated. Keep in mind, as my mother often told me when I complained about what my sister was getting, “It’s not always going to be equal.” Hopefully your firm’s staff is more mature than I was at that time and can understand the nuances of resource allocation.

Monday, February 18, 2019

When It Comes to Marketing Your Law Practice, Are you Willing to Stick Your Neck Out?

Any way you slice it, the numbers are staggering. According to the American Bar Association, there are approximately 50,000 law firms in the U.S. with two or more attorneys. If you also count solo practitioners firms, the U.S. Census estimates almost 175,000 total legal establishments.

Guess what?

Not all of them can or will be ranked #1 on Google.

In fact, most won't make the first pages of the online directories.

Now, if you’re one of the 95% that won’t, and you listen to the “experts", you might as well pack up shop right now. You’re doomed. Finished. Might as well start looking for your next place of work.

But to take that attitude is to run counter to everything that marketing is to supposed be about. It’s never been about following the trend. It’s always been about bucking the trend. Sure, if your bank account allows for unlimited forays into every marketing vehicle – both online and off – then yes, you’re going to stand out, if only by the sheer volume of marketing communications you generate. But if you’re like most law firms, in fact, like almost any business, your financial resources are not unlimited and you’re going to have to rely on something else.

That “something else” is called creativity. And creativity doesn’t require lots of money. It does however, require lots of guts.  It means being willing to stick your neck out --- to run away from images of gavels, scales of justice and marble pillars and instead turning to those that truly define your firm, its reason for being, its essence. In fact, I would argue that there is an inverse relationship between marketing creativity and/or the uniqueness of the product/service with the amount of dollars one would need to invest in marketing.  Stepping aside from the legal world for a moment, imagine a pharmaceutical giant announcing the launch of its 100% proven ability to cure cancer – any cancer. How much money do you think that company would need to put into marketing? How many times would it need to run its ads? Assuming, this scenario were in fact, true, the answers would be “not a lot of money” and “not a lot of times running the ad.” In this case, the sheer uniqueness of the product would break through all of the advertising clutter everywhere.

Now consider a “me too” soap product. How much will need to be allocated to the launch of this product (in terms of marketing) in order to stand out from the competition? If you said “A lot,” you are absolutely right!

Unlike manufacturers however, law firms don’t have many opportunities to offer a “unique” service. But they have many, many opportunities to be unique in the way they market those services.

Consider, for example, a firm of litigators who pride themselves on their ability to consistently “win.” This, they claimed, was their calling card, their identity and this is what they wished to convey in their advertising. Putting aside the dubiousness of their overreaching claims as well as the fact that legal ethics precludes making such claims, the “obvious” path in creating a campaign of this sort was to show an attorney or two—perhaps smiling or congratulating themselves or a happy client.  Instead, our agency decided to make no such claim, preferring instead to focus on a baby crossing a finish line under the headline, “Jimmy Won the 5 Yard Dash in 27.2 Seconds.” We had created a firm tagline that asked, “What Does Winning Mean to You?” and together, their message was implicitly clear – this firm could help you cross the finish line regardless of your particular legal concern. We didn’t claim to win, merely implied it by the question imposed. Now, for that commuter on a train rummaging through the business section of the daily paper, which ad do you think would garner more attention – one that focused on two otherwise nondescript business folks smiling, or a baby winning a race. And to put it in more “dollars and sense” terms, which do you think would require a heavier schedule in order to be effective?

But creativity does not have to be used for the messaging alone. When a Pennsylvania law firm expressed concern about its New Jersey satellite office and the lack of awareness it was generating, we developed no new ads and did nothing online. Instead, we developed a South Jersey Art Show contest in which elementary and middle school children throughout the area were asked to submit artwork highlighting “What’s Great about South Jersey.” Financial awards were given to the winning entries at an elaborate, though inexpensive ceremony attended by all finalists, their parents and their teachers. Did the firm gain any awareness? You bet they did.  But even more important, they picked up four new clients that very night. What’s more, checks were also awarded to the schools of the winning entries, creating new opportunities for even more post-event publicity. Give the firm credit. They could have gone down the tried and true path, but instead chose an approach that allowed them to stand out from everyone else.

Another example --  a family law client of ours was looking to break out from the pack – usually a costly proposition. He was the stepfather to an autistic child and along the way, had picked up quite a few insights into the legal issues involved in raising such a child. Putting two and two together, he established a niche as a family law practitioner who focused on those couples who had a child with special needs. Is that a sub-segment of a small universe? Absolutely. Can he be the dominant player in that sub-segment without breaking the bank? Absolutely, as well.

