Jan 05, 2009

Should You Hire A Marketing Expert?

Free information on marketing a law practice abounds on the Internet. Just visiting the law marketing blogs listed in the sidebar here could provide you with several weeks' worth of material on marketing a practice. And if you tire of blogs and online materials, there's a wealth of marketing books for lawyers and non-lawyers (next week, I'll list some of my favorites).  Still, let's say that despite these free materials, you feel that you still need help to ramp up your marketing efforts.  Should you hire a marketing consultant or pay for a high end marketing package?  While I can't make the decision for you, below are several considerations that you should take into account in evaluating what types of marketing products and services to pay for.

Cost.  Marketing consultants can be costly, ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars.  Some consultants also produce marketing packages or tool kits, or may offer ongoing group coaching or master mind sessions.

Most marketing consultants will tell you that it takes money to make money.  Even so, that doesn't mean that you should mortgage your house to pay for marketing services.  If you spend more than you can afford, you'll add additional stress to your marketing efforts.  So instead, keep cost in mind when choosing a consultant or marketing package.  See if a consultant offers a group rate so that you can share the costs with other attorneys.  In addition, ask whether a product or a service is available on a trial basis or comes with a money-back guarantee.  Many times, selecting an appropriate service or product is a matter of trial and error, so it's important to have a way to get your money back if you don't receive any value from a program. 

Which product or consultant should you use?  With so many marketing programs and consultants available (just do a Google search if you don't believe me!), how can you choose?  Consider the following questions:
  • Is the consultant an attorney or former attorney?  My own personal preference is to choose a marketing consultant who is either a practicing attorney or who formerly practiced.  A close second is a consultant with considerable experience working with attorneys.  Why is working with a lawyer so important?  As many of us know, most bars heavily regulate lawyer advertising, imposing all sorts of rules ranging from the breed of dog that can be used on a law firm logo to  the legality of using client testimonials at a website to a lawyer's ability to join a business networking group.  To be sure, lawyer marketing consultants may not be familiar with ethics issues in all 50 states, but at a minimum, they'll be sensitive to them.  By contrast, a marketer with no background in the law or with lawyers could recommend a marketing campaign that revolves around an ethically prohibited practice.
  • Does the marketer have experience in your specific practice area?  Some marketing concepts -- such as the importance of follow-through or using a diverse portfolio of marketing techniques -- apply across the board, no matter the practice area.  But the effectiveness of other marketing practices may depend on a given field.  For example, networking with moms at the PTA or local mothers' groups may be effective for a probate practice, but it's hardly an effective way to lure a securities client.  Try to discern what type of experience a potential marketer has in assisting people in your practice area or, at least, a similar practice area.
  • What kinds of materials does the consultant or attorney make available as a trial?  Most marketers recognize that lawyers must feel comfortable with the marketer's style and approach to create a productive working relationship.  So these days, most marketers will make a reasonably substantial sample product -- such as a free tele-seminar or a recording or an e-book to download -- available at no cost.  Many marketers will also provide a free initial consultation.  This information can help you determine whether you would like to work with a particular marketer.
  • How effective is the marketer at marketing his or her own services?  Is your marketer effective at promoting his or her own services?  Does he or she have a professional-looking and substance-packed website or blog?  Or is the marketer's site sloppy, full of misspellings and lacking in any substance?  Point is, if marketers can't market themselves, how can they market you?
  • Can you contact personal references?  Will a consultant give you access to previous clients?  A personal reference from a former client will give an objective third-party evaluation of the marketer's skills. 
Avoiding red flags.  Sadly, there are all too many opportunistic gurus who see an opportunity to prey on desperate attorneys who are struggling in hard times.  Here are a few red flags to avoid:

  • The silver bullet. Some marketers will promise that their approach is a silver bullet -- the only program that you'll ever need to find success.  Trouble is, they may charge you five or ten thousand dollars for that so-called solution.  Ultimately, much as we'd like it, there's no magic marketing solution guaranteed to work for everyone.  If a marketer tries to sell you such a product, that's a huge red flag.
  • The blame-the-victim approach.  Some marketers will criticize you for asking questions about about their product, commenting that if you were really committed to your firm, of course, you would invest several thousands of dollars.  Or, if you decide on a program that isn't effective, a marketer may blame you for the poor results, claiming that you didn't work hard enough to make it succeed.  When it comes to retaining a marketer, you're the customer -- and the customer must be treated as if he or she is right.  If a marketer won't do that, don't bother using him.
  • High-pressure sale. Some marketers will tell you that they only have five slots left for the year and that you'll miss out if you don't sign up soon.  Though I can't be 100 percent sure, I'm fairly certain that most of these types of representation are mere puffery, designed to pressure you into a quick sign up.  Don't succumb.
  • Embarrassing practices.  Some marketers use embarrassing practices -- screaming crazy headlines and outrageous ad copy are two.  Is that the kind of approach you want to take in your marketing materials?  Others commit serious faux pas -- for example, some marketers advise lawyers to spam blogs for SEO, which is a serious breach of blogosphere etiquette.
The problem with many marketers is that they're, well...marketers -- and they want to sell you a service.  So long as you don't fall prey to empty sales pitches, take the time to review the materials that they offer at no charge, and engage in due diligence, you can hire the right person  -- on your terms.