Low-Cost Marketing For Small Firms Getting Your Name Out - And Bringing In New Clients - Doesn't Have To Cost An Arm And A Leg
By Kelly M. Fitzsimmons and Mary Hurley
When North Andover attorney Christopher A. Romeo trudges to the Laundromat, he posts a business card on the bulletin board.
After Richard M. Bennett and partner Robert M. Xifaras of New Bedford finish a set in their alternative rock/ska band X-Men, they don their business suits to provide legal counsel to other musicians.
Many attorneys like Romeo, Bennett and Xifaras want to market their services but are unable to hire a consultant or try other costly endeavors. But that doesn't mean there aren't some relatively inexpensive and easy opportunities for sole practitioners and small-firm lawyers to enhance their business.
Getting the word out about one's practice usually requires a mix of creativity and (at least some) cash. There are a range of options for practices from the start-up solo to the established law firm.
Here is what lawyers had to say about the following marketing devices:
One successful marketing approach is radio, says Robert K. Rainer, who commits money to radio time slots on WILD-AM. He chose the station because it targets a specific audience in Dorchester and Roxbury.
Xifaras has produced an ad for a college station's Saturday morning reggae hour. According to partner Bennett, Xifaras has researched the station and hour so that "the ad reaches the people he wants to cater to."
Rates vary by station and time, but a series of 10-second ads on a top Boston station midday might run you as much as $100. And it can be even more expensive than a television ad midday, notes Rainer.
But the money is well spent, says Rainer. "The radio ads have produced a lot of business. They have been very effective."
Television ads have generally been perceived as expensive, but with today's costs as little as $60 for an off-peak time slot, attorneys shouldn't necessarily dismiss this medium.
As Rainer's business has grown, he has introduced TV ads. The spots run during the day on a variety of channels and the ads mainly "focus on advising people if they are not satisfied [with current legal representation] to get a second opinion."
He also says that when he creates the ads, he makes valiant attempts to set themselves apart from other firms. "We market the phone number and portray the firm as a source of information, not as being 'braggarts.'"
Of course, TV and radio aren't for everyone. The costs for airtime and for producing the ads can pile up. And there's the intangible stigma attached to attorneys perceived by some as a bit too "forward" in delivering their message through the airwaves. But there are plenty of alternatives.
Among the three "major media" of TV, radio and print, print advertising is most utilized by attorneys. Attorneys cite mixed results from such ads, and differ on what publications are ideal.
Real-estate lawyer Patricia S. Johnstone of Gloucester has taken out an ad in a Hunneman-Caldwell Realty brochure, because the "listings are all regional." And, she notes, the realty company provides write-ups of area recommended law offices, one of which is hers.
Romeo previously took out ads in the now-defunct Winchester Town Crier, often takes out an ad in the area high school yearbook, and even has taken out ads in the State Police Association booklet.
"The ads are usually just in a business card or 3-by-5 inch [format]," says Romeo, who says these ads aren't too costly.
Worcester lawyer Burton F. Berg takes an ad out in Lawyers Weekly because he specializes in eminent domain, and he feels this type of ad "keeps his name in front of attorneys."
Rainer extends his use of the media to print ads also. He saturates the market with inserts in local papers like the Dorchester News, and also advertises in the Boston Herald and in Lawyers Weekly.
But there are detractors who feel that ads in "small-time" newspapers just can't get worthwhile exposure.
Christopher A. Kenney of Boston says that such ads are "just a waste of money."
One evolving medium that many attorneys seem to favor is the Internet. Don't look to the Internet for free marketing exposure, say lawyers, but in comparison to other media, establishing a Web page is fairly easy and inexpensive.
Richard L. Burpee of Boston, who feels his Web site serves as a useful "adjunct to his marketing efforts," says that it was an inexpensive venture because he got it up and running for under $1,000.
As more people jump on-line and competitive Internet servers offer cheap new incentives, lawyers, who were once resistant to new technology, are increasingly warming to the Internet.
