Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does your legal website marketer have a conflict of interest?

In the world of advertising, most agencies do not represent competitive clients at the same
time. Obviously it would be difficult for a single ad agency to create and implement
advertising and marketing for both Coke and Pepsi without a conflict of interest. Lawyers, of
course, should be familiar with this concept as they are ethically bound to avoid any conflicts of interest when representing their own clients. So with that said, why in the world would thirty-five competing law firms in the same city all be represented by the same website/internet legal advertising marketer?

This has got to be one of the most mind boggling phenomena in advertising and marketing history. I am referring to legal internet marketers such as FindLaw, Einstein Law, Lexus Nexus and others. Upon a quick review of lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia, I found that at least thirty-five rival personal injury plaintiffs’ law firms have websites designed and hosted by FindLaw. FindLaw states that they’ll “make your law firm stand out from the crowd”. Join the crowd is more like it! All these law firms are seeking the same potential clients with nearly identically structured websites that utilize the same search engine optimization strategies! Plus they are paying thousands of dollars a month for ridiculously overpriced website design, hosting and internet marketing services. Law schools might want to add Marketing 101 to their curriculums!

This same scenario is being played out among competing law firms in every major city, not just Atlanta. Even law firms with websites created by other companies, are paying for a listing on FindLaw. Every time you refresh the page or return to an additional search for lawyers on FindLaw, the listings rotate like a roulette wheel - talk about a crap shoot! This isn’t like the yellow pages where you simply buy the ad space, or in this case a piece of cyberspace. These legal internet marketers claim they are continuously utilizing search engine strategies to make sure their law firm clients are getting the best rankings. Well just how in the heck do you avoid conflicts of interest when you represent thirty-five rival law firms?
Obviously, FindLaw and others have done an extraordinary job of hyping the necessity of online legal marketing and advertising. Granted, a presence on the web is important for all law firms. But there is a limit to the return on investment and there are far more efficient and cost effective ways to reach potential clients.

Here’s a quote from a recent FindLaw blog: “Much like the shipwreck survivor floating out there in the ocean waiting for the Coast Guard to find them a site sits and waits to be discovered by search engines.” This perfectly illustrates one of the major problems with internet marketing. Rather than putting your advertising in front of the masses with media such as television, your advertising, i.e., website, is sitting somewhere waiting for the masses to come find you.

Advertising on media such as television, cable, and radio, you can promote your web address and refer viewers/listeners directly to your site. This creates more direct referrals to your website thus reducing dependence on search engine rankings and advertising. In fact, web statistics for one of my television advertising law firms showed that 80% of visitors came directly to the website via bookmark or by typing in the URL. Of numerous “paid for” internet listings such as FindLaw, Yellowpages, and ExpertHub none produced more than 2% of visitors. Of course the real problem isn’t the number of visitors; it’s the exorbitant cost per response.

I have an Einstein Law, price sheet that list their basic website hosting rate to be $1,495 per month. If you want free monthly website corrections, email accounts and Stats, the rate is $2,995 per month! And this doesn’t include the website itself. For a custom web design you’ll need to pay and average cost of about $1000 per page or 20 pages for $16,000! You can add Flash for $4,000 and up! Wow! I design, host and maintain websites, and on average the costs and labor involved isn’t enough to command such hefty rates. I can create some super nice television commercials for that kind of money and my client could take the money they save on inflated hosting fees and buy airtime.

Lawyers spend billions of dollars a year on advertising and marketing. Unfortunately, that brings out all sorts of businesses and services who are looking for a slice of that pie. Some are doing great work for lawyers but many are relentless sales people who do not have the law firm’s best interests in mind. A lawyer who tries to deal directly with these people can be unknowingly led to part with far more money than the return on investment is worth. I have over twenty-five years of experience in legal marketing, advertising, branding, media placement and multi-media productions. Someone like me can sort through the hype, look at the big overall picture and then implement strategies that will utilize a law firm’s advertising and marketing dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why are so many lawyers still being taken for a ride down the yellow page road?

It’s astounding how yellow page sales people are still able to persuade so many lawyers to
waste so much money on advertising in a nearly extinct media format that sits unused in drawers, closets and back rooms. What’s even more unbelievable is how they are able to get lawyers, of all people, to sign a one year contract that cannot be canceled, modified or legally challenged. But such is the case. In every major U.S. market there are double and full page ads for numerous law firms under multiple categories. Some law firms are paying tens of thousands of dollars a month!

