Concentrate Marketing Efforts on Clients, Not Airwaves

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I recently spoke with a lawyer who suggested that increased competition was the largest challenge facing lawyers.

The attorney specifically referenced the difficulty of competing against lawyers who advertise heavily on television — not just the personal injury lawyers on late-night and early-morning ads, but lawyers with general practices who advertise estate planning, family law, restructuring and other services throughout the day.

On the surface, electronic media is a seductive tool for approaching clients; not just television, but all the many Internet and social networking technologies, and even something as seemingly old-school as radio (for example, Atlanta-based Womble Carlyle has done radio-spot advertising featuring its "Winston" bulldog mascot for more than a decade).

However, such media are broadcasting in the purest sense of the word. They may reach a few potential clients, but they also reach many more people who don't have the slightest interest in the firm, which is paying for all those disengaged listeners.

This is not to say that advertising is irrelevant. The Internet marketing efforts of small-firm practitioners are typically designed to generate awareness and to get clients to initiate contact.

When even the smallest of firms have informative web pages and lawyers who can interact with worldwide users of blogs and social networking sites, the playing field is leveled.

The online marketing efforts of small-firm practitioners should be designed to reach both current and potential clients and to encourage them to call if they have a need. The information provided shows whether the firms' skills match their needs.

That said, the best focus any firm can bring to its marketing efforts is to emphasize reaching existing clients. Bond with them and serve them in ways that create loyalty, and have these very same clients serve as your advocates.

For such clients, you don't need television. What you do need to know in exact detail is the work done for them, how profitable that work is for the firm and what opportunities exist to get more.

That means you should be able to answer fundamental questions about the products, customers, financial health and employee demographics of any client. If you can't, at some point a competitor will.

Clients do not need to be convinced of you or the firm's expertise; otherwise, they would not have remained clients. What they want in order to give you more work is to feel comfortable with you as a professional.

Clients are most comfortable in their native habitat, where they work and do business. How often do you see them there? What kinds of information might you gather, informal and perhaps even unspoken, that would dramatically expand the work you do for them, and even convey it on your website or in emails? In many cases, quite a lot. It's the kind of interaction that is impossible on television or even with all the advances in social networking.

The next time you see a competing firm's TV ad, don't worry about it. But do worry about when you last spoke with a current client who might be viewing it.

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