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law firm advertising
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Get more bang for your buck

Law Firm Advertising Do’s and Don’ts

By Rich Bracken

Recently, I attended a presentation on the effectiveness of audio advertising. Think “sensory triggers,” like the way the hissing sound of a can being opened impacts your desire for a soda.

Of course, we’d all like to create advertising that makes prospective clients run to the phone the way we run to concession stands at the sound of fizzing fountain drink. But the presentation reminded me of the differences between advertising consumer products and legal services. It begged the question: Why do law firms advertise at all?

In a marketplace that demands highly targeted, measurable marketing, traditional advertising is losing steam compared with other strategies. Honestly, when was the last time a client called and said, “I would love to turn over my seven-figure legal spend to you guys because I loved your ad in that magazine”? Or, “After seeing your banner ad float over the article I was trying to read online, I want to set up a meeting”?

Making Strategic Advertising Decisions

As firms dive into planning next year’s budget, we could see advertising spending shrink dramatically or disappear altogether. To be as strategic and competitive as possible, consider these do’s and don’ts when planning your strategic marketing approach for the next couple of years.

Do: Use advertising as a brand awareness exercise

This applies to associations and publications that are specific to a practice or industry that your firm wants to be known in. When deciding the size and format to invest in, grab a previous copy of the material and flip through it. Which ads do you notice? Consider the looks that got your attention when designing your own ad. If your ad placement is on their website, browse the current site structure to understand your placement and visibility in both desktop and mobile versions.

Don’t: Use advertising as a business development activity

If you’re watching your phone after your ad goes live in a magazine, directory or on a website, you might be waiting quite a while. In a business development effectiveness report published by Thomson Reuters in 2017, advertising as a business development activity ranked last in effectiveness with a 5 percent rating. This is disturbing from a business development standpoint, as advertising also ranked as the third highest budgetary spend (15 percent) behind sponsorships (18 percent) and public relations (16 percent).

Do: Lean into digital placement vs. printed placement

As magazines fold left and right after failing to bridge print to digital, focus your spend on digital. Not only is it where your market is headed, but it’s also easy to track engagement and return on investment. By keeping track of where you are spending money and carefully monitoring the analytics for each spend, you can know exactly where your additional leads and revenue are coming from.

Don’t: Miss an engagement opportunity with a bland ad

This is your chance to tell a story. Use compelling images. Describe the problems you solve for clients. Show how well you understand your clients’ industries. A logo, vanilla mission statement and headshots won’t do the trick. Your ad should at least evoke one emotion when people read it.

Do: Track and analyze your previous advertising spend for a positive ROI

If you tracked it previously, it is likely to be quite low. Don’t bet your future spend on the one deal that came from your full-page ad. If you haven’t tracked it, you have already answered your question about whether or not you consider this a strategy or a task.

Don’t: Consider an advertisement that’s a one-off, siloed activity

Be prepared to redirect strategy in response to partners’ demand to advertise in their publication of choice just because “we’ve always bought an ad there.” All advertising should fit into a holistic strategy and be the driver of a consistent message. If your firm is primarily focused on growing the financial services division of your firm, look at all of your communication points for a consistent message. Identify the key publications and organizations these ads need to be placed in.

Do: Quantify your aggregate advertising spend

The main point of advertising is to raise brand awareness in a specific category and increase your revenue streams, right? So, if you’ve spent more than $10,000 in the last year on ROI-less advertising, you might consider other marketing and business development options. For example, you could build a sector- or practice-specific app that is flexible in content and more strategic from a business development standpoint. After all,  94 percent lawyers report using a mobile device “regularly” or “occasionally,” so an app is a convenience for clients and prospects while serving as an instant way to place your firm directly on their devices.

Rethink Your Approach to Advertising

Client decision-makers grow more discerning by the day. Cutting through the noise of the competition with advertising is like cutting a tough steak with a butter knife. The bad news is that your quarter-page ad in the trade association’s annual directory isn’t likely to bring in your next institutional client. The good news, though, is that you have a multitude of options for developing more agile and effective marketing programs and campaigns to be able to shift your spend strategically for better branding and business.

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Rich Bracken

Rich Bracken, Business Development Manager at Stinson Leonard Street, is an expert in providing creative approaches for retaining and developing new clients and advising on leadership and cultural opportunities. He is co-chair of the Legal Marketing Association of Kansas City, a frequent blogger and speaker on leadership and self-improvement and a regular contributor on Fox 4 News in Kansas City. Rich is a music aficionado who carries on a concert in his car every day. Find more at richbracken.com and follow him @richbracken1.

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