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Print or Online Advertising: Getting it Right

By Josh King

If you’re still advertising your practice in print—newspapers, magazines or directories—it’s really past time to dig deeper into whether this investment is still delivering value. Print magazine readership goes down by about two percent each year; readership for print newspapers and directories is plummeting at an even steeper pace. Net? The potential clients you’re trying to reach through these media are less and less likely to be there.

Print is Shrinking While Online Advertising Takes Off

People are abandoning print media in droves, preferring to get their news, gossip and stories online. This doesn’t mean you must abandon print advertising in all instances. There are still plenty of publications—particularly community and interest group-related—where print advertising can be effective for lawyers. But you should ruthlessly assess your print advertising campaigns for evidence of its effectiveness. Many advertisers are already doing so.

Online advertising nearly equaled print ad spending in 2011 and is projected to exceed it in 2012. By 2016, estimates are that online ad spending will be nearly double that of spending in print publications, as online ad spending explodes and print advertising stagnates. If you’re the type of person who would rather quickly cut a check for marketing and then get back to practicing law, this is an unfortunate trend.

No More Set-and-Forget Advertising

Your potential clients are getting their information from a multiplying number of sources these days, both offline and online. It’s no longer sufficient to plunk a credit card down for a newspaper ad or yellow pages directory listing. All business owners, including lawyers, have to analyze where their contacts are coming from and how best to reach them, dazzle them, and convert them into clients.

The Internet has not only made it harder on print by stealing readers, it has created a culture of performance-based advertising. Online advertising offers built-in analytics, optimization and performance options that simply aren’t available with print. This ratchets up the pressure on print media to provide advertisers with comfort that print ad dollars are well-spent.

There are things law practices can do to help validate print advertising that “feels” like it is working. By adding specific landing page URLs and trackable phone numbers to print ads, for example, lawyers can measure what kind of contacts a print campaign generates. This will help you understand if a particular publication is still delivering value.

It’s also important to take a long look at dipping your toe into—or expanding—your online marketing spending. Besides being the medium where readership is actually growing, the web offers more creative ways to reach clients, per-impression rates that are still far below print, and very robust targeting, analytics and optimization. Of course, just as with print, there’s no going back to set-and-forget marketing. Getting the most out of online marketing means thinking actively about what clients are looking for in a lawyer, how your practice is unique, and testing which messages resonate the most.

The legal market is increasingly competitive, while the information marketplace is increasingly fragmented. Whether your target clients are getting their information online or off, if you want to increase your business, you will have to put in the time to figure out how to reach them.

Josh King is vice president and general counsel of

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Marketing, Lawyer Advertising
Originally published September 26, 2012
Last updated October 18, 2018
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Josh King

Josh King is the General Counsel and Vice President of Business Development of Avvo, Inc., the largest legally related Q&A website where consumers get their questions answered by a community of rated attorneys. He received his J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.

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