During this period of extreme austerity, law firms continue to look for opportunities to cut costs, create efficiencies, and make their efforts more effective. Because there are elements of marketing that are not part of the legal nomenclature, they are not a consideration in this adjustment. One such area of strategic marketing is “Marketing Communications.” Lawyers know about advertising, rainmaking, and social media, but the notion of marketing communications remains a mystery.
A fundamental understanding of this term and process can be beneficial to all lawyers and their firms. If nothing else, it will make you aware of additional marketing possibilities. Why not use all the tools available to you?
As usual the best place to start is with a definition. Simply, “marketing communication strategically combines the appropriate communication tactics that can inform the client about your products, identify their benefits, persuade the client to purchase, and provides a means for actually making that purchase.”
It has a formal planning process that starts with objectives.
Marketing communication has four sequential objectives:  make the target market aware of your organization, i.e., recall and awareness  educate the target market about your organization, i.e., information and attitude change  persuade the target market to engage in the requested activity, i.e., trial and purchase, and  encourage the target market to stay engaged with your organization, i.e., repurchase. These objectives are sequential, which means you should get attention, educate and persuade, before you can expect a prospect to hire you.
Here’s an example of a marketing communication objective for a law firm:
“ Increase the awareness of our firm, with our client base for family law, by 20%, via our website, by 12-31-10.”
Once you have selected your objectives, you can determine how to achieve them. You have options.
Marketing communications consists of two related tasks: (1) create messages that achieve your objectives, and (2) select the most effective delivery venues.
Here a few general recommendations you might follow in creating a viable marketing message for your firm:
- Create a story that will resonate with your various target audiences. Why do you exist? Why should they hire your firm? Avoid bragging about your credentials.
- Focus on product attributes, both intangible and tangible. Are you successful? Ethical? A good value?
- Develop a brand strategy. For law firms, consistent success and positive word-of-mouth are more important than an elaborate branding strategy. Avoid investing in all the ancillary elements of a brand, e.g., design, logo, tagline —you can’t afford them.
- Employ a tone of delivery that combines logic, empathy, and accountability.
- People mostly want to know how you help people and organizaions that have legal problems. Provide evidence.
- Make sure every form of marketing communication [deliverd by your people and media] is consistent.
The message and media strategies must be put in context. There are five primary marketing communication tools available to every law firm:  Personal Selling,  Advertising  Public Realtions,  Sales Promotion, and  Direct Marketing. Each tool is more or less effective depending on the objective. Here are how they fit.
Personal Selling a.k.a. Rainmaking [face-to-face communications with sales as the goal] Suggestions:
- this is the most effective communication tool and there should be a strong emphasis on strategic personal selling throughout your firm.
- all partners, associates and employees are expected to engage in soft selling techniques that employ the common message discussed earlier and are comfortable to the individual doing the selling [in-house training could be helpful]
- a FAQ document should be provided to all individuals expected to sell and buy
- a 10-15 slide power point presentation should be made available to all members of the law firm
Advertising [communicating through mass media to get attention and reinforce] Suggestions:
- mass media advertising is impractical for most law firms and should be avoided unless you can partner with an appropriate complimentary organization that will provide/ share the financial support
- implicit advertising may be delivered through cost-free social media and the firm’s website
Sales Promotion[an extra incentive to act] Suggestions::
- a law firm can allow sampling of your various products offered via video clips, personal interviews, or office visits
- a law firm should research their clients in order to identify ways that enhance the value provided to them
Public Relations [creating goodwill and enhancing image] Suggestions:
- sponsoring events, workshops, training, and pro bono activites are part of the public relations strategy –entertaining only takes you so far
- connect with local media, identifying editors/reporters who cover your specialities
- identify and train two lawyers in your firm who can respond to request from reporters [there are several websites where reporters list their needs]
- identify regional organizations that have a need for speakers and contact the speaker selection committee about topics, etc.
- create two case studies/ white papers illustrating your story
- use your website as a venue for showing testimonials and case studies, and offer speakers
- continue to attend meetings and other events that are clearly beneficial to your organization
- purchase a Flip camera [$150] and take videos of interviews and other relevant representations of your firm
Direct Marketing [ allows target members to review and receive your products directly] Suggestions::
- limit mailings to 4 times per year; focus on providing information and reasons to contract with your firm
- keep collaterals to a minimum – clients can learn about you on your website
The Media Strategy
The messages created by a law firm can be delivered through a variety of mediums [ the total is called a media mix]. When combined, the combination of mediums is the media strategy. Most law firms might employ the following media strategies:
- do not use broadcast media such as televison [network/cable], radio, newspaper, magazine, and outdoors, unless you have an adequate budget and can track the results
- place a small directory advertisement
- invest heavily in your website [more in a bit]
- employ a minimum investment in direct mail and collaterals [combine two collaterals into one and change copy/photos]
- deliver your message through videos and power point presentations that can be used at meetings and other events
Recommended changes for your website:
- optimize each page with a “title” and “explanation title” [bring in a SEO expert if necessary]
- include a variety of pictures, both as still photos and video clips on the appropriate pages—testimonials could be video clips
- there are many examples of legal webpages that are very robust and relevant ; see Best Web Pages in the Legal Sector
- include the new message and brand name as a focus throughout the website
- limit social media strategy to Facebook and Linkedin [Twitter is very time-consuming and can be addictive] and develop the capacity to use Facebook more effectively—social media is hot right now, but it is not the panacea you might think it is
The final step in the marketing communication plan is bringing this all together. Implementation is a serious problem for most law firms. Its all in the details. If you are a small firm, you might focus on personal selling and public realtions. Note that this is the current model for many and doesn’t work in isolation. Larger firms should integrate more of the communications plan.
The difference the plan outlined in this blog offers you is a framework that will allow you to optimize your efforts and resources. You can no longer afford to rely on traditional communication, e.g.,events and rainmakers, and hope for the best. You have many marketing communication tools- use them.
John Burnett is Professor Emeritus [University of Denver]and principal at John Burnett Marketing. He is also the co-author of “How Marketing Can Help Lawyers Make More Money.” He can be reached at email@example.com.