Top Ways Marketing Agencies Take Advantage Of Worried Lawyers
It is March 26, 2020, and COVID-19, aka Coronavirus, just stimulated the passage of a historic bill to help those affected by sudden loss of economic stability. We are all feeling stressed and unsure of the future — lawyers and agencies alike. Stress can have both positive and negative outcomes. On the good side, it can make you work exceptionally hard to achieve your goals. On the bad side, it can lead to making some poor decisions.
In the past week we have become aware of the efforts of some desperate agencies to target the legal industry, even though they lack legal marketing experience. They are publishing ‘how-to’ documents and giving webinars that are fueled by stress and desperation, not years of elbow grease and knowledge — unlike some of Gladiator’s team members who have worked exclusively in legal marketing for two decades. We have seen lawyers make unwise decisions, and the reasons for those poor decisions are almost always the same. Here are some ways you can prepare yourself, so you won’t make a big marketing mistake in these uncertain times.
TIP #1 – Understand How Marketing Works
The underlying truth about legal marketing is that no one cares about your services until they need them. From a marketing perspective this is good news, because it simplifies your options.
- Option 1: Brand awareness. (Awareness)
- Social Media, TV, Billboards, Radio, Print Ads, or Display Advertising
- Option 2: Be there when clients start looking. (Positional)
- Search Engine Optimization, Search Pay-Per-Click, or Directories
The best thing you can do when looking at your marketing campaign is to understand which option that campaign is pursuing. For example, we have seen many attorneys sign up for a social media campaign because they expected immediate results and cases. But social media doesn’t work that way — it is a brand-awareness tool, and brand awareness requires time to build. Awareness is all about reach, frequency, and messaging. Positional campaigns are usually more technical and work by being at the top of search engine results, which is the No. 1 way people find an attorney when they don’t get a referral from someone else.
Sometimes law firms hire bad agencies. Sometimes they just hire the wrong agency.
Bottom Line: Buying things you don’t understand is a bad idea.
TIP #2 – Itemized Proposals
My first question when speaking with an attorney who is experiencing a failed campaign is, “What is the agency doing for you?” Most of the time, the attorney doesn’t really know. Whenever I begin to troubleshoot a campaign, my first goal is to figure out whether the strategy was doomed to fail from the beginning or was poorly implemented or even whether it was implemented at all. You wouldn’t believe how many times we look at a failing campaign and find that no work was being performed. When you sign a marketing agreement, you need to know what work is going to be performed. If you don’t know that much and you attempt to resurrect a campaign, you risk starting over from scratch.
Bottom Line: Hiring an agency for X dollars without having a way to hold them to account is a recipe for disaster.
TIP #3 – Ownership Of Work & Transparency
One of the more frequent problems we find when troubleshooting a PPC campaign is that the campaign is run on an agency account instead of on the law firm account. This hides all information from the law firm. How do you troubleshoot a campaign if you can’t see it? Furthermore, how do you ensure that the campaign was even running if you can’t see it? PPC campaigns should be set up and run on a Google/Facebook account owned by the law firm.
Occasionally we will also see agreements where lawyers don’t own the website design or the content that is being created. Similarly, we frequently see websites that were built on proprietary software that only the agency can use. These are called Custom Content Management Systems (CMS). Most law firm websites are built on WordPress, which is an open-source platform, meaning that anyone can work on it. There is no good reason for a law firm to have anything other than a WordPress website, unless they are looking for a do-it-yourself option like Wix.
Bottom Line: Some agencies aren’t transparent and are controlling. Don’t get trapped.
TIP #4 – Know What A Good Return Is
Return on investment is determined by what ‘the market’ is willing to pay per case. If lawyers in your specialty and geographic market are willing to pay higher marketing dollars to get an average case, then the ROI is going to be lower. I frequently see attorneys lack any sort of awareness about what a realistic ROI is, and that sets them up to make poor budgetary decisions. Here are some benchmarks:
- 2X – Break Even.
- 3X – Equivalent to an attorney referral.
- 5X – Generally considered the benchmark for a good return.
- 10X – Generally considered the maximum ROI you can expect over a long period of time.
This means that if you spend $2,000 on marketing, a 5X ROI should result in $10,000 in attorney fees.
Bottom Line: Know what to expect. The above is a great guideline regardless of the type of campaign.
TIP #5 – You Can’t Spend A Little And Get A Little
Marketing just doesn’t work that way; it is on a bell curve. If you don’t spend enough to get on the right side of the bell curve, you are just wasting money. Here are some ball-park ways to estimate what you need.
