Adrienne Halladay, marketing consultant at Symphony Legal, explains why lawyers shouldn't be afraid of advertising – and how online advertising has become an essential part of law firm marketing. (Updated 1 Oct 2019)
The idea of advertising arouses mixed emotions for lawyers. Some see it as essential, others as outdated or in some instances as irrelevant. Many simply don't like the idea, feeling that advertising is perceived as ambulance-chasing or will harm the firm's professional image.
In reality, how you can use advertising effectively is likely to depend on your practice areas and brand. The digital world has changed everything. For example, firms can now create a set of fixed-price 'products' in a particular area of the law and can then use online advertising to bring in large volumes of new clients for those products — from all over the country.
Traditional advertising in the press and media is by no means dead either and this article will explain how to get the best results from it.
"PR is great for building your reputation and brand, but targeted advertising – particularly online through PPC advertising and paid social – delivers fast, measurable results"
David Kerr, client relationship director, Moore Legal Technology
The right advertising
Your decision on whether and where to advertise needs to be carefully researched to ensure that it is effective. Who are the target audience you are trying to reach and can you get your message out to this target audience? Will the advertising produce the desired impact and help with brand awareness and/or generate work?
Advertising works better for firms that can use it to win immediate business. Personal injury firms, for example, spend heavily on both traditional and online advertising to get their names in front of individuals looking for a lawyer.
Advertising can deliver similar results for other personal legal services, but advertising to commercial clients is more challenging. Even if you can target them effectively (for example, in trade publications for particular sectors) you are unlikely to win immediate instructions, as the need for commercial legal advice may be later on.
More often, legal advertising aims to start a relationship rather than ensure an instant payback. Your aim should be to capture new leads for your mailing list, to encourage people to follow you on social media, or to prompt sign-ups for your e-bulletin or indeed your seminar on recent legal changes.
Advertising can also be used simply to build awareness and strengthen your brand, for example with repeated ads in the local press.
Using an agency
Although costly, a good agency will have the expertise to handle advertising for you, including creating ads, choosing where to advertise and negotiating rates.
- Unless you have in-house expertise, you may find it difficult to create an effective ad yourself. However, if you only want help with ad creation, a freelance copywriter is a cost-effective option. More and more firms are getting external copywriters to write their website content and their ads, to ensure that they are not written with too legalistic a slant.
- As well as creating ads, an agency can recommend appropriate media channels and negotiate advertising rates. However, it is important to check upfront that they will pass on any discounts to you.
- An agency that offers a wider range of marketing services may give more objective advice on what role advertising should play and what other promotional tools you should consider in your marketing strategy.
Advertising in the media
Start by identifying the publications your clients read, and where appropriate the radio stations that they listen to. You can make an educated guess by asking clients themselves. Then you will need to contact publishers and broadcasters to get a copy of their 'media pack'.
Be clear about whether you are aiming at the local market or a wider audience. The 'quality' newspapers reach the sort of affluent, elderly demographic that many private client solicitors are after, but would be an extremely expensive way to target your local community.
Timing and placement are key to getting your ads seen by as many people as possible, so it is important that you know when your audience are most receptive. Ideally you want the minimum of clutter from other ads.
Divorce lawyers often find they get better results from advertising in January and February as research has shown a spike in the rise of divorce instructions in the first couple of months of the year. Likewise, research has shown that conveyancers may want to advertise more in spring and early summer. Advertising tied to changes in the law may be most effective when interest is at its highest, for example when a law is first proposed, or as implementation dates for legislation changes approach.
Larger ads, in premium positions, stand out more – think about what sections of a publication your clients are most likely to be reading. If you are advertising on the radio, do you want to reach commuters driving home or sponsor the weekly business review?
"Repetition works – the more often people see your ads, the more likely they are to act. So plan ad campaigns, not one-offs"
Ian Gandy, head of digital, Travelers
Your advertising message
Lawyers have a tendency to focus on the services they offer and the legal expertise they have. Whereas ads that work more effectively focus on what clients want.
- Use a headline that grabs attention. Focus on a single key benefit that gives people a reason to choose your law firm. Headlines like "Friendly approachable legal advice" or "Protect your intellectual property" work far better than simply highlighting the name of your firm.
- Reinforce the message. If you are advertising to individuals, images can work well – smiling clients, the keys to the door of the new house.
- Use testimonials (or legal directory rankings) to add credibility.
- Encourage the reader to take action – offer a free initial consultation or invite the reader to join your seminar on European intellectual property protection after Brexit.
The average law firm now spends more on online advertising – with Google and on social media – than advertising in publications, and with good reason.
Online advertising (also known as pay-per-click or PPC) lets you target potential clients with extraordinary precision. You can not only tie your ads to particular searches – "divorce lawyer Manchester" – but to local audiences (for example, targeting the most affluent postcodes and/or company directors) and at particular times of day. And you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad, taking them to your website.
Online advertising can work for lawyers in any practice area. Whether you are a specialist in international trust planning or motor industry litigation, you can focus your advertising on relevant searches and audiences.
However, creating a successful PPC advertising campaign takes skill. Some search terms are fiercely competitive and correspondingly expensive, with litigation-related diseases such as mesothelioma being obvious examples. You have very limited space to create an effective ad, and need to think not only about getting your targets to click through but deterring visits from those who are unlikely to become clients. You may well be sensible to take advice from a specialist.
"The beauty of PPC and other online advertising is that it is completely measurable. But these ads are a specialised skill, so choose an agency that understands your area of law and your specialisms, to make the ads really deliver"
Karen Babington, managing director, Solve Legal
Measuring cost-effectiveness is usually relatively straightforward for online advertising. You can track who clicks through to your website and what they do once there – for example, how long they spend on the site and whether they complete the contact details you were hoping for.
You should take a similar approach to traditional advertising. Make a habit of asking new enquirers how they heard of you. See whether you get more calls once you start running a campaign. Or use a dedicated phone number in your advertising.
Aim to track new enquiries all the way through to fee-paying clients, so that you can compare the costs of advertising with the revenue it generates. You can also compare it to the cost of other marketing methods, such as the time-cost of gaining 'free' PR coverage. You may well find that effective advertising costs relatively little and has a greater impact than the alternatives.
"Don't waste money on advertising unless you have a clear method to track your return on investment. This means having a system to record where all enquiries come from, and which enquiries convert to instructions"
Sue Bramall, managing director, Berners Marketing
Over the past few years online advertising has become a key recruitment tool for law firms. Not only has it cut costs, it has also enabled firms to cast their net much wider. A well-crafted online recruitment ad can be highly effective.
These ads can be promoted through a number of platforms. LinkedIn is the key one, especially for more senior positions. But your corporate Facebook and Twitter pages will also help to get the message out.
This recruitment approach has the added advantage of showing that your firm is progressive and digital savvy, in contrast to the more traditional law firms.
Advertising top ten
- Get help and advice if you need it; the extra impact your advertising has will justify the cost.
- Identify publications and other media that reach your target clients.
- Time your ads for when potential clients will be most receptive.
- Focus on what clients want, not just the services you offer.
- Clearly state what sets you apart from other law firms.
- Craft a simple message that highlights the key client benefit.
- Encourage people to take action; make it easy for them to contact you.
- Consider online advertising – it works.
- Build impact by running continuing campaigns.
- Measure what works; tailor your advertising campaigns and budgets accordingly.