William Kyros, the founder and owner of LawyerViews, which designs Web pages for lawyers, recalls a time when lawyers balked at the very idea of a Web page. "We're still learning how to use our word processor," lawyers would tell Kyros.
But Kyros stresses that the technology doesn't require expertise by the attorney. "That's one of the misconceptions, that you have to be a technical master," he says.
However, if you want to distinguish yourself from the pack by establishing a flashy Web site, employing a private designer can cost several thousand dollars, Kyros acknowledges. The monthly charge to maintain the site ranges from $30 to $100.
Is all that money really worth it?
"As we move toward a cybermarket, [advertising on the Internet] will be indispensable," says Kenney.
Romeo concurs with Kenney's sentiment and explains that he has already received "a number of hits" on his newly implemented Web page. He also finds it useful to e-mail people and even recruited a client in Colorado who he speaks to only by Internet.
Boston attorney Kenneth I. Kolpan, who specializes in closed-head injury cases, says Web surfers can plug in key phrases, such as "head-injury lawyer" and find his page.
He recalls a recent e-mail he received because an Internet user had entered the word "osteomyelitis" and came upon Kolpan, who used the term on his Web page.
Deciding what type of marketing strategy to employ is also heavily dependent on the type of practice.
When Jared W. Stansfield decided to open a law practice in Essex specializing in estate planning and needed to build a client base, consultant Silvia L. Coulter of Coulter, King, O'Neill of Boston advised him to take the direct-mail approach.
Stansfield was advised to target residents within a certain income range and age (no one under 35) who lived in a specific geographic region.
He purchased a mailing list and established a computer database with 2,000 names. The next phase was coming up with a message and then working with a graphics designer. Stansfield's idea: a letter that looked like a puzzle piece.
"Estate planning can be a puzzle," it said.
It worked, but it took time. Stansfield's mailings went out two or three times a year. Follow-up mailings, he contends, is critical. Stansfield sent post card reminders and other informational mailings.
"You have to do it over a period of time," he says. "It helps keep people aware of the name." And that means constant reinforcement. "I've had friends at cocktail parties say, 'Oh, I didn't know you were an estate planner.'"
"What we find is most cost-effective is direct mail," Coulter says. And that encompasses a whole range, from newsletters to postcards. Lawyers need to avoid the occupational hazard and avoid legalese. The goal is to write materials in easy-to-understand terms, she stresses.
Direct mail can be expensive, but it shouldn't be viewed as cost-prohibitive by sole practitioners or lawyers in small firms, Coulter says.
"You can get started on your computer and set up a database.
Kids can stuff the envelopes," Coulter notes.
Informational mailings known as "client alerts" are also considered to be effective and low-cost means of marketing. Typically, they focus on recent court decisions, or changes in the law with potential import for a client.
"It shows the client you are ahead of the curve," says Marcia C. Brier of Needham's MCB Consulting. "People [may] fear going to small practitioners because they feel they don't have the time to keep on top of the latest points of the law."
Burpee sends out a newsletter to existing clients and friends that is usually four pages long and focuses on a specific area of the law or new developments. In his last edition, Burpee discussed new estate-planning issues and the firm's recent office move. "The newsletter indicates what types of work we do," Burpee comments.
Ever look at the people who write op-ed pieces in the local paper and think, "I could do that?"
It's surprisingly easy, say attorneys. Getting a piece in The Boston Globe may be difficult, but local and specialty newspapers are always looking for well-written copy.
Kenney has drafted articles in many publications such as Lawyers Weekly and MCLE materials. "[Writing articles] communicates my area of expertise," notes Kenney, who believes his efforts have lead to many attorney referrals.
Burpee has been known to write articles that appear in a publication entitled "For The Defense."
Both lawyers know to pick a timely topic that will show their expertise, but avoid being blatantly self-promotional. No paper worth reading is going to run an ad disguised as an article, say lawyers.