- Search Engine Optimization – SEO is highly technical and different in every market for every practice area. We run campaigns for anything between $2,500 and $20,000 per month. The big thing with SEO is that there is only room for a few firms to compete. If you can’t afford to be a top firm in your market, don’t run an SEO campaign.
- Pay-Per-Click – At a minimum, your budget should allow you to generate two cases per month. I recommend using an expected 3X return to be on the safe side. You can back into a budget if you know your average case value for the targeted practice area.
- 2X Average Case Value / 3 = Minimum Budget
- (2 * $5,000) / 3 = $3,333 per month
- Brand Awareness – What you are trying to determine is what will it take to establish brand awareness. This is accomplished by showing a consistent and effective message to the same audience X number times over X period. You must saturate the market with your message. Ways to fail:
- Have a poor message that doesn’t get people to remember who you are and what you do.
- Don’t show your ads to enough people. (Reach)
- Don’t show your ads to those people enough times for them to remember the message. (Frequency)
Bottom Line: If you can’t afford an advertising campaign, look for other ways you can spend your time to get more cases.
TIP #6 – Seriously, You Get What You Pay For
The firms I worry about the most are the ones that have less than $1,000 per month to spend. The problem with these campaigns is that they are usually automated services that, once set up, run themselves. For example, an agency might offer social media marketing, but all they actually do is set up automation so that anytime a blog is posted to the site, it automatically gets posted to Facebook or Twitter. They also might set your firm up with software like Yext or MOZ Local that automatically keeps your business information up to date across the web. I guarantee that you will find an agency willing to work with you regardless of your budget. But if the agency doesn’t have high standards, you shouldn’t expect great results.
Bottom Line: Agencies will tell you want you want to hear. Use your attorney skills and see through the smoke.
TIP #7 – Marketing is Competitive
I hate seeing firms spend $5,000 per month on PPC to send people to a website that looks like a DIY product of a lawyer/wannabe designer. It is a waste of money, because most people look at multiple firms before they actually contact an attorney. This means your website and marketing materials must be competitive with those of other attorneys in your market. Additionally, you can’t please everyone. People look for different things, and you aren’t going to have a positive connection with your entire geographic market. This means you need to highlight in your marketing materials those things that set you apart and make you different. Why should they call you and not the other guy? You can’t win every competitive comparison, but you should win some. Don’t sabotage yourself with poor design and messaging.
Bottom Line: Don’t half-ass your marketing, you will get half-assed results.
TIP #8 – Don’t Re-Create The Wheel
We just said you need to be different, but that means only in your market. Whenever a law firm tells me they want to be edgy and do things no other firm is doing, I ask them how much they can afford to lose. The truth is most new ideas are garbage. I estimate that 90% of ideas aren’t worth putting much time into. Of the 10% that are worth contemplating, only half will be worth implementing. Of the 5% of ideas that are worth trying, only half of those are going to work. It takes a huge amount of time, expertise, and money to do something different and be successful. If you don’t have the time and money to fail, you don’t have the time and money to win. Instead, look for firms in other markets that are doing well and borrow ideas from their campaign to make your own.
Bottom Line: Expensive new ideas are short-lived, because eventually someone is going to copy it and it won’t be unique anymore.
TIP #9 – Don’t Expect Advertising To Save A Failing Business
I once spoke with a lawyer who took out a second mortgage to run a VERY expensive advertising campaign. He made every mistake possible, but the truth is that no campaign would have worked. He had too many other issues that needed to be addressed first. Advertising helps successful firms grow; it can’t save failing firms. Notice I used the word “advertising” and not “marketing.” That is because marketing encompasses far more than ads, SEO, and PPC. If you aren’t happy with where your firm is, evaluate your position to drill down to the specific components that need to be improved. There are countless firms that are successful and get all their cases from referrals. Is your firm getting referrals? Does your firm have a great reputation? How are your expenses? Are your associates carrying their own weight? Are your processes efficient? Many panicky lawyers will claim they need more cases and use advertising as a crutch. If your firm is in a position in which it must have advertising to survive, it isn’t in a great place. Concentrate on improving what you have full control over first.
Bottom Line: Don’t spend money on advertising out of desperation.
Tip #10 – Our Average Sales Cycle Is 3 Months
On average, we communicate with a lawyer for 3 months before they sign a proposal. We have some happy clients that took only a week, but they usually have already run a failed campaign and learned their lessons the hard way. They come to us armed with the right questions and ability to evaluate us faster. Ordinarily, good decisions take due diligence, and that takes time.
Bottom Line: I know it is a difficult time and lots of people are in a panic. Don’t rush into advertising.
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