Now that primary season is over in Texas, political campaigns are gearing up for the general election. That means our mail, airwaves, social media feeds, and email inboxes will soon be filled with pleas for our money and our votes.
The challenge for candidates is to break through the noise. How can their message rise above the cacophony and be heard by those voters and donors who are most persuadable and likely to show up on Election Day?
It’s the same issues law firms face when trying to promote their services in a marketplace flooded with lawyers looking for business – only every day is Election Day. There’s no magic bullet, of course, but here are a few things law firms (and political candidates) should keep in mind as they plan their marketing efforts:
Campaigns are marathons, and so is marketing. For example, creating a great looking, user-friendly website is important, but if there’s no sustained effort to drive traffic to the site, it’s nothing more than a pretty picture viewed by no one. Same with ad buys. Purchasing a full-page ad in a magazine may be a great investment, but only if it’s part of a larger program aimed at keeping the firm in front of its target audience.
If your marketing budget is small, then find creative ways to spend that money over the course of the year in ways that keep your name on the radar among your clients, prospective clients, and referral sources. This is one of the main reasons I’m such a big fan of content marketing, which provides a cost-effective, sustainable model for staying in touch with your network. You create the content (whether it’s a blog post, news release, podcast, webinar, white paper, video, e-book, or whatever other format you can dream up) and you distribute it via social media, email, online ads, etc. Do that consistently enough (within reason) and your message will get out.
One of the communications problems many candidates face is lack of a coherent message. It’s not enough to be in favor of good things and against bad things. Voters want to know what they’re voting for, so messaging is one of the first things good candidates tackle.
The same holds true in legal marketing. The more clearly you can identify your area of expertise and what differentiates you from other lawyers, the more likely prospective clients are going to be able to differentiate you from other lawyers (within the bounds of the State Bar’s ad rules, of course). I once had a client tell me that what distinguished his firm from others is “the quality of our lawyers.” While they may indeed have been excellent lawyers, that’s a tough nut to crack, marketing-wise.
Even when your practice area is broad or hard-to-define – say, general business lawyer or commercial litigator – it’s possible to find ways to set yourself apart. That could be by focusing on a particular industry or by playing up your overall approach to your practice.
This goes hand-in-hand with clarity. If you can’t state your practice area/differentiator quickly, go back to the drawing board. Humans have notoriously short attention spans, so make sure your message isn’t buried in a paragraph of boilerplate text (see: the vast majority of lawyer bios).
Law firms are famously conservative when it comes to marketing, so the bar for novelty is fairly low. I’ve seen law firms be labelled “edgy” by using tactics that would be considered downright bland in any other industry or profession. But, by law firm standards, their marketing efforts stood out and were rewarded.
In many cases, “novelty” can be accomplished simply by departing from legalese and speaking like actual humans. And a little bit of bravado can go a long way in setting a law firm apart from the competition. (When it comes to email, catchy subject lines and preview text are absolutely vital, since that’s the only text your recipient will see before deciding whether to open your email.)
But don’t forget the importance of great photography, non-traditional design, animation, video, and other such tools. I once worked with an art director who said, “If your marketing doesn’t make you just a little bit uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right.” He makes a good point.
Say what you will about our current political climate, but the best thing Donald Trump did for American politics is give candidates permission to disregard the focus groups and consultants, and speak authentically. Of course, because professional ethics constrain what lawyers can say, please take this message with a bucket of salt. But we should all find ways to be ourselves and speak authentically, whether we’re doing it professionally or personally.
Clients – just like voters – appreciate candor. And they want to work with people they like and with whom they share an affinity. Of course, we all must consider whether and how much of our “true selves” to show at work, but assuming your true self fits within the bounds of “normal,” find ways to weave those elements into your professional world. (For some examples of two lawyers who do that on a regular basis, see “Legal Marketing Lessons for Real People.”)
Political candidates don’t attempt to win over every single voter. They first market to their base (for volunteers and donations) and then they work on persuading undecideds. They know better than to spend their precious resources trying to win over die-hard members of the other party.
The same holds true in marketing. Focus on those people who might be inclined to hire you or refer you business. This is another reason content marketing can be so effective, since you’re creating content designed to appeal to your clients by anticipating and answering their concerns (e.g. “What do I need to know about GDPR?”) and you’re putting it in front of them.Politicians make excellent marketers: just as candidates don't market themselves to win every vote, neither should lawyers attempt to market themselves to every businessperson. Click To Tweet
Granted, there’s a chance a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal will be seen by your prospective clients, but it will also be seen by millions of people who will never, ever be in a position to hire you. Just as candidates focus their resources on base + persuadables, lawyers should focus their marketing and business development efforts on those who could conceivably use their services or refer them business.
‘One Foot in Front of the Other’
Every lawyer reading this has done two things to get where they are: 1) attend law school and 2) pass the bar exam. Those two things require an enormous amount of tenacity and commitment, so you definitely have what it takes to market your legal practice, even if marketing requires a different set of muscles.
Breaking through the noise isn’t easy, but, unlike a political campaign, legal marketing isn’t a zero-sum game where only one firm wins. Of course, there may not literally be an infinite number of legal clients in the world, but there are quite a few out there, and many of them are currently lawyerless.
I follow a woman named Alison Levine on Twitter, and one of her many accomplishments is scaling Mount Everest. As I was working on this blog post, I saw a tweet from her that seemed fitting: “You do NOT have 2 be the best/fastest/strongest climber to get to the top of the mountain. You just have to be ABSOLUTELY RELENTLESS about putting one foot in front of the other.”
Building your legal practice is your Everest, only with a much lower chance of freezing to death.
#TBT 8 yrs ago today when I stood on the summit of Mt. Everest.
Here’s what I learned: You do NOT have 2 be the best/fastest/strongest climber to get to the top of the mountain. You just have to be ABSOLUTELY RELENTLESS about putting one foot in front of the other. #KeepClimbing pic.twitter.com/SBZi2n0gT4
— Alison Levine (@Levine_Alison) May 24, 2018
Amy Boardman Hunt is all about helping lawyers find their voice and showcase their expertise. When she’s not doing that, she’s trying to find great hiking spots in Dallas. If you know of any – or you need a legal marketing muse – drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.