While advertising has become just another part of day-to-day business at law firms, the key to success involves finding the proper medium and reaching the proper audiences.
Most corporate attorneys stay away from television advertising, said Mark Beese, marketing director for Holland & Hart. Not because television is perceived as a bad thing, but because they do not need to reach a general audience.
“We market differently from other firms because of our client base,” Beese said. “The firms who market using yellow page or television advertising, those are plaintiff’s attorneys. They do that to gain the widest audience to reach that individual client. We have business clients, so we do things a little differently.”
For that particular marketing message, the Web is crucial.
Ross Fishman, owner of Ross Fishman Marketing, a firm that specializes in legal marketing, said the Web is the most important marketing tool available to attorneys. The problem: all legal Web sites look alike.
“You go to a site, and they tell you they’re big, they’re old and they serve both individuals and Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “They tell you they are involved in every possible practice area and they are the best firm in those areas. Then they illustrate it using pictures of skylines, columns, gavels, scales of justice. They just all look alike.”
The trick, he said, is to distinguish a site from its competitors. Online video is being used more frequently, with lawyers talking about their particular area of the law. Blogs are being used as well. Some firms even use ghost writers to keep their blogs up to date, because lawyers are so busy.
“Good ads focus on what the firm does differently,” Fishman said. “Clients know that attorneys are smart. What they want to know is the value brought to them.”
And that’s where “business development’ comes into play, Beese said.
“Outside of the legal world, business development is spelled ‘sales,’ and it is seen as an acceptable — and critical — business practice,” Beese said on his blog, leadershipforlawyers.com. “Inside the legal world, where it’s about services, not products, there is a very central factor: People hire lawyers whom they trust. Trust is built over time through a series of positive interactions that give the client personal and business reasons to have you help solve, manage or eliminate a problem of consequence. And that’s where business development differs from marketing.”
But not every law firm is going totally tech. Fishman said he has a client, a corporate law firm, that is using billboards to reach new clients.
“Firms use giveaways, direct mail, blogs,” he said. “There’s a lot of focus in narrowing the audience, from general business to become the dominant force in a specific practice niche.”
And any stigma associated with advertising appears to be long gone.
“It used to be perceived that if you advertised, you were desperate, and law firms were reluctant to do that,” Fishman said. “Now a significant percentage of the largest, leading national law firms spend six- or seven figures on their advertising budgets. Their advertising is as good as or better than the advertising for commercial products. It’s reached a critical mass.”