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If your firm has decided to undertake a marketing project, you want the process to run as smoothly as possible. You want a plan that fits your firm’s needs and generates leads.

Attorneys have a reputation for distrusting the whole concept of marketing. While this stereotype paints the entire profession with too wide a brush – some attorneys notoriously advertise abundantly and loudly – it is based upon a kernel of truth. New lawyers fresh out of school and decades-long veterans of the field have this in common: they know plenty of colleagues who eschew marketing.

Part of this tendency may be due to a misunderstanding of how professional services marketing works. People hear the words “branding” and “marketing” and tend to think of a single thing, like a logo, advertisement or website. Or, they may think of product branding, epitomized by companies like Nike and Apple. In reality, branding is the culmination of everything your firm does. And marketing a service rather than a product requires different strategies.

If your firm has decided to undertake a marketing project, you want the process to run as smoothly as possible. You want a plan that fits your firm’s needs and generates quality leads.

But no matter how celebrated your team of designers, writers and advertising experts may be, they cannot create a successful strategy in a vacuum. Marketing and selling require personal involvement. You can hire an all-star team of service providers to assist you, but ultimately even they may fail without your feedback and personal commitment to the project.

The worst-case scenario is for the marketing process to break down and for those involved to get frustrated to the point that they stop looking for solutions. This does not have to happen. It is possible for your marketing projects to run smoothly and successfully. They key, as with most relationships, is communication.

Getting Started

Establishing a good working relationship from the beginning is critical. Each party should have a clear understanding of how the process will work and what their roll is within that process. Think of your new clients. When they approach you for legal help, they want to know what to expect as their case proceeds. Extend this courtesy to yourself and make sure you understand what should happen as your marketing plan is implemented.

Ask questions. It may be a cliché, but there is no such thing as a stupid question. Take the statement, “I want video.” This should trigger a number of questions. Is there a production company involved? How many videos will there be? Will the videos be hosted or streamed from a service like YouTube? Is there a need to develop a play list function or will the videos be displayed individually? Should the marketing company be involved in the production? Does anyone have advice to offer on creating the most effective videos? No question is too trivial, and everyone involved should be asking them.

Do not make assumptions. This is simple to say, but sometimes difficult to put into practice. Everyone is busy, and assumptions are easy. People tend to get stuck in a bubble and forget that not everyone is familiar with things they consider obvious.

We all view the world through individual lenses, and it is sometimes difficult to look at projects from the standpoint of an outside observer – but try. Take yourself out of your own context. Think: If I had never written code for a website before, how could I know what features are difficult or easy to program? Or: If I did not work at a law firm, what are some important aspects of my practice I may be unaware of? Assuming others know what you know or expect what you expect is a reliable way to create tension.

Coordinating Third Parties

In some cases, a firm will need to hire multiple providers. A project may require custom work that should be performed by a specialist like a photographer or videographer. Whatever the project requirements, all team members must coordinate.

Make sure third party providers are aware of each other. In order to get the best results, your firm’s branding must be consistent across all touch points. If your social marketing team, your press release writers and the designers working on your print advertising are confined to their own boxes, your message cannot possibly remain focused and consistent.

Keeping all parties at the same table also helps prevent your project from hitting unwanted snags that cause delays in implementation. If two separate providers are taking a project in two separate directions, their work will ultimately need to be reconciled. This is a hassle that can and should be avoided.

Share information about third-party technology. Knowing what needs to be incorporated into a website from the beginning will help avoid costly delays. If, for example, your firm uses a lead management system like Salesforce, that needs to be integrated into your website’s forms. Let your team know up front. Writing the code once is always faster than going back and recoding to incorporate unexpected technology needs.

Working With Your Design Team

A good designer should be able to take your input and combine it with research about your practice areas, target clients and competition to create distinctive layouts that reflect your firm’s personality. Designers should both listen and provide ideas, at times steering a client toward alternative concepts.
Designers may have a reputation for being flighty or even arrogant – some things have not changed from the days of Mad Men – but they do want their client’s projects to be successful. Here again, communication is critical.

Have concrete suggestions. There are two extremes that can be equally difficult for designers: having too much information and having too little. Even if you are not sure what direction you would like your marketing to take or you do not have an established vision for what your website should look like, try to make some definitive statements. Maybe you hate the color blue, or like a certain style of font. Maybe you do not like pictures of people. Maybe you love them.

If there is anything you know you want, something you know you do not want or something you have seen that you think could serve as inspiration, share it.

Be open to trying something new. Consider experimenting with “unorthodox” graphics or text treatments. You may not like the results, in which case you can move on to other options. But you may be surprised at how much you like an unexpected design.

It is also helpful to look to websites outside of the legal field for inspiration. Attorney websites can become formulaic; every attorney needs certain things like contact forms, practice area pages and attorney bios. Studying good designs in other industries can provide a creative boost and help you discover new and effective ways of presenting information.

Find inspiration from others, but do not copy. Rule number one for standing above your competition is creating a distinction. And rule number one for ethical design is respecting other people’s ideas. Do not encourage your design team to copy another firm’s website. Instead, work on finding your own style so that you do not blend in with everyone else.

Working with Your Marketing Team

If your firm is working with professional writers to assist with your blogging, content-based marketing and social media marketing, it is important that they become familiar with your unique voice. Try to communicate a sense of yourself and your interests to them so that they can develop a style appropriate to your firm’s branding and personality.

Be responsive. Content marketing is an area where it is particularly important for the attorneys at your firm to be personally involved in the process. Your writing team is speaking for you. They need your approval for everything from topic ideas to publication of finished pieces.

Without timely responses to a writer’s questions, your marketing plan could stall, entering a limbo where no new content is being published. This will increase the amount of time it takes your firm to reach its goals.

It is possible to come to a point at which you have established enough trust with your marketing team to allow them to publish pieces without your prior approval. This may ultimately be the ideal situation for you. But such a relationship can only spring from collaborative beginnings.

Keep writers in the loop about new developments at your firm. Writers are always on the lookout for good press release material. Let them know if you are holding seminars, hiring attorneys or staff, celebrating a milestone or participating in a community event. Good press releases can come from many sources, including commentary about current events. If there is a case in the news that is relevant to your work, encourage your team to write about it.

Set a schedule for writing and posting your own work. You or other attorneys at your firm may be in the position to supplement the work of your writing team with that of your own. More activity on blogs and social networks is almost always beneficial. Frequently updated attorney websites generate more traffic. Set aside a little time every week to engage with users on social media sites. Create realistic goals for a number of blog posts you will produce every month.

Having your project run smoothly is beneficial for everyone. Law firms are more likely to build a presence online and off that works for them, and service providers are more likely to get word-of-mouth referrals. Building your firm’s brand and business is a collaborative process. There is no such thing as “set it and forget it” marketing anymore. Attorneys must remain engaged in providing value to potential clients to keep bringing in new cases.

About Author

Kristen Friend is the Art Director at Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She is also a multi-award winning designer of law firm websites and has been recognized by the Hermes Awards, WebAwards, Horizon Interactive Awards, W3Awards, IMA Interactive Awards and Webby Awards.

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