January 2010 Archives

January 31, 2010

The Billboard: The Last Frontier of Conventional Advertising, But Should Lawyers Try It?

Conventional advertising is going the way of the dinosaur.   Declining newspaper circulation means fewer outlets for print advertising, and reduced visibility for ads in the print publications still in existence.  The advent of services like Hulu or Tivo enable consumers to bypass television commercials entirely.  Meanwhile, more and more consumers are spending time online, making the Internet and more recently, mobile technologies the hotspot for ads.

Still, there's one last bastion of conventional advertising:  the billboard.  As David Sparks discusses at SocialMedia.biz, the billboard survives social media because there's no way to avoid outside ads:

As I'm wait­ing for the bus, dri­ving my car, or sit­ting on pub­lic tran­sit, I can't not look at the adver­tis­ing. It's actu­ally some­thing to do. I can't look at the peo­ple. You know what hap­pens if you make direct eye con­tact with any­one on the bus? They'll think you're com­ing on to them or you're a psy­chotic killer. Isn't that every­one who rides the bus?

But is billboard advertising appropriate for lawyers?  Frankly, I don't know, so I searched around on the web, and here's what I found:

1.  Billboard ads can be effective

San Antonio, Texas based family law attorney Michael McLees invested roughly one thousand dollars a month in a billboard to market his new practice.  McLees' billboard is simple and in good taste (insofar as billboards go) with just his picture, firm name, phone number and tagline, Family Matters.  Over at his blog, McLees reports that the billboard does in fact generate clients.

Traverse City, Michigan lawyer Enricho Schaefer also reports that billboards are effective, even for law firms such as his with a dominant internet presence.  Schaefer's billboard is also tasteful, featuring many of his firm's local clients, who appreciated the added exposure.

2.  Billboards can also be cheesy or carry negative connotations

Though billboards can be effective, there are also drawbacks.  Some billboard advertising is cheesy and or controversial.  And sometimes, it can reflect poorly on a lawyers' abilities.

Chicago, Illinois attorney Corri Fetman stirred up a controversy with her Life's Short, Get a Divorce billboard featuring the scantily clad torsos of a woman and man.   Many fellow lawyers criticized the ad as trivializing divorce, or as simply undignified.  There's no word on whether the ad attracted clients, but it certainly received wide media coverage.

Meanwhile, in Houston, Texas, DWI lawyer Tyler Flood put up a billboard on a street known for a high number of drunk driving arrests.  Flood's billboard, depicted here, asks drivers to keep Flood's number on their cell phones, prominently warns them that if arrested, DON'T BLOW (i.e., take the breathalyzer test). Not surprisingly, law enforcement officials are critical of the billboard, claiming that it provides bad advice since drivers who decline to take a breathalyzer test can have their licenses suspended for three months, or in certain cases, be subjected to a blood test.   However, Flood's billboard passed muster with the state disciplinary committee which reviews billboards in advance of publication.

Billboards can also carry negative connotations.  Memphis, Tennessee lawyer James Ferrell has a poor impression of  "billboard lawyers" in his neck of the woods, many of whom have never taken a case to trial:

Of all the lawyers who heavily advertise on billboards, city buses and television, I know of only one (and I won't say which one) who is actually a credible trial attorney.  Most are virtually unknown in professional circles, except by reference to their advertising.  Most seldom if ever try a case in court. Most never speak at continuing legal education programs, and  attend barely enough CLE to keep their licenses. Hardly any are active in professional organizations.

When clients have asked me to consider taking over cases that those firms had been handling, I have been appalled at the lack of the most basic forms of investigation and preparation.

Conclusions regarding billboard ads

Based on my review of lawyers' experiences with billboards, I arrived at the following conclusions.  First, billboard advertising may survive social media, but that doesn't mean that it's for everyone.  Billboard advertising doesn't come cheap so unless you receive some tangible returns like McLees or Schaefer, it's probably not worth considering. 

Second,  if you're going to advertise by billboard, keep it simple and tasteful.  Billboards that are cheesy or brazen generate controversy but they can also offend prospective clients and harm the public image of all lawyers. 

Finally, bear in mind that a billboard is no substitute for excellence:  high quality work and scrupulous ethical standards in every case that you handle.  Even if you put the resources into advertising by billboard, you're not going to attract clients if you're a lousy lawyer because those clients may still ask around about the quality of your work.  
Billboards may be the last bastion of conventional advertising -- but there's nothing to stop consumers from Googling you on the Internet after they've found you on a billboard. 

January 29, 2010

Why Are You Marketing Your Law Firm?

Why are you marketing your law firm? 

Maybe that sounds that a stupid question.  After all, isn't marketing all about making money? 

Not necessarily.  True, in some instances, a law firm may initiate a marketing campaign that's designed to attract more clients.  For example, marketing techniques like special discounts on estate planning or incorporating a small businesses or free consultations in a market where they're not traditionally offered are largely intended to bring more client matters through the door to generate more revenue. 

Trouble is, if your primary goal isn't short term cash infusion, then discounts or free consults or doing whatever your competitors are doing won't help - and in fact, may actually hurt your practice.  Let's take the hypothetical case of Louis, a busy immigration lawyer.   Due to a couple of contacts in his country of origin, Louis has dozens of clients beating down his door.  He's so busy he can barely keep pace.  And yet, neither can he afford to hire an associate to share the workload.  That's because to date, Louis' business model has consisted of charging less than other lawyers but making it up in volume.  For Louis, additional discounts would exacerbate his stress rather than improve his practice. 