One more.  When a Personal Injury client of ours wanted to run a television campaign, we refrained from developing one of those everyday, cheesy commercials that claimed, “We only get paid when you do.”  Instead, we actually mocked such ads in our spot, highlighting the fact that working a personal injury case is a difficult, time consuming endeavor, most often handled by bright, hard-working attorneys who understand that getting hurt is truly “serious business.”

The point is that in each of these cases, the law firm involved was brave enough to shy away from the “tried and true.” The result was not just greater business generation, but lower marketing expenses. What they had lacked in financial resources, they had made up for in creativity and … (Is there another word for ‘guts?”)

--> So take heart, all of you who are not ranked #1 or listed on the first page of Google. There is opportunity for you yet. But really, only if you’re brave enough to reach for it.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Case Against Online Marketing

This article is prompted by an inquiry we received recently from a family law practitioner who felt that he had extracted all he could from the smorgasbord of online marketing tools and was seeking alternative, “out-of-the-box” means for growing his practice.

Now, before I get on my high horse and start to come across as sanctimonious, cynical or perhaps both, let me first acknowledge the obvious: Online marketing has and should have an absolutely prominent place in the marketing arsenal of most law firms. The reasons are fairly obvious:
But it is the wise law firm that understands online’s limitations vis-a-vis more traditional media vehicles. And believe it or not, one of the most critical of these relates to cost. (More on that later).

First, for all of their noted benefits, each of the online marketing tools comes with some inherent drawbacks:
  • SEO is a process that takes a significant amount of time to yield tangible results. Despite what the SEO providers may claim, two firms offering the same services in the same market cannot both be ranked number 1 across all major search terms.
  • Pay-Per-Click advertising tends to generate clicks – but often of a dubious, less-than-qualified sort, with even the metrics sometimes being questionable
  • Depending on the nature of the market, the content of the message, the quality of the list etc. etc., emails can often represent an inordinate waste of money.
  • Social media, implemented correctly, mandates the constant generation of reams of content – relevant or not, potentially across a multitude of platforms. It takes a great deal of time to institute a strong social media program across several vehicles.
And it is exactly that “time” conundrum that really sits at the heart of the issues with online marketing – whether one integrates with a marketing automation system or not. In fact, I would suggest that the time commitment required makes most of online marketing more, not less costly that many other traditional types of marketing approaches.

As stated, to do it “right,” requires oodles of effort – an allocation of human resources that the firm may or may not have. To generate the constant content that is the bread and butter of online marketing is inevitably going to cost the firm in time (when developed internally) or in money (when outsourced.)

This is of course no different than any other medium. An advertising campaign in trade publications is going to require an investment, yes – but once its created, its created. Until the next campaign, there really is not there much work to do. And the costs involved in hiring an agency to develop that campaign may actually be less than those incurred in hiring one to implement any of a variety of social media initiatives. Ditto for PR, where volume of content still plays second fiddle to the quality of the pitch, interview or article.

The grass isn’t always greener and the most cost effective media aren’t necessarily those you might think at first blush. Add to that the fact that everyone is doing online, and a case can be made that looking at alternatives to online marketing is actually looking at investing in a less competitive environment and one that, by looking elsewhere, is perhaps actually looking forward.

So what will I tell the attorney who inquired about alternatives to online marketing? I will tell him to take a step back, analyze his results to date and to conduct some kind of time and money cost/benefit analysis. I would not tell him to abandon his online efforts (he still needs a web site and being ranked first isn’t necessarily a bad thing). But if his dollar and time bank accounts allow… to definitely take a step back to the past… er, I mean the future. Surprisingly, it may actually make his online program work that much harder!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Sick of Online Marketing? Here’s Five Non-Traditional Ways to Market Your Law Firm

If one didn’t know better, one would think that the only way to market a law practice would be through online means. We are all bombarded with daily messages warning us that if we do not work on optimizing our site, we will fall off Google’s radar. We will not enjoy a stellar reputation as a thought leader if we are not tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting or Linkedining. We’re “nobody” if we do not have a blog. And we may be missing valuable clicks if we haven’t implemented a major pay-per-click advertising campaign.

But, for all you folks out there who would like to try something different, here are five non-traditional, non-on-line ways to increase awareness of you and your firm:

Start a Foundation

That’s right! Start a foundation and market it by associating it with the firm name (e.g., Jones & Smith Law, creates The Jones & Smith Foundation). Find a worthy cause (preferably one related to your practice area), invite the movers and shakers in your world to sit on your board of directors and begin networking with the people that matter all the while generating awareness of your practice (not to mention, doing good for your community.) This can be especially effective for firms with a business-to-business focus.

