Covid-19 has changed how everyone is allocating marketing budgets for 2020. Gone are in-person events, from client entertaining to large scale networking events. In these turbulent times, discretionary spending is a thing of the past, and every line item is now under scrutiny as firms prepare for an uncertain future.
Some resources offer general budgeting guidance for legal marketers. However, most recommendations are for corporate firms that operate in a B2B environment. Some advice is transferable to plaintiff firms, but much is not. While a corporate firm may act for hundreds of businesses, plaintiff firms may be working for thousands of individuals at one time. The dramatic difference in volume makes it more critical for plaintiff marketers to invest in measurement tools to keep them competitive. Management consulting legend Peter Drucker offers this sage advice: “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.”
As an experienced marketing director with both B2B and B2C professional services experience, I offer some insights into the areas which you should be considering in your budget. Some require financial investment, and others sweat equity, but be sure that you have sufficient in-house or outsourced resources available before you commit. Your firm should also look at allocating non-billable hours to attorneys to enable them to accomplish business development activities. Whether your firm invests money or sweat equity, it must tie into a working Marketing Plan with the ability to track results on demand for your management team. Discipline has never been more critical, as well as the ability to pivot quickly.
Should you Invest in Traditional Mass Media?
The big question. Investing heavily in traditional mass media (broadcast, print, outdoor) is an appealing option for many plaintiff firms. Other firms are doing it, so why shouldn’t we? It doesn’t help the CMO when ad sellers target partners directly with enticing pitches.
Should you also invest? The answer is that it depends. Is this the only way to reach your target audience? Do you have a robust intake system that will be able to sift through all the emails and calls? Are you committed to making this a long term commitment? Will you still be able to invest in other areas, like digital marketing? Will you be able to track results? Is the file acquisition cost worth the investment?
The adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” certainly applies to smaller firms with limited budgets. It is all too common for new firms to use the cheaper options of outdoor media and radio ads to gain name recognition. They may generate several small files, but shoppers with higher-valued cases are not likely to choose a lawyer based solely on a billboard. If your website and Google Reviews don’t back up the ad claims, you shouldn’t be surprised by low conversion numbers.
There is a business case for using traditional mass media selectively when you understand your demographic and goal. Targeting the Elderly through print or broadcast media will be more successful than reaching them online. Personal Injury firms use broadcast ads to quickly generate potential claimants for mass tort and class action cases.
Your Biggest Investment Should be in Digital Marketing
The significant difference between corporate and plaintiff firms is the emphasis plaintiff firms place on digital marketing. And while corporate firms are slowly acknowledging the benefits of the virtual marketplace, it is the lifeline for most Plaintiff firms. Consumers are now searching for legal services the same way they shop for everything else, online. Again, measurement is a crucial element to ensure all of your tools are functioning correctly.
Your Website Should Serve as a Valuable Resource
A Plaintiff Firm’s website is its most critical resource. It needs to be optimized so that it is consumer-friendly and easy to navigate, with prominent Call to Action (CTA) on every page. Your website is an online store where you direct traffic from all campaigns. Create more usable information with fewer sales pitches. Ideally, visitors will bookmark your content as a point of reference and share it with others.
If you haven’t updated your website in a few years, you should assess what needs to be improved, mainly since Google regularly updates its algorithms. Google Analytics is a crucial measurement tool which will help identify areas of improvement and will track results moving forward
Produce More Valuable Content
Producing excellent thought leadership is traditional in all professional services as a means to build trust with potential clients (PCs). It is even more critical for Plaintiff firms as it drives traffic to your website. Content must be written in straightforward language and on topics that interest your audience. Recycle the material: you can easily repurpose a blog article by linking it to a related practice page, sharing on various social media channels, and including in your regular e-newsletter.
If your attorneys don’t have the capacity, work with a freelance journalist/writer who can research article topics for your lawyer to finalize and author. It saves time and money for everyone involved.
