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Marketing Legal Services

Most Marketing Lists Are Malarkey

By Bruce W. Marcus

If you want to know how to get more clients, there’s a flood of information out there. Google it! But just as there are good lawyers and … not so good lawyers, there’s good marketing advice and, well, let’s just say that some of it’s oversimplified. Bruce Marcus is a longtime authority on professional services marketing. It’s those “best marketing tools” lists that make him nuts. Today he explains why.

You Can’t Rank-Order Effectiveness!

Every so often, another list of marketing activities appears, ranked, we are told, in the order in which each activity contributes to marketing success. Nonsense. There’s no such thing—at least not for marketing professional services. Let’s take a look at a recent list:

  1. Proprietary research
  2. Seminars
  3. Articles
  4. Speeches
  5. Attendance at industry meetings
  6. Websites
  7. Networking
  8. Indirect referral sources
  9. Community activities
  10. Getting quoted
  11. Newsletters
  12. Brochures
  13. Cold calls
  14. Direct mail
  15. Advertising

Each of these marketing tools is different from the others in many ways, requires different skills and serves a different purpose. Any one of them may more effectively reach a specific market at a specific time. Each can contribute to enhancing your reputation and name recognition. Rarely, however, except in a well-rounded marketing program, do any of them work alone—no more than a cabinetmaker makes a piece of furniture with just one tool.

For example, proprietary research, of itself, produces no clients. But to run any marketing campaign without a careful and thorough analysis of the market is at the very least foolhardy, and will certainly diminish the total marketing program. Seminars, ranked second in importance in the list here, will demonstrate a firm’s talents, but they will produce clients only if there is some kind of thoughtful follow-up afterward that allows partners to begin the networking process.

Advertising sits at the bottom of this list—is that because it is deemed the least effective marketing tool? There’s a famous Business Week ad that makes the point about advertising’s purpose and value. It pictures a stern-looking man, in a swivel chair, saying: “I don’t know you, I don’t know your firm, I don’t know your product…. Now, what are you trying to sell me?”

Advertising professional services is very different than it is for products. It’s least effective when the expectations for it are larger than its ability to meet those expectations. Repeated often enough for impact, however, advertising delineates your skills and experience, and it can substantially boost your other marketing activities.

Direct mail and email work to demonstrate skills, but more importantly, these tools target specific prospects. Social media are too limited to function alone. Networking works if done correctly, but it’s just sociable otherwise. Articles are useful, particularly for small firms or solos, but only if there’s follow-up. And so forth.

Clients, particularly for an established practice, can come from anywhere. (By the way, I don’t see relatives on the list.) And yes, smaller or solo firms can get recognition locally by writing articles and joining local organizations. But as a firm grows and needs a larger influx of new clients to sustain that growth, a full-scale marketing program must use all or most of the tools on that list—in concert, with each supporting the activities of the others.

The Nature of Professional Services Marketing

Unlike mass marketing for products, law firm marketing builds reputation and name recognition. It may develop leads, but ultimately it produces only one client at a time.

It’s important to consider your return on investment in this context: While the effectiveness of your marketing program is ultimately proven in the firm’s growth and success, it happens over time—and usually at some time away from any single marketing activity. A series of articles—or Facebook posts, or tweets—may display your specialties and competencies and lead, for example, to invitations to address an industry group and produce leads. But this rarely results in being directly retained. Joining an appropriate organization may lead to lunch with a banker, which may result in introductions to prospective clients. But the prospect must ultimately be sold—sold—and by the lawyer with the appropriate expertise to address the prospect’s needs.

Marketing a law firm is not simple. It requires a broad array of skills—often more skills than a single person can be expected to have mastered.

Just Ask Three Simple Questions

The marketing tools—or the combination and timing of the tools—that will be most effective for your practice will be unique. To determine them, answer three simple questions to define your marketing strategy:

  • Who will you market to? First you must know your target audience—who they are, what they do, what kinds of services you offer that they may need now or later. This is the definition of your market.
  • How will you reach them? You have to figure out how to reach them—their preferred common media, their industries, their trade associations and so forth.
  • What are their needs? You must know and understand their needs in order to sell your services directly to the given needs of the potential client. Only then can you choose your tools.

Looking again at that list, it is impossible to say that one is more effective than another, except in the context of the market, its needs and the role each plays in your marketing program.

Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing, the author of Professional Services Marketing 3.0 (Bay Street Group, 2011) and the co-author of Client at the Core (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). His Email address is 

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Categories: Daily Dispatch, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published October 17, 2012
Last updated May 4, 2018
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Bruce W. Marcus

Bruce W. Marcus is acknowledged as a visionary and advocate for marketing and business development as a professional function within professional services firms. Marcus, author of several books and editor of The Marcus Letter on Professional Services Marketing, passed away in December 2014. His writings include Client at the Core (John Wiley & Sons) and Professional Services Marketing 3.0 (Bay Street Group). In 2015, the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) creating the Bruce W. Marcus Lifetime Fellowship Member program.

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