By Jon Quick
Once upon a time, law firm advertising all looked the same. Before that, advertising for law firms was forbidden. “Not ethical. Just wrong,” they said.
Then came Arizona law partners John Bates and Van O’Steen. They decided to advertise their price list. Alas, they were disbarred.
Their appeal reached the Supreme Court in 1977. The landmark Arizona v. Bates case made legal advertising, well, legal.
Soon the Yellow Pages were full of it – boring ads for law firms, that is.
Today lawyers are trying new and different ways to advertise with more focus on websites and digital media.
But even today, problems remain.
Pitch the photos of mean men in black suits
Lawyers like Carmel attorney Josh Brown are changing the face of law firm advertising with adept usage of what some still call “new” media.
“Legal advertising still suffers from the ‘sameness’ factor, except now it’s on newer platforms,” Brown said. “There’s no personality that jumps off the page. You first need to decide how to differentiate yourself in a noisy world. People only go to your website to find an answer to a question. And if they can’t find it in the first five seconds, they’re gone.”
Deep six the gavel
About five years ago, the Indianapolis firm of Wilson Kehoe Winingham decided it was time for a facelift.
The staff brainstormed for ideas. The team input resulted in fresh new branding for WKW.
Marketing manager Matt Houston said, “The words ‘experience, compassionate, results’ kept coming up. Those words really differentiated us. They also came up with the phrase ‘Restoring Lives.’”
The result was a fresh new logo and website.
WKW also took note of a 2007 case study involving a firm out East that for decades devoted its marketing budget to the Yellow Pages. During the study, someone asked, “When was the last time any of you used the Yellow Pages to find a service provider?”
Not a hand went up. Soon there was a shift to more Web and SEO development.
The awareness of the firm’s branding increased dramatically, while marketing costs went down.
“We followed a similar strategy,” Houston said. “Although we still advertise traditionally, most of our ad dollars have shifted to digital.”
“The website is our only chance at a first impression. If it isn’t user friendly or lacks the content people look for, they’ll go elsewhere. We use blogging to educate potential clients about certain issues or topics, and social media to push out those messages. First, you have to understand who your audience is.”
Let’s go blonde
One of the memorable law firm branding campaigns in Indiana began circa 2004.
Readers started paying attention to ads for a divorce firm featuring three attractive blonde lawyers.
“They starting hearing them all – the ‘Charlie’s Angels’ references, ‘cheerleaders in court,’ ‘Legally Blonde’ times 3,” according to a 2005 NUVO cover story by Ed Wenck.
Two of the original “Angels,” Kena Hollingsworth and Christina Zivitz, co-founders of the Carmel firm now known as Hollingsworth and Zivitz P.C., reflected on their branding. Hollingsworth said, “It is funny, we never sought out to be an ‘all female firm.’ Rather, we hired people who could treat clients well. It just so happened that we were all women.”
Whether it was by design, this branding dramatically differentiated the firm.
In a practice area that overflows with competition, H&Z continues to consistently brand the firm with a contemporary logo, bright colors and stylish photos of the staff. Plus a slogan that says it all: “Hire us before your spouse does. 317-DIVORCE.”
Traditional print advertising is now complimented by digital media. H&Z also likes to take a few risks, such the now famous “divorce bus,” which has the firm slogan plastered on the side.
“We are good lawyers and we take it seriously. Some may say negative things about our advertising, but so be it. You cannot make everyone happy,” Zivitz noted.
Still no substitute for in-person customer service
No matter what the business, if a customer isn’t treated well, they won’t be back. Lesson No. 1: Practice great in-person customer service.
Jayne Hayden might be known as the receptionist at other places. But at WKW, she is known as the “Director of First Impressions.”
Second, in the midst of all the new-wave marketing choices out there, so many forget the impact of good ol’ grassroots marketing.
While Carmel estate law attorney Rebecca W. Geyer certainly knows the necessity of a great website and the engagement of social media marketing, she said, “There is still no replacement for getting to know a potential client or referral source face-to-face. Ninety percent of my business comes from direct referrals from existing clients, other attorneys, financial advisers and others. People prefer to utilize the services of someone recommended to them rather than taking a chance on an unknown. A lead which comes from someone who already knows you and can vouch for the services you provide generally means you don’t have to worry about making a sale; your referral source has already done it for you.”
Global exposure on a minimal budget
“People now search online. Truth is, 70 percent of buying decisions are made before the potential customer even reaches out to the business,” said Brown, who markets exclusively through social media, the Internet and podcasting. “Blogging is also important.”
Some people prefer to listen, thus, the podcast. Others like to watch. You can cross-leverage all of these mediums together. All you really need is a microphone and a computer. You can buy a good microphone for less than $15. Your video camera is probably built into your laptop.
Now you ask, “But how do I find the time?” The best advice: Don’t try to do it all at once. An easy start is to find a paralegal, assistant or an intern who has an interest in marketing. Once you see your client base build, the budget will be there to do more.
One thing is for sure: Nothing happens when you don’t market yourself.•
Jon Quick is the president/founder of Carmel-based QPR and Marketing, specializing in marketing for law firms. With over 25 years experience in media, Quick is a former manager with CBS and Emmis Communications. He can be reached at 317-432-0309 or by email at his website QPRmarketing.com. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.