"You don't want to toot your own horn," jokes Kenney.
Many small-firm lawyers and sole practitioners, of course, don't want to-or can't-spend thousands of dollars designing a Web page or taking out costly advertisements. That's when they have to look to "free" forms of marketing.
Seeking media coverage for a notable case is one way of getting "free" press.
There are certain types of practice areas (such as personal-injury law and criminal defense) that involve cases that the local press might be interested in. Writing a simple press release doesn't require a PR genius; in fact, it's very easy, say consultants. (See sidebar.)
If the local newspaper picks up the item, you've got some free publicity. If they don't, you've lost a few minutes of your time but no money, lawyers advise.
Bennett, who gained some notoriety after handling some commercial disputes, views press coverage as a great marketing tool. "It is amazing how many people read the local paper," he says.
Berg would bring a case to the press if his client wanted it, contacting both the local papers and Lawyers Weekly. He recalls the date Jan. 14, 1996, when he got a picture and quote in The Globe. "When that went in I started getting many more calls," he notes.
Salem lawyer Jacqueline V. Lees says that "any press is good press." And she well knows after Lawyers Weekly and the Salem Evening News did an expose of her partner's serious accident and the firm's future.
"I copied [the article] and sent it to clients, with a little note stating that I thought it would be interesting," says Lees.
Paying for the stamps and $1 a page for the color-copied article was an inexpensive and effective means of marketing, Lees states.
Lawyers should remember, however, that before photocopying a flattering article from any publication and sending it to clients, permission should be obtained from the publication to avoid any copyright troubles.
Speaking engagements at seminars have been particularly helpful in gaining referrals from lawyers and other professionals, Kolpan notes. "It doesn't cost you anything," he says.
Framingham attorney Mark D. Horan speaks at local events when asked to "disseminate information" for a lay public, and frequently attends chamber of commerce meetings.
Kenney, whose firm recently celebrated its first anniversary, holds free seminars for trade organizations involved in construction or insurance.
"It gives you a captive audience, you build up goodwill and make future client contacts," notes Kenney of his efforts. With overhead costs solely for research and preparation, Kenney feels that these seminars provide the "most bang for the buck."
Civic involvement is an old-fashioned strategy-but lawyers and consultants stress that it needs to be high profile and long term to be effective. Merely joining the local country club or business association may have worked wonders a generation ago, but no longer, say attorneys.
Donating professional time for a local fundraiser is one effective tool, says Stansfield.
As a volunteer at his daughter's school, he was asked to make a donation to a fundraiser and came up with the idea of donating a free hour of estate planning.
The donation brought in clients who didn't "win" but who had found out about his estate-planning work as a result of the fundraiser.
Johnstone is also involved with her Gloucester community, donating legal services, helping out with computer-literacy centers and serving on the school committee.
Of course, "marketing" comes in all kinds of other intangible forms.
There are, of course, "X-men" Bennett and Xifaras, lawyer/musicians who claim to have gained a notable client base due to their music.
"It is a residual effect of being in a band," notes Bennett, who says that many in the music industry have sought their help in issues ranging from domestic relations to adoption to industry contracts. "It has been an unintended marketing tool."
In an age where promoting one's practice is increasingly a necessity, attorneys recommend a number of these marketing media-a combination of low-cost or no-cost strategies to gain recognition.
"Be sure to accurately identify your goal," marketing consultant Carolyn Lavin recommends. "Whatever low-cost method you decide, be sure to do more than one."
For any form of paid advertising to be effective, lawyers need to avoid the "one-shot" hit, consultants say.
Advertising must be regular and consistent, and, ideally, placed in more than one publication.
"One-shot deals don't last in people's minds," says Brier. "It really takes eight separate hits for a client to remember your name and to remember you are a lawyer."
Boston lawyer Donald E. Green utilizes a lot of "hits," advertising in several local newspapers, in addition to the Yellow Pages, the Boston Herald and two radio stations.
