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!