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.
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.