The cumulative effect has helped to make his name well-known, he says, pointing to new clients who say they saw his name in an ad, but are unable to pinpoint the particular ad.
And to make an ad even more successful, it should "talk" to the client, Coulter says. "Always, always think about what the reader is feeling."
Do The Yellow Pages Work?
For most attorneys, advertising in the Yellow Pages has become de rigueur. Indeed, a recently released "Economics of Law Practice" survey by the Massachusetts Bar Association shows that 81.5 percent of attorneys in the commonwealth pay for a Yellow Pages listing-and 34.8 percent dish out what can be big bucks for a display ad.
But does Yellow Pages advertising really pay off?
Quincy lawyer Karen A. Christensen says it does.
For starters, it fits her personality. "I don't do an awful lot of networking," says Christensen, a sole practitioner who practices personal injury, divorce and family and workers' compensation law.
Worcester attorney Burton Berg provides another twist on the Yellow Pages' effectiveness. He notes that he is peppered with phone calls because alphabetical order puts his name near the top of the lawyer listings.
Framingham attorney Mark D. Horan is also a firm believer in the power of the page. Horan takes out a small box ad that describes the areas of law he practices. But he notes that "the ad can be extremely expensive depending on what community the book caters to."
In fact, there are a few potential drawbacks to Yellow Pages advertising. There is a preponderance of cold calls to handle and often an overwhelming ad expense.
Christensen notes that pre-screening is a necessity, a task often assigned to her secretary, who is skilled in that area. However, Christensen admits that she still "spends a lot of time on the phone. Maybe I'm just a maniac."
And she also spends $10,000 a year on ads in various editions of the Yellow Pages, targeting Quincy and surrounding South Shore communities as well as the Boston neighborhoods of South Boston and Dorchester.
"It's not a small amount, but to me it's money well invested," Christensen says. "About 65 percent of those phone book calls become clients. It really depends on how your ad is fashioned. It has to be tailored for you."
North Andover lawyer Christopher A. Romeo doesn't deny the Yellow Pages' effectiveness but recommends the Massachusetts and Boston bar associations' lawyer-referral service booklet as a cheap alternative-in the neighborhood of $70 per year.
While some attorneys and marketing consultants tout the results of Yellow Pages advertising, some still remain skeptical.
Christopher A. Kenney, a Boston practitioner, says that the only utility of the Yellow Pages is for an existing client or relatively new client to get your number if they need it in a pinch.
"No one should select an attorney by the color and size of the ad [in the Yellow Pages], because [that attorney] could have a major budget but may never have stepped inside a courtroom," Kenney states.
Salem attorney Jacqueline V. Lees agrees, saying that clients shouldn't look in the Yellow Pages to get a lawyer.
"It is like picking a doctor out of the Yellow Pages, you just shouldn't do it," she comments.
Lees also says such ads are rarely successful for a general practice like hers, although she concedes the possibility that personal-injury lawyers might benefit from the page exposure.
Christensen's opinion differs, saying that any attorney can glean benefit from the ads and that attorneys who had bad experiences with Yellow Pages may not be going about it the right way. She recommends working with a consultant to custom-design an ad.
She recalls one lawyer who complained to her that he had not received any response to his phone book ad. "It didn't work. It was too inclusive, there was no picture, it wasn't set up well," she says.
Advertise in local books first, Christensen says, if the attorney is considering a Yellow Pages ad. And it's also less expensive than the big book.
How To Write A Press Release
If you think you have a case that Lawyers Weekly might be interested in, all you have to do is fax us a copy of the case and include a note telling us why you think it's interesting.
But if you want to get the attention of the general press for a case or something else, you'll need to prepare a press release and send it to the appropriate news organization.