Generate Google Reviews
To the public, you are only as good as your Google reviews. Consumers don’t know many law firms, except perhaps those they may see on TV, billboards, bus shelters and the like. You still need to pass the sniff test. Shoppers look at reviews to evaluate how well you have served others like them. You can and will lose out to another firm because it has more Google Reviews. The PC won’t even bother to click on your website.
While collecting grateful testimonials from satisfied clients for your website is essential, you need to ask those same individuals if they would also write a Google Review. There are software tools you can use to help automate the process for you, reaching out to past clients, other attorneys and professionals who know your firm. Your CRM is invaluable to executing efficiently (mentioned later).
Invest in Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
The greatest strength of SEM is that it the quickest way to get your firm’s name in front of a PC. That comes at a cost. Depending on your market, the cost per click can be quite considerable, so you need to be strategic in the ad words you choose. Many use it as a shortcut when they don’t have the budget for traditional mass media. The long view is to use in connection with your SEO strategy.
Work on Your Search Engine Optimization (SE0)
You also need to invest time and some money on your website to improve its authority with Google, making it easier for your PCs to find you in organic searches, giving you a higher rank without having to pay Google for it.
There are online tools that will identify areas you need to fix. Keeping up with Google’s everchanging algorithms will provide you with a competitive edge. If you don’t have that experience inhouse, you should invest in outsourcing that function.
Own Your Social Media
Investments in Social Media require that you understand your PC and where they gather online. Twitter is a ubiquitous tool to disseminate information, and the effective use of hashtags will quickly insert your firm into the conversation. Facebook is an excellent place to reach middle age moms and Linkedin for professionals who will be more receptive to retaining estate planning advice. For younger audiences, Instagram can be a great place to build an audience. TikTok is rapidly gaining momentum, and its 1-minute video format will help you get brand recognition and provide just-in-time legal advice.
Regardless of the Social Media channels your choose, you need to be active and consistent to build a loyal audience. Utilize the live streaming tools on those platforms with an abbreviated version of the content you would share in longer webinars.
Effectively Measuring and Managing Relationships through CRM
When COVID-19 hit, all firms were drafting communications to clients, many scrambling to piece together mailing lists. Suddenly attorneys realized just how vital Customer/Client Relationship Management (CRM) is to their firm. You need to be able to segment audiences quickly for communications.
On the practice management side, it is essential to understand where your work is coming from and identify other sources to help fill our pipeline. Selecting a CRM system that ties into both the Practice Management System and List Serve will help produce useful data that you can analyze.
Produce Quality Virtual Content
Covid-19 has practically wiped out all budget line items for in-person events for the foreseeable future. Educational seminars have now moved online, and the webinar is becoming more common among more firms. The most popular webinar tools are Zoom and Go to Meeting, which doubles as team meeting portals. Production of online events won’t require a great deal of financial investment; it will likely be a matter of investing time with attorneys to build compelling webinars, as well as podcasts that tie back to your marketing plan. The online events are more effective at lead generation since information is collected electronically to add to your CRM.
As a related budget item, you may also wish to invest in an in-house production studio where you can broadcast podcasts, record videos and host webinars.
Don’t Forget Intake Management
Intake is the most crucial part of lead generation, and yet it is often treated as an afterthought. Marketers should think beyond lead generation to help get the PC in front of an attorney who can make the close. Ensure they have the information required to assess the value of a case and quip your attorneys with an DocuSign tool to get quickly sign up clients.
There needs to be a formalized process to manage inquiries efficiently. You should have Intake staff trained on how to triage contacts and to treat high-level cases. If you mess up this part, you may find yourself losing files to your competitors and damaging your reputation. Realistically you will take on a small percentage of files, so providing an excellent customer experience to those you turn away will have a positive impact on your brand.
There are software and call centre solutions to increase efficiency and also capture useful data. Choose a system that can feed into your case management system, and can also be tied into Google Analytics so you can measure the results of your SEM spend. RAOS (Return on Ad Spend) should be