Spending more and more to “keep up with the Jones's” is the essence of guerilla marketing in the yellow pages. Lawyers are led to believe that they absolutely must have as big and as many ad pages as the competition. Every year this ridiculous scare tactics scenario gets played out over and over. Lawyers are told that if they do not spend as much as last year they will lose their all so important placement in the book. Now more than ever, your law firm needs to break this wasteful and ineffective habit and start advertising for the future.

One of the biggest problems with yellow page advertising is the lack of frequency. In the course of one year, how often are people going to open the book and see your law firm’s ad? The majority of the population probably won’t see that ad at all. By comparison, for that same amount of money you spend monthly for a full yellow page ad, your firm could be airing thousands of commercials a month on local television and cable. With that kind of frequency you’ll build name recognition and top of the mind awareness. Plus those airtime slots are exclusive, unlike the yellow pages where your ad appears somewhere between dozens of others. With television, you bring your ad to the masses, but with yellow pages, your ad sits somewhere waiting for the masses to come find you.

I’ve always viewed the yellow pages as a secondary advertising source. By the time a potential client picks up the yellow pages to find/call a lawyer, they should already be aware of your law firm. Can you imagine a layperson attempting to decide on a lawyer by simply looking at all those yellow page ads? They might as well open the book and select a page blindfolded! But what about that survey that found that consumers consider the yellow pages the most acceptable form of lawyer advertising and that half of those surveyed would select a lawyer based on a yellow page ad alone? Sorry, but I don’t buy it. Those types of surveys are commissioned by the yellow page companies and questions are designed to produce biased results. The fact is that most people are not going to select a lawyer from a yellow page ad like they would a plumber for an emergency leak or clogged drain.

I also don’t buy the number of monthly references or impressions claimed by those yellow page sales people. According to yellow page guidelines, an impression is defined as a reference to a directory within the last 30 days. The references include both personal and business use. In the case of a personal injury law firm, that means the impressions include not just potential clients but also all other types of business matters. So, many of those calls that your law firm receives every month that are not from potential new clients are included in those yellow page usage estimates. Based on national usage levels, of the yellow page users who made contact with an attorney, 30 percent made “a purchase”. Well, in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, the numbers breakdown like this. There are approximately 1700 lawyers listed A to Z in the Columbus area yellow pages. According to that 30 percent figure, 34,232 new clients a month sign up with yellow page advertising attorneys. So there you have it. Welcome to the Land of Oz where each and every one of those 1700 lawyers signs up 20 new clients per month!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Are you marketing your personal injury law firm as a memorable brand?

Okay, you’re spending big bucks with big full size ads in the yellow pages, a FindLaw, Einstein or Lexus web site, television commercials and maybe some radio, billboards, etc. But are you creating name recognition that generates top of the mind awareness within your market? Do people recognize you or your name when you are out in public? If not, then odds are that your advertising is not promoting your law firm as a memorable brand.

The fact is that your services are basically the same as those offered by all the other advertising law firms in your market. So how do you make your firm stand out from the crowd? By using your most valuable assets: you, your partners, your reputation and your good name. Your advertising should consistently and prominently feature your firm’s name, logo and a likeness of you or your firm’s chosen spokesperson. Use your advertising to introduce yourself to potential clients, let them know a little about who and what you are.

Too many lawyers promote what they do instead of who they are. For example, I’ve viewed hundreds of attorney yellow page ads in most major markets and all too often these ads are dominated by large words such as “injured?”, “accident”, “we care”, “we’ll fight”, “we’re tough”, etc. Large pictures of accidents, doctors, emergency vehicles/personnel, victims in wheelchairs, courthouses, scales of justice and many other illustrations may also be prominent. Then way down on the page, past the mumbo jumbo, in a relatively small presentation is the name of the law firm and contact information. This is not effective branding and marketing.

