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Why and How To Advertise

By Joe Walsh
March 1, 2004
Why and How To Advertise

From the McGraw-Hill Web site, one can download the company's famous "The Man in the Chair" ad. We've done so here for you to enjoy.

On the site you learn that "the ad, designed in 1958, stands as one of the most effective and influential works in the genre. The ad, recognized as the #1 B-to-B ad of all time by Business Marketing in September 1999, continues to make the compelling case for the value of B-to-B advertising in the sales cycle."

Why? Because it has a message that is simple and compelling. And a bottom line moral that professional service marketers can apply today.

The curmudgeon of an executive looks directly at the reader and states:

McGraw_Hill_maninthechair_Ad-1

 "I don't know who you are. I don't know your company.
I don't know your company's product.
I don't know what your company stands for.
I don't know your company's customers.
I don't know your company's reputation.
Now-what was it you wanted to sell me?"

1. Why should I consider advertising?
As it matures, the legal industry continues to experience significant consolidation. But it's still a highly fragmented sector with plenty of competition for the same business. The fact is, many clients can't tell firms apart. Even the best-known law firms are recalled, unaided, by less than 20 percent of legal buyers. Compare that to the accounting industry, where the Big 6, 5-err, 4 go to market with awareness levels in the 85 percent range.

Why should you care about your firm's awareness levels? Simple. If you're not called to the table, you can't sell your services. Done the right way, advertising helps you penetrate the word-of-mouth network that dominates law firm selection. Smart advertising can increase name recognition and recall, putting you in a circle of consideration for new work, even from existing clients. Saddled with a mouthful of a moniker, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe had a heck of a time getting people to remember its full name. By simplifying to "Orrick" and using "O"-related images in its advertising, the firm made it easier to remember its name, aided or unaided.

2. What can advertising do for me?
Plenty! Our clients have successfully used advertising to define or create a market position, confirm that market position and change a market position. We have also seen advertising improve morale among partners, associates and staff, and change misperceptions about your firm among prospective clients or recruits.

Advertising also serves as a nice reminder to those in your referral network why they picked you in the first place-and why they should keep talking about you. Lord Bissell & Brook's ads, for example, featured the firm's logo (a shield) and its tagline ("Business Needs Champions") along with a vignette detailing the lengths attorneys had gone to in order to defend its clients.

But for as much as advertising can do, it cannot get anyone to sign on the dotted line. It is rarely a conduit to direct sales in the complex relationship selling environments of law firms. Ads may get someone to pick up the phone, but you personally need to close the deal. If you're getting all the sales opportunities you need and your problem is closing new business, then invest in sales training, not advertising.

3. How do I plan for an advertising campaign?
Start by taking a hard look at yourself. What do your press releases, Web site and, if you have them, current ads say about your firm? What do partners and associates think about the firm's strengths and weaknesses? More important, how do your clients perceive the firm?

From this research, you can distill the information to find the firm's personality and establish a clear positioning direction. This serves as the foundation for all advertising to follow.

4. How do I budget for advertising?
Mergers, new offices and new practice areas are all big events that deserve, and often get, big advertising budgets. But, outside of a major life change, figuring out how much to spend on advertising is not an easy decision. And there is no right answer for every firm.

Indeed, relying on a percentage of revenues is not necessarily the answer, since some small firms may need to spend more than their larger counterparts. Instead, start by defining your goal. Are you a personal injury firm ready to spend millions in order to make millions? Or are you a corporate firm targeting a relatively narrow segment of the Fortune 500 crowd? Firms spread across a number of major markets will have different advertising needs and budgets than firms with a few offices in secondary and tertiary markets.

5. What makes a good ad? Or ad campaign?
One ad, or one campaign, does not fit all. That said, there are a few maxims that have worked over time. A strong image sells: Arresting designs and pictures stop readers. The eye is attracted to the new and the complex. Keep a less-is-more approach to copy (which may mean reining back those lawyers who write legal briefs [oxymoron?] for a living). Copy-heavy ads can and do work but they are challenging, and, if not done well, fail miserably.

Always beware of claims: The best. The smartest. The most experienced. They are inherently unbelievable. And typically unethical.

6. Should I advertise individual practice groups or create a firmwide campaign?
Again, there is no one answer that fits every firm. In the consumer products trade, this "practice group vs. firmwide" dilemma is referred to as "brand advertising vs. retail advertising." What the consumer products trade has taught us is that, generally, the tide of a firmwide campaign will raise all boats. When Piper Rudnick, for example, began a firmwide campaign centered around a toolbox and the slogan, "Build a better law firm," advertising for individual practice groups soon followed. Each group then became a tool in the toolbox, which maintained the theme of the firmwide campaign while still allowing particular groups to shine.

There are times, however, that it may be wise to support individual practice group advertising outside of any firmwide campaign if the market presents the right opportunity. Sarbanes-Oxley and Patriot Act groups quickly come to mind.

7. Why can't we just create our ads in-house?
Today, the average American receives more than 3,000 marketing messages a day. At home. In the car. On the Web. At the ball game. It's unrelenting. The more we're exposed, the shorter our attention spans get. And the harder marketers must work to break through the clutter.

Your competition is not just other law firms; it's also the countless other companies that are investing in great creative from agencies with proven track records to reach your targets with pitches about new cars, investment services and CRM systems. These companies are also testing their ads to learn how the market will react to them before they shift budgets into overdrive. You should plan to do the same.

We have yet to find a law firm with the in-house ability to match advertising agencies that do this work non-stop. A desktop publisher is not an advertising designer. A graphic designer is not an agency. Employing an outside agency will not take jobs from law firms. Rather, it may help you keep yours!

8. How do I create a media plan?
One of the worst mistakes you can make with advertising is to start and stop before the program has a chance of doing its job. Advertising is a strategic game of reach and frequency. You must reach your target audience with enough frequency to ensure your message receives consideration. If you spend less than the job requires, you might as well burn your money.

Part science, part art form, creative media planning can stretch your ad dollars to maximize reach and frequency. Firms with media budgets over $150,000 obviously have more choices than those with less to spend. But there are times, even with creative planning, that the dollars cannot be stretched to meet even the minimum thresholds of reach and frequency. If you find yourself in that situation, please take your ad dollars and place them in some other kind of marketing. It will be a better investment.

9. We get the rate card discounts directly. Why use an ad agency? 
Rate cards never mention those creative ideas that make your ads stand out: Belly bands that wrap the cover. Polybagging that can be printed. Eye-catching inserts. Rate cards also aren't focused on helping you stay within your budget throughout the year, and media reps trying to sell you ad space certainly won't tell you that you actually would be better off in another publication!

An ad agency can establish a reliable tracking system to manage a complex media plan, which assures on-time placement. If you do need to make an unplanned insertion and are almost out of time, ad agencies typically have the pull to secure the last possible deadline and can help you manage the contingency fund for off-plan advertising. And if things go wrong with the ad or you're just not satisfied with the results, ad agencies can use their clout to get the ad right and pressure the publication for improvements.

10. How can I measure advertising's ROI?
No one admits to being influenced by advertising-even on Super Bowl Sunday-so measuring the ROI of ads is hard to do. But you can measure the impact of your efforts through quantitative, benchmarking research. Do clients think you are big, old, slow and expensive, or do they have you narrowly cast as a public finance firm when you do much more? When these questions are answered before and after your ad program, the research tells you whether you have changed perceptions and moved the meter with your investment.