Create Special Events & Cause Marketing Initiatives

Like the above idea, but don’t see yourself putting in the requisite time and effort to make it worthwhile? That’s okay. Identify a cause related to your practice and/or to your marketing needs and develop a themed event or series of events around that cause. For example, we have implemented several art show/contests on behalf of PI firms that asked high school students to submit art work that persuaded their peers to not text while driving. The event generated great deals of exposure (and quite a number of clients!) for a number of personal injury practices.

Run Sponsorship Ads

Don’t have the financial resources to launch a large advertising campaign? No problem. Think strategically and support organizations with ads in or on their yearbooks, program guides, event signage, etc. You may not hit a large amount of people, but chances are, you will be hitting the right people. We’ve seen law firms do just this with great success.

Develop “Expert” Brochures

Okay, I get it. The world has changed. Everything you want, you can get on the internet now – including information on legal matters. Yet, the printed word still has some prestige. Create an “expert brochure” on a topic of vital importance  (no “selling” now) and promote its availability by disseminating press releases and sending to relevant organizations (e.g., an education law practice forwards a handful of brochures entitled “How to Know if Your Child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is Really Working” sent to special needs organizations).  By the way, you can also offer it online as well – but that’s a song for a different day. 

Write a Book or eBook

Did you like writing those “expert” brochures we noted above? Then make yourself really happy by drafting an ebook on a topic you know well. (Hopefully, it has something to do with the law.) Publish it yourself. It can be relatively inexpensive. Then get it in the hands of everyone that you know. You can even give it away for free if that makes sense. What better way for people to get to know you, your work and how brilliant you really are? It’s got the “Wow” factor because people tend to think of writing a book as being a big deal. Just remember, the idea here is to build your practice, not necessarily sell books (though that can be nice as well).

Does implementing any or all of these initiatives suggest you shouldn’t link your site to other relevant sites, post online, or interact electronically with others? Of course not.  But in a world where everyone seems to be doing pretty much what everyone else is, a little creativity can go a long ways in making you and your law firm stand out from the crowd.  In fact, take that creativity a little further and don’t do anything suggested in this post. That’s right. Instead, take the time to think a little about your practice and generate new ideas for marketing in a manner that perhaps no one else in your industry has.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Top 10 Things I’m Thankful For - Business Edition

As we approach another holiday season, I think it’s always a good idea to reflect on that for which we are most grateful.  But  I also think its high time we gave thanks to all those terms, events and people that have become so meaningful in our workaday lives.


Here goes.

I’m thankful for……
  • The millions upon millions of dollars my emails have told me I’ve won or inherited 
  • Acronyms such as RFP, CPM, CPC, PPC, URL, SEO, and CTR so I don’t have to remember how to spell out words
  •  Deleting SPAM – which allows me to turn a 2-minute break into a 2-hour one
  •  No one cares about grammer any more
  •  … Or how to spell grammar
  • Any place with no internet connection
  •  Whoever came up with the word, “Blog.”
  •  Anyone who can provide me with Google’s  latest algorithm
  • Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande, so that we don’t only have to talk about Donald Trump
  •  Law firms…because I like to eat

Have any others?  Let me know!

In the meantime…

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

For B2B Law Firms: The Distinctions Between SEO and PPC are Becoming Blurred

There was a time, not so long ago, when we would advise law firm clients with a business-to-business emphasis to consider pay-per-click  (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) as analogous to advertising (in the traditional sense) and public relations respectively. Under the former, you paid for your ads and they ran. Under the latter, you developed content for your web site, social media or blog and you hoped the forces (i.e., Google) that vetted your efforts were kind and ranked you high on the search engine directories. 

Using that frame of reference, it was not uncommon for us to recommend to such B2B law firms that they refrain from PPC. After all, online ads were highlighted in their own column on the right side of the online page and were clearly seen as what they were – “paid for” bits of communication. A high organic page ranking, on the other hand, was a success story unto itself – Google had ordained your content as “relevant.” For the law firm reaching out to businesses, this was (and in some ways continues to be) a great means for enhancing one’s credibility as a “player” within the industry. After all, a more sophisticated buyer of legal services would probably rely on recommendations, references and credentials before keying in on a short (very short) advertising message.

But that is slowly changing. And it is doing so for two reasons. First, PPC ads now appear in the same column of listings as organic content. No great revelation there. However, what may have gone unnoticed is that the effect of this has been to blur the lines between where ads end and organic listings begin. Yes there is usually an icon that reads “Ad” for listings that have been purchased, but these are small non-descript notations which, after time, frankly fail to viscerally distinguish between the two types of communications. To underscore this, consider the last time you searched for a particular keyword or phrase. How aware were you of which listings were ads and which were not?  More importantly, how much did it affect your decision to click on one listing versus another? Probably not a lot.

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.