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.