50 different firm print ads. A new ad every single day.
175-lawyer Roetzel & Andress needed to upgrade their marketing and business development efforts and brought me in as their part-time Chief Marketing and Business Development Officer (CMBDO) through 2021. A high priority for me was enhancing the firm’s negligible visibility and name recognition within the newer or smaller offices where the strategic plan sought growth.
Each city or market offers its own unique challenges. These can vary based on the size of the local market, the sophistication of the lawyers and practice compared to that market, existing reputation (if any), etc. For example, the recruiting challenge in a large, aggressive market like Chicago is different than that in Akron or Columbus, OH.
To grow in Chicago, where top laterals have many well-known firms to choose among, invisibility is death. So one of my first goals was to increase the firm’s local brand awareness and perception of quality. The firm had opened the local office a decade ago with a small merger but had promptly stagnated. This isn’t surprising in Chicago, literally hundreds of regional, national, and international law firms have opened local outposts over the past 20 years, all working off of a few merger consultants’ nearly identical strategic plans. For starters, everyone is told they need to grow to the perceived “critical mass” of 100 lawyers.
The stagnation of most branch offices.
Most Chicago “branch offices” are permanently frozen at 10-40 lawyers, toiling in anonymous obscurity. It can be hard to persuade top laterals to join a firm they’ve never heard of. When lawyers switch firms, they want the move to impress their friends. Sure they want more money, a better quality of life, and a platform where they can grow their practice. But deep down, when they tell their friends that they’re moving to another firm, they also want to hear them say, “Wow, really? Awesome!” rather than “Who? Huh, I’ve never heard of them.” Or, “That’s funny, I didn’t know they had a Chicago office!”
You can’t tiptoe into prominence.
In a large, dynamic market like Chicago, breaking through the clutter is tough, you can’t quietly incremental your way to prompt success; you need to go big—grab people’s attention and tell your firm’s story. Fortunately, there was an inexpensive daily legal publication that is very well read by a statistically significant segment of Chicago’s legal community. Not everyone, certainly, but enough to start gaining traction in spite of the tiny budget for this initiative.
Narrow banner ads are an awkward shape; there’s not enough room for all the parts and pieces you want to cram into them, i.e. headline, subhead, text, logo, website URL, and contact information. You must do more with less. Much less. That’s cool, no problem; we designed a layout that shouted the firm name and permitted a few key words here and there. A 5-word subhead, and 10 words of body copy, plus URL.
And since few of our prospects had heard of the firm or could confidently pronounce the name, we started with a “Rhymes with pretzel” headline and the firm’s basic statistics, to show Roetzel wasn’t just some small local firm and provide a visual hook to help people remember the firm name.
Daily ads can be a nice way to tell your story, but this type of repetition can cause them to fade into invisibility–you just stop noticing them if you’ve seen them so many times before. So, I wanted to change them regularly, to keep them fresh and memorable. The graphic element in these odd-shaped ads was primarily the bold firm name, supported where possible by a simple, cheap stock photo that we changed every day. We strived to be bold or unique enough that readers would immediately notice the changes and perhaps even start looking forward to tomorrow’s ad.
Different ads for different purposes.
We created different ads for different purposes. Some ads market the firm, for general awareness, educating readers about its size and configuration, and showing its commitment to Chicago, celebrating local holidays or deep-dish pizza. (Everyone in Chicago would know that the red stars and blue stripes represent the Chicago city flag.)
Other ads highlighted select practice areas in the Chicago office, like the “breathtaking” Tax lawyers we honored for the obscure National Management Accounting Day. Or celebrating Health Info Professionals Week as a hook to mention the Health Care practice:
Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion
We also wanted to convey that the firm was committed to DEI, with ads like these:
Public Service Announcements
We offered some PSAs, e.g. thanking our veterans, recommending caution during National Sunscreen Day, and supporting struggling lawyers during National Mental Health Month:
Obscure daily holiday kept the content fresh.
And sometimes we celebrated weird or little-known holidays, just to maintain viewers’ attention and suggest that the firm had a collegial culture. That is, a stiff, boring firm couldn’t celebrate e.g. Cookie Monster’s birthday or National Escargot Day, right? And looking this different creates immediate positive buzz. (That’s my dog, Luna, BTW.)
There’s even a National Pretzel Day. Who knew?
Some ads acknowledged the pandemic.
Or just because we liked them.
Educating your decision-makers.
Need a new brand, advertising campaign, or website for your own firm?
Contact Ross now at: ross [at] fishmanmarketing.com or +1.847.921.7677.
Download a free copy of his best-selling strategy and branding book, “We’re Smart. We’re Old. And We’re the Best at Everything.” here or buy an actual book on Amazon here.
Do your lawyers need marketing training or a dynamic speaker at a firm retreat, either live or via webinar? Ross is one of the legal profession’s most-popular marketing and CLE presenters. Here’s a link to a video of Ross in action.