Many of the larger law firms have marketing professionals to take care of this, but writing out a basic press release is not a difficult proposition and can be done in a matter of minutes:
Here's how it's down:
Write a headline that will get an editor's attention. Most news editors are very busy-especially editors at small newspapers who may be handling several jobs simultaneously. You want to get the editor's attention with the headline and make him read the release. Editors get a lot of press releases during the course of a week. You've got to make it clear right away why your press release should be read and not thrown away. The headline should be centered and in bold and is often in slightly larger type than the rest of the text. Don't go over 15 words and never make the headline more than two lines.
For example, suppose you just received a $3-million jury verdict in a medical malpractice case, and it's believed to be the largest med-mal verdict ever in Essex County. In such a case, you don't want the headline to be "Jury Rules For Plaintiff" or something bland. Three million dollars is what will get the editor's attention. Your headline should be something like: "Essex Jury Awards $3M For Medical Malpractice-Largest Ever In County."
Write a lead that expands on the headline. You don't simply wants to repeat the headline, but the lead should echo the headline.
Say why the case warrants press attention. If it's a $3-million verdict that's the largest in the county's history, it's pretty apparent why the press should care. But you always must make sure the newsworthiness is stated, especially when it's not obvious.
Include a quote. You should "make up" a quote from yourself that says something interesting about the result. The quote should only be a couple of sentences. Oftentimes, newspapers will simply re-write the press release and incorporate all or part of the quote that is supplied. If the paper wants to do more on the case, a reporter will call you for "non-packaged" quotes.
Keep it simple. When you're dealing with a general interest newspaper, you've got to put things in the terms of a layman and avoid legal jargon. "You don't want it to be too legalese," says PR consultant Amy Blumenthal of Blumenthal & Associates. "Don't get bogged down in obscure, legal minutiae."
Be timely. Press releases often state up front "for immediate release" to give the release urgency and tip off the fact that news is being communicated. Attorneys "need to get it out there quickly," relates Blumenthal. "Lawyers don't always understand that it loses news value if it's not done quickly."
Identify who you are and what kind of law you practice.
You want to let the editor know that you have credibility in the legal community.
Include a contact person who a reporter can call if more information is desired. The contact person can be your secretary. While some lawyers might guess that it appears more professional to have a "representative" other than the lawyer himself listed as the contact, Blumenthal feels otherwise. "I don't think it matters," she says. "Whoever takes responsibility for the information should be the contact."
Follow the standard press release format. The mock press release shown here is how a press release is ordinarily written.
Keep it short. A press release generally runs two pages or less. If it's longer, you lessen the chances that anyone will read it.
Do not attach a copy of a court decision. If there's a written decision and the newspaper wants to see it, a reporter will ask for it. Attaching a long decision to a press release will merely turn editors off.
Know the publication you're "pitching" your press release to. Nothing frustrates an editor more than a press release sent by someone who clearly has never seen the publication. You should never send a press release to a publication you're not familiar with.
For example, if you just won a big UCC case, a business publication or the business section of The Globe or The Herald might be interested, but your local paper probably won't care. Sending a press release to an outlet that isn't going to care might hurt you if you ever want to send out a press release that the publication might care about. (In small news organizations, you might get the same person reading the release every time. You don't want the person to say, "Oh those jerks," and throw the release away without reading it.)
Not Just 'News'
Remember press releases can be used to promote notable cases, but can also be used to bring your personal accomplishments to the attention of news organization.
For example, if you're honored by a bar association or you bring on a new associate or even if Lawyers Weekly features you as one of the "Lawyers of the Year" or in some other fashion, you can send out a very basic press release to the local newspaper and probably get some additional PR.
Such a press release might be shorter than a press release for a case, but it still would follow the same basic format (although it probably wouldn't include a quote).
Blumenthal also stresses that, if a reporter does call, return the call immediately. "You have to get back to them in a timely fashion," she says. This is sometimes lost on lawyers, who are unaware or indifferent to press deadlines, Blumenthal notes.
Reprinted with permission of Lawyers Weekly Inc.
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