Many attorney television commercials, especially generic ones, are similarly ineffective. For twenty-five seconds we may see various scenarios involving victims or grieving loved ones. Then a five second tag shows the law firm’s name and phone number. The law firm’s name is only mentioned once in that valuable 30 seconds worth of television advertising real estate. Now this type of ad may not be all that bad if it is part of a campaign mix that also includes other more personalized/customized commercials. But if these are the only type of TV spots you are airing, you’re not getting a very good bang for your buck.

Likewise, you might want to think before you leap at those “vanity” phone numbers and domain names. Relying on phone numbers such as 1-800-INJURED or 1-800-HURT911, to sell your services is not an effective means of branding. Neither are domain names such as or Memorable phone numbers and/or domain names may assist in your marketing efforts but they should not be the main focus of your advertising. A marketing plan that consistently promotes your unique good name and services as an established, trusted brand is far more likely to motivate and influence potential clients.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Attorney advertising: strategies from a legal marketing veteran of twenty-five years.

In 2008, lawyers spent over four billion dollars on television advertising. Throw in billions more for yellow pages, internet and other media, and it becomes clear why soliciting lawyers for a piece of the pie is such big business. As a result, lawyers are bombarded by all sorts of advertising and marketing firms, relentless media sales people and others whose only objective is to get their share of those billions of advertising revenue dollars.

As an example, one all too common sales tactic involves what I call a “keeping up with the Jones” ploy. I’ve heard this pitch over and over again from internet and yellow page sales people: “The Jones Law Firm is spending $20,000 a month on their internet marketing (or their yellow page ad), and you firm better do the same if you want to compete and get new clients.” So in trying to keep up with the Jones’, and stay competitive, many lawyers soon find themselves in over their heads by spending too much to quickly or too much on one or two, not so effective mediums. They get frustrated from the lack of return on their investment and curse the entire advertising industry.

The point is that lawyers who want to advertise and market their services should seek out a legal marketer who has the knowledge and experience necessary to understand and evaluate all of the possible media avenues, look at the big overall picture, sort through all the hype, and put it all into perspective. Such experts will then be able to implement strategies and create a marketing plan that will utilize a lawyer’s advertising dollars as effectively and efficiently as possible.

I have twenty-five years of experience in legal marketing, advertising, branding, media placement and multi-media productions. Someone like me can save a law practice from the anguish of years of wasted time and money. I’ve done all the leg work, worked out the kinks and I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to advertising and marketing legal services. That said here are a few strategies to consider.

1) Hire an expert. Not every lawyer has the experience and knowledge to successfully handle a medical malpractice case. Likewise, not just any advertising or marketing professional is capable of successfully creating and implementing legal advertising. Also, would a lawyer hire an advertising professional to represent him in a lawsuit? Of course not. So why would a lawyer attempt a do it yourself approach when it comes to advertising and marketing his services? Reminds me of the old saying: “He who represents himself has a fool for a client”.

2) Branding and Differentiating. It is important to create and maintain a consistent image and message. If you’re a local lawyer, use that fact to distinguish yourself from out-of-town firms that invasively advertise in your market. Produce ads that promote a sense of familiarity that connects with viewers on a more personal level.

3) Invest in media wisely. Television, including cable, is still the best, most cost effective way to reach new clients and build name recognition. With TV you don’t have to share ad space with other lawyers (see # 4). Use your TV spots and other non-internet media to send viewers directly to your website and reduce costly internet advertising fees. Unlike the yellow pages, TV advertising won’t leave you stuck in a year long non-cancelable contract.

4) Avoid what I call media “pile ups”. Lawyers are lined up bumper to bumper in the yellow pages and on the internet. Is every lawyer in every town going to pay those insane fees charged by FindLaw and Einstein Law for websites and listings? The internet is becoming so saturated and the websites are so generic, who can tell one law firm from another? There are too many advertising lawyers putting all their eggs into the internet basket. Not a wise investment, considering the fact that a large number of potential personal injury, medical malpractice and other clients (the old and those with lower incomes) don’t even have access to the internet.

5) Be patient and committed. Legal advertising is not direct marketing. If you put an ad on TV and then wait for the phone to ring, you will be very disappointed. Creating name recognition and top of the mind awareness is the key to successful legal marketing, but it takes time. 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. To do that, you need a well planned advertising strategy that generates continuous reach and frequency and one that won’t break the bank. For such an investment, I’d recommend the help of an expert.

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.