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For lawyers, web marketing is what the French call a devoir — a “have to.” But most of you would rather wash your hands of it. You didn’t go to school for an MBA or marketing degree. You have a whole desk full of case files demanding your time and marketing is hitching for a spot in the backseat, at best. But the web is where the clients are and in today’s marketplace, Google is the ground from which law firms grow.
So you hire people to help you — consultants and companies in the fields of digital marketing, SEO, social media and online advertising. Some are really easy to work with, but they’re about as common as an 8-1 ruling in the Supreme Court. The trick is to find a marketing firm that can get the job done at the right price while keeping your blood pressure below call-an-ambulance level.
Easier said than done, but here’s some advice.
1. Know what your money is buying. Web marketing isn’t exactly inexpensive. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. Just know what you’re paying for. A good marketing firm will offer itemized transparency for its services, and that’ll keep you from feeling resentful about any “phantom charges.” Always ask for the itemized list.
2. Slow and steady wins the race. Web marketing, especially SEO, is not an impatient person’s game. Top 10 search results are not achieved overnight. Sure, you might see a blip here and there, but if you’re looking for instant gratification, you’re searching in vain. Think of it like the stock market. You’re investing for long-term gain.
3. Micromanagement is a killer. Attempting to micromanage your marketing will put you and your marketer in that blood pressure danger zone. You’re the lawyer. They’re the web gurus. You each have jobs to do, so stick to those. It’ll do wonders for the relationship.
4. Don’t get emotional. This isn’t “Dr. Phil.” Your relationship means everything, but that relationship should be built on performance, dependability and communication — not personality. Trust is important, and it takes time, but you should assess the firm’s effectiveness on the services they provide, not the extent to which you like them as people. The Golden Rule applies here, too — treat your marketers with the courtesy and respect you expect from them.
5. Work with good people. With so much of web marketing based on content, you need to be careful about who you are allowing to write about the law on your behalf. Stick with experienced and highly credentialed marketers and vet them, preferably they use only experienced legal professionals or attorneys to write your content. Your state bar will thank you for it (in the form of zero discipline for marketing blunders). Here again, you get what you pay for.
As a personal injury firm in a market as competitive as New York City, web marketing has been an integral component of our business development for many years. Personally, I have worked with a variety of legal marketers — including the familiar names — over the past decade. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.
Understand what a web marketer does and doesn’t do. You should have defined business objectives for your firm. These objectives should serve as a framework to outline the responsibilities for both you and your marketing firm. What role will you play in achieving those objectives? What are your expectations for results from your web marketer? If you can’t describe the vision of your firm, how will they know how they can help you? If you can’t define your expectations, how can you hold them accountable?
I always tell our marketing company that it’s their job to bring me the inquiries and it’s my responsibility to close the deal. Hold them accountable for their role, but take ownership of your own responsibilities, too.
Plan to make money. Lawyers aren’t always the best accountants and, too often, a firm’s relationship with a web marketer is based on a hope that throwing money in a general direction might generate profit. That isn’t a plan, it is poor math. Engage in an active dialogue with your marketing vendor about how specific strategies are tied to your bottom-line growth. There are marketing strategies tied to short-term returns (e.g., pay-per-click advertising), medium-term growth (e.g., SEO) and long-term goals (e.g., social media marketing). See rule no. 1, above.
A recent Attorney at Work survey showed that only 20 percent of firms that use social media marketing engage a third party to manage it for them. I don’t know about you, but I can make more money working cases than I can by updating Facebook! Still, I doubted that a vendor would be able to deliver a return from Twitter or Facebook. And delegating social media to staff or an intern didn’t guarantee the best results, either. So, rather than blindly throw money at a one-size-fits-all social media package, we worked on a strategy with our vendor that didn’t break the bank and took a long-term view to generate return-on-investment. We planned to make money.
Work with someone who is focused on you. One of the most important qualifications for a marketing company is a business model that allows them to focus on my firm’s objectives. Yes, they need the marketing expertise and experience with law firms — but they also need focus. I choose not to work with marketing companies that also work with my competitors. I choose not to work with a company that is trying to be the biggest in their industry. I choose not to work with a vendor who charges the highest prices for the privilege of working with them. To reach my business objectives, it is a prerequisite that my marketer is involved in discussions about my law firm’s vision and development, and that their efforts are focused on successfully playing their role in that journey.
Building a successful relationship and online marketing strategy requires your participation in the process. You should not be involved in the day-to-day execution, but you should take the time to identify the right marketer for your firm, ask the right questions and hold your marketer accountable.
As the old saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know. If you need web marketing advice, ask around. Maybe some of your law school friends practicing in other jurisdictions can share their experiences. A simple conversation can shed real insight.
You might be surprised by how much you’ll learn from the web marketers themselves. Ask them to educate you. Most are more than willing to elaborate on their history, their best practices and their approach to client management.
Working with web marketers isn’t always easy, but take these tips to heart and you’ll see long-term success instead of seeing red.
John Tucker is the Director of Case Management at the New York City personal injury law firm Kaplan Lawyers PC. John began his career handling claims for the insurance carrier Robert Plan. His unique understanding of the complex claims process enables him to expedite the process for clients, bringing swift resolution to their cases.
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