I often get asked “what kind of marketing should we do?” Or I’m asked to “just provide us with a bunch of great marketing ideas”.  No time spent determining what the firm wants to look like in the future.  No proper assessment of where they are today.  No indication of what success would look like.  And no commitment to doing what will be suggested.  Just “fix me”.   It’s a bit like a disgruntled teenager saying “make me popular, but don’t ask me to change anything about my looks, personality or actions”.  I can do that.  Give me several million dollars and I can probably convince a percentage of people to hire you.  A big enough marketing spend can make anyone seem like the right choice – at least at first.  But firms don’t want to spend buckets of money, and nor should they.  And most firms would prefer to build relationships that will last well beyond the latest marketing campaign.  Firms should take the time to consider what the best marketing spend and mix is for them.  Here’s how…

Start with a Strategic Plan

You can’t develop a plan to get somewhere if you don’t know where you’re going.  Determine (ideally through a proper strategic planning process) what you should look like in five or ten years, with as many details as possible.  How big will you be? Where will you be located?  What areas of law will you practice?  How many practitioners will be in each group?  What will your client base be?  How much money will you earn?  How many staff will you have?  What will be your guiding business principles?

Create Your Business Objectives

The purpose of a marketing plan is to accomplish your business objectives.  That’s difficult to do if you haven’t created any.  Make a list of what you want to have accomplished by the end of the fiscal year.  Ensure these are goals, not action items.  “Host a client event” is not a goal.  “Develop and implement a client and referral maintenance strategy” is a goal that might eventually have “host a client event” as one of its action items.

Pick the Right Number

Before you develop your marketing plan, you need to know how much money you have to play with.  The standard calculation for a marketing budget is that it should represent is 3%– 5% of the previous year’s gross revenues.  If you are in investment mode (just took over another firm, have a new practice area, are moving into a new geographical region or demographic), it can go as high as 8%.   If your firm is new and you don’t have the previous year’s stats, set your marketing budget at 5-8% of anticipated gross annual revenues.

Determine What’s in and What’s Out

A marketing budget typically includes:

  • PR and media relations
  • Advertising (production and placement)
  • Events and seminars for an outside audience (attendance, coordination)
  • Client engagement (i.e. lunches, dinners, event attendance, client gifts, etc.)
  • Sponsorships
  • Marketing collateral (website, brochures, newsletters, invitations, etc.)
  • SEO, social media
  • Trinkets and trash
  • Directory listings (i.e. Yellow Pages), both hard copy and on-line
  • Graphic design and branding costs
  • Networking opportunities
  • Mailings and communications related to marketing (not regular business)
  • Marketing related training, including coaching
  • Marketing research
  • Client surveys and audits
  • Proposals and pitches
  • New lawyer announcements, retirement announcements
  • Succession expenses related to transfer of business

A marketing budget may include:

  • Memberships and attendance/sponsorship costs if a primary purpose of members is marketing.  If not, membership and attendance should be under education expense.
  • Conference attendance if primary purpose is marketing/credibility
  • Charitable giving (when connected with a marketing purpose such as name recognition, or because a charity has a close connection with a client)
  • Client contact info management systems (CRM)

A marketing budget generally does not include:

  • start up expenses (i.e. initial signage)
  • costs associated with regular business practices (i.e. letterhead, business cards)
  • Conference attendance that is primarily for educational purposes and credibility/marketing is only an added benefit

Select Your Marketing Mix

The selection of a marketing mix is dependent on many factors including your service offerings and existing client base (and the ability to cross-sell); your region or regions (are you new, well established?); your targets (clients? referral sources?); the amount of time and money you have to invest; the number of people available to do marketing, etc.

We call it a marketing mix because strong marketing is multi-typed and (ideally) integrated.  Marketing by type (or purpose) includes marketing to existing clients (client service, cross-selling and business development); improving name recognition and credibility (through PR, advertising, on-line/social media, community engagement, lawyer activities, etc.); community engagement (sponsorships, charities); and individual lawyer marketing.  There are countless choices to explore each, and no silver bullet.   Some of each of these activities should be included in every marketing plan, and where possible they should all look and sound like they came from the same firm.

Integrated marketing refers to initiatives that are linked.  In a perfect world, you would leverage one marketing initiative off of another: a client presentation would become a newsletter article, and an edited version of that would become a blog post which is referenced back to the authoring lawyers on their bio on the website, and the posting re-posted on that lawyer’s LinkedIn page.   A firm tagline would be proven in a community event which is promoted on the firm’s website, and a corresponding ad would be featured in the local paper that week with the same message.

Three Levels of Marketing

Next, there are three levels of marketing: institutional (name recognition within the marketplace); practice area (within the bar and within the target market client base); and individual lawyer.   Based on the parameters identified above, determine how much time/money can be spent on each area.  No matter what, you want a firm institutional marketing base every year.  By this I mean strong website updates and upgrades to content, good on-line/social media content on the firm, basic collateral such as brochures, newsletters and trinkets and trash, a good PR program (even if it’s just ensuring news items are put in press release form and loaded onto your website), general advertising and directory listings, general sponsorships and charitable donations, etc.  If your individual lawyers (or your practice groups) are not able to do much marketing on their own, consider putting even more time and money into institutional and passive marketing (such as advertising, sponsorships, things that don’t require as much lawyer time to occur).

Type of Law

Another consideration is the type of law you practice.  Some areas of law are naturally aligned with obvious corresponding industry associations; some are not.  A high-tech practice will have a pretty good sense of their target market: but that of a PI practice will not be so easy pigeon hole.  Some practices are focussed on volume sales (conveyance, wills) so depend on referral sources and the internet.  Some depend on the personal reputation of the individual practitioner (commercial litigation, mediation).  Some depend on the availability of a diverse range of expertise (employment).  Carefully consider each of the services you wish to market to determine their client base, and the circumstances under which that purchase decision will be made.  This will help to guide your decisions on the marketing mix that’s right for that practice.

Great Marketing is Highly Tailored

The reality is that great legal marketing is both a science and an art.  The science includes the diagnostic process, and helping a firm to identify their specific business goals.   The art is playing with the practice mix and the execution of each marketing strategy to find the right time to get the right message to the right people in the right way.

Heather Gray-Grant is a business strategist, marketing expert and executive coach for law firms and lawyers.  She can be reached at heather@heathergraygrant.com

This article first appeared in SLAW.