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The used car salesman peddling legal marketing...

Over the last 8 years, I have seen some shady practices among my industry colleagues. Some can be discharged as a difference in business philosophies. However, retaining rights to content is deplorable and companies that engage in such a practice further soil the reputation of online marketers.

Throughout the years, I have purchased a small handful of vehicles including a few used cars. Perhaps my most memorable car dealership experience was my first. I was ready to make my move on a silver Chevy Camaro with low mileage and enough power to amass dozens of speeding tickets. I found exactly what I wanted from a small dealership outside downtown Tampa. I originally spoke to one salesman who assured me we could work out a deal based on my maximum budget. So, I got a ride to the dealership, went on a test drive and proceeded to the office of a sales manager.

On a white board in this small, modular office was a list of names with boxes that had dollar signs marked in above each car sold. The sales manager played the stereotypical role of price changing, addon charging, chair wiggling, and hand flailing - an artificially charismatic actor in the spotlight of the used car theater. At one point, I marched out of his office back to the car and took inventory of every scratch, upholstery blemish, and window smudge. After that I marched back in, lowered my offer, watched the performer pound the desk and threaten to throw me out. After two hours of this dissimilation, he finally signed the title over.

The experience armed me with a defensive strategy for my next car purchases... but unnecessarily. Negotiations were calm, no desks were pounded, no hands were flailed. Instead, it was like sitting back and having coffee with a new acquaintance – one that ended with driving off in a new car.

When I get to meet with lawyers for the first time, I can always tell who has walked into that dealership-style office and experienced the online marketing version of my first car buying experience. They quickly demand to know about costs and price, but ask nothing of the process or results. I can’t blame them. They have been taken for a ride and in many cases were ripped off. Perhaps the most painful part of their experience wasn’t what they paid, but what they actually ended up owning (or not).

Unlike the younger version of me who ultimately wrestled a swindler and got the car of my youthful dreams, these law firms have spent thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars on websites, marketing plans and consultations only to find out that when they want to move on, the company they have been working with is retaining the rights to all content and designs.

What’s the point? Once content is published, it’s only valuable to the publisher. If a legal marketing company writes content for a personal injury lawyer in New Orleans, and that attorney leaves them, they can’t publish it on a future clients website. It’s in Google’s cache. It’s old news. It’s duplicate copy. So why not release rights? I believe I know the answer: If you can’t earn a renewal, make it difficult to leave.

One competitor in particular started their content rights holding policy right before their clients’ results started to drop. To slow attrition, they decided to lock in clients instead of evolving to meet new search engine standards. The added expense of having to rebuild everything the law firm paid for makes moving more of a hassle.

Never get involved with a company that retains ownership of any element of the project. Once the work is paid for, you should own the design, own the content and have all stock imagery licensed to your firm. It’s yours. You paid for it.

When I was younger, I never thought I would be in an industry like my car dealer negotiating counterpart, where prospective clients would approach cautiously in fear of getting a bad deal. While I can’t change the practices of competitors, I can hope law firms that leave their entrapping marketing companies go to a firm with fair terms and feel relieved knowing that not all marketing companies are the same. Not every online marketer is trying to rip you off. We are not all used car salesmen with dollar signs scribbled on dry erase boards.

Those places exist. Do your firm a favor and drive on to the next dealership.

About Author

Jason Bland is a regular contributor to Bigger Law Firm Magazine covering legal news, tech related litigation, and marketing strategies that effect highly competitive practice areas.

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