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.