Louis' immediate goal isn't necessarily making more money.  Instead, he needs to be more concerned with keeping his income at the same level by cutting down on the number of clients.  To do that, he needs to implement marketing techniques that will help him improve the quality of his client base.  How to do that?  Education based marketing initiatives like ebooks or blogging might be one place to start.  Clients who take the time to learn about the immigration process are often better educated and therefore, potentially higher earners.  In addition, by using educational tools to explain the complexity of the immigration process and the need for expertise, clients will come to appreciate the value of the service provided and may be willing to pay more.  Another way to find better quality clients is through use of testimonials.  A former client's recommendation is powerful and lets potential clients know that you have the ability to assist them effectively - which also enhances your value to them. 

In other cases, a lawyer's primary goal in marketing may be to expand or diversify a practice.  Here again, discounts and free consults aren't the most effective way to go.  Instead, stepping up networking events with other lawyers would help more because they give you a way to get the word out about your new practice area.  Likewise, speaking engagements on your new practice area are a way to introduce yourself to new audiences who may need your services.

Ultimately, better quality clients or an expanded practice will yield more money in the long term.  But if quality of life or diversity are your short term goals with money being an added reward, then discounting services or running expensive television or newspaper ads aren't necessarily going to bring you closer to those goals.
January 13, 2010

More on Mobile Marketing

Back in August, I mentioned a Pew Internet Report which found that approximately one third of African Americans access the Internet through a cell phone or other mobile device.  I recommended that lawyers serving African American clients make their websites and blogs mobile compliant to facilitate easy access via a hand held device. 

Now, I realize that I should have expanded my advice.  Because even if only a tiny portion of your target clients currently access the web through mobile devices today, very shortly, many more will.  By 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device, predicts Gartner Research.  Thus, as we move through the second decade of the twenty-first century, all lawyers will reap benefits by expanding their marketing efforts to the mobile arena, while those who fail to will lose out.

From Gartner's Press Release:   

the total number of PCs in use will reach 1.78 billion units in 2013. By 2013, the combined installed base of smartphones and browser-equipped enhanced phones will exceed 1.82 billion units and will be greater than the installed base for PCs thereafter.

Mobile Web users are typically prepared to make fewer clicks on a website than users accessing sites from a PC. Although a growing number of websites and Web-based applications offer support for small-form-factor mobile devices, many still do not. Websites not optimized for the smaller-screen formats will become a market barrier for their owners -- much content and many sites will need to be reformatted/rebuilt.

While 2013 is still three years away, lawyers are better off getting out in front, rather than scrambling to play catch up.  So what can lawyers do to expand their presence in the mobile online world?  Below are four ideas:

1.  DO design websites and blogs with mobile use in mind.  The
Online Marketing Blog recommends keeping fonts basic, stripping out images to optimize loading time, remove third party services from side bars and focus on delivery of content.   For those running WordPress based blogs, design for mobile devices is even easier: you can use a WPtouch iPhone
If you run a WordPress blog, you can use a
Word Press iphone theme plug-in to automatically create a small-screen friendly version of your blog.

2. DO develop content with search in mind.  As web access goes mobile, find-ability will be critical.  After all, users aren't likely to have the patience or agility to run Google searches and scroll through results on a 2" x 3" screen that downloads slowly.  Moreover, a significant percentage of mobile users will be searching for local assistance:  consider, for example, an abused wife who's left her home and needs a lawyer to file a restraining order or a businessman arrested for DUI.  In both of these scenarios, the prospective client will be searching for a lawyer away from home and will want to find someone within a specific jurisdiction.
 
The Online Marketing Blog suggests focusing on local directories (a topic I wrote about here) to improve find-ability in mobile search:

The best way to ensure you are found on mobile devices is to make sure your site is in all the local search directories with full and accurate profiles. Places like Google Local and Yahoo local probably receive more traffic from users who want to find business in a certain area. When I've used my phone to search the web, I was searching for specific businesses to visit.  Social networking through mobile is also popular and through links, can drive web site traffic. A combination of search and social is the direction where I see the bulk of mobile traffic going.

3.  DO explore creative ways to establish a mobile presence, but DON'T be tacky.  Fort Lauderdale, Florida based lawyer, Jason Turchin just released the free iphone MyAttorney app, reports the Florida Sun Sentinel.  Granted, the MyAttorney feature which enables cell phone users to call their lawyer at the touch of a button arguably meets the tacky test.  But in my view, MyAttorney is redeemed by inclusion of useful tools, such as a checklist of what to do in an accident and a feature for submitting a case inquiry and uploading and submitting photos.

4.  DO get moving on video  Nearly a year ago, I wrote about the importance of video to online marketing.  As user access moves to mobile devices, video marketing takes on even more importance.  For some users, reading text on a mobile device, can prove cumbersome even at an optimized site.  By contrast, video is much easier to view on a phone, and users can still listen even if they have difficulty seeing the video, they can listen.   Most mobile phones already integrate YouTube seamlessly into their design, and consumers have grown adept at watching videos on the small screen.  Chances are, they'll be equally adept at listening to education-based videos or scrolling through video interviews with attorneys on their phones as well.      
   
Are you good to go in this decade's on-the-go marketing world?  And if not, what are you doing to prepare?