Monday, May 11, 2009

Can lawyer marketing be successful in States with restrictive advertising rules?

Many lawyers and legal advertisers are frustrated by excessively restrictive rules and ethics established by their State’s Bar and Supreme Court. Florida’s Rule of Professional Conduct seems particularly harsh. The requirement for the filing of TV and radio spots prior to dissemination creates the potential for an arbitrary approval process. Federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of this rule and others have been filed and I’m sure more will follow. Unfortunately, these ever increasingly restrictive rules have become perceived as necessary because of a minority of advertising lawyers who choose to portray themselves as more used car salesmen than attorneys at law. I personally believe that the messages conveyed by advertising lawyers should always be ones of integrity, honesty and humility.

But what if these ethics requirements went so far as to state for instance, that a lawyer could only put his name and phone number up on a television screen, would it drastically affect his advertising results? Not necessarily. Why? Because the most important part of legal marketing and advertising strategies is not the content of the message but the how, where, when and number of times that the message is seen.

For example, we have a local, very successful auto dealership owner who for years has made stupid, silly and sometimes crazy ads. Other dealers have tried to make similar goofy ads, but they don’t get the same results. That’s because what those other dealers don’t understand is that the successful dealer is a genius at media placement. This dealer advertises consistently, not just during sales events or short lived campaigns. Plus the dealer uses strategies such as buying lower cost cable, ten second and even five second spots to greatly increase frequency and reach. The result is a household name with top of the mind awareness.

Top of the mind awareness is my main goal when creating advertising strategies for lawyers. Legal advertising is not direct marketing. If you put an attorney ad on TV and then wait for the phone to ring, you will be very disappointed. Sure, you want to reach the recent accident victim lying in the hospital, but the big business is down the road. You want to advertise toward the person who gets hurt next year or the year after. To do that, you need to create a well planned advertising strategy that generates continuous reach and frequency. It takes time and commitment, but once you start to build name recognition, the results will be rewarding.

If you do practice in a State like Florida, create your ads to be within the rules, hope for a change in the ethics laws, and put your main emphasis on media placement. After all, you can produce the greatest lawyer ad ever made, but it won’t amount to a hill of beans if nobody sees it.

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