In the time I spent in-house for a global company and focusing on marketing to lawyers, one of the questions I’d consistently hear in the course of work from attorneys was this:
There’s so much noise in marketing, how can I tell what is real and what is snake oil?
The size of the firm didn’t seem to matter either. The question was always the same and has a lot in common with the greater B2B community.
In my travels around the web in those days, one of the legal marketers I’d consistently run into was Larry Bodine. He had a strong point of view on this question, in part derived from his experience in the field.
He started his web and marketing consulting business in 2000 after working 9 years as the marketing director at Sidley Austin, LLP in Chicago. More recently, he’s served as the senior legal marketing strategist at LawLytics.
Larry is my guest in this latest interview in the Off Script series.
1) What are the top challenges facing law firm marketers today?
The top challenge for marketers today is disregarding the latest sparkly things (social media, SEO, paying for leads, .law domains) and focusing instead on real techniques that generate new business. This includes training attorneys to conduct face-to-face business development – and also having a current and comprehensive online presence.
By this, I mean a frequently updated blog. It’s true that the more you blog, the more clients you get. This is because all clients – corporations and consumers – will check your site to see if you can show a depth of experience. Further, an encyclopedic blog will mean that your attorneys rank high in online searches.
2) Do you believe law firm marketing has become harder or easier in the last few years?
It’s not harder for smart marketers. I’ve read repeatedly for the last 15 years that it law keeps getting more competitive, yet the clever attorneys prevail. They are the ones who get found in Google, the ones who appeal to Millennials by giving back to their community, the ones who are giving talks at meetings of clients. Human nature hasn’t changed, and the tried-but-true methods still work.
3) Is law firm marketing different from other vertical industries?
It’s different because it’s hard to get attorneys to make a decision, or to be the first to try a new marketing initiative. Compare lawyers with accountants, who are quick to decide but reluctant to spend any money. Law is one of the three classic professions, including medicine and clergy. In the end, I don’t think doctors and priests are that different from attorneys.
See these related interviews:
Diversity, Politics and MBAs in the Business of PR; Off Script #20: James S. Walker
The Interim CMO as Change Agent; Off Script #19: Sophie Shiatis
The Benefits of Being a Good PR Agency Client; Off Script #18: Rich Young
4) There so much conflicting information on marketing – SEO, content, social, PR – how can lawyers distinguish between what’s real and what’s snake oil?
SEO is snake oil. Social media is a complete waste of time. Public relations is a great way to get quoted in the news. Online content is king (referring to a blog).
5) What’s one aspect of marketing you find lawyers under appreciate?
Lawyers went to law school so they wouldn’t have to sell. But surprise! To get new business, a lawyer has to sell. The Dale Carnegie techniques of meeting new people, going to meetings and speaking in public will always work. Lawyers don’t appreciate that this in-person marketing must have an equivalent online presence. (See More Clients Find Attorneys Online than From Referrals).
Also, making the most of online reviews has become important. Many clients start their online search with the best-reviewed law firms in Google. (See Review Marketing Becomes Top Priority for 2017).
6) Are there any examples of marketing campaigns or programs you’ve seen law firms produce that you thought were especially effective?
I find that the best examples come from small law firms.
The Shouse Law Firm in California gets a lot of business online. Its website lists the elements of 200+ California crimes with links to the state criminal code. It’s a great business development tool because potential clients start their search for an attorney by looking up what they’ve been charged with.
Plaintiff lawyer Kurt D. Lloyd of Chicago wrote the definitive book of jury selection in Illinois. He created a website to promote it and generate requests. He gives away copies to lawyers who will refer cases.
The Stevens Firm Family Law Center in South Carolina has a nice blog. It’s updated frequently and has Buzz Feed style headlines like “3 Reasons Why It’s Smart to Handle a High Net-Worth Divorce Out of Court.”
7) If a law firm decided to cut its marketing budget by 10% in 2018, where would you recommend they trim the spend?
I would cut:
– Social media
– paying for leads
– print advertising
– ads in charity programs
– pay per click advertising
– directory listings.
The rule is: if you can’t measure the results, eliminate it.
8) If a law firm decided to increase its marketing budget by 10% in 2018, how would you recommend they invest it?
The best way to spend an additional 10% is identifying the practice area that generates the most revenue, and hiring a content writing company to compose 10,000 to 15,000 words of online content about it.
For example, many plaintiff lawyers are investing in mass tort cases (product liability lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies). We worked with an East Coast law firm to write thousands of words of content about a particular mass tort. The site answers every possible question a client would ask about the issue. As a result, the law firm consistently appears on page 1 of a Google search for that tort and gets good leads every day.
For more great ideas see The 10 Most Effective Law Firm Marketing Techniques
9) Quick take finale:
- One company with marketing you admire is… John Fisher, a medical malpractice attorney in New York, for his Mastermind Experience.
- You’re favorite marketing campaign of all time is…Levin Papantonio of Florida for their “Ring of Fire” videos.
- One person you recommend following on Twitter is…Victoria Blute (@victoriablute)
- One publication or blog you read regularly is…HubSpot.
- If you weren’t doing what you do now you’d be…advising candidates for elected office.
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[Editor’s Note: I don’t agree with all the views expressed here 100%. For example, I’ve found SEO to be a process, not an event. It’s a series of actions you need to do consistently, over time, that adds up to a big difference (i.e. quality link building, smart internal links, headlines that make good on their promise so people click and stay, descriptive URLs, a librarian’s approach to content tags, using the language of buyers, images right-sized for load speed and with ALT tags — and many more actions).
Missing a couple of these things isn’t the end of the world. But doing them with discipline does make a difference in the long run. As evidence, I’d invite you to go search for “law firm business development” and you’ll see my byline from several years ago still at the top of search for this term (and many related ones) and why I know this to be true. There’s no such thing as agnostic search anymore but try it incognito for good measure.
Unfortunately, unsavory characters masquerading as SEOs have destroyed the credibility of the industry by injudiciously wasting client budget on excessive research, force fitting keywords, directory submissions (which can create links that hurt a site), and generally forgetting that search engines like Google serve people.
The goal of SEO is to help search engines understand content in order to return information for which people are searching. In my experience, when PR, content marketing, and SEO are on the same page, it’s a powerful marketing combination. To that end, the spirit of Larry’s insight here is right on in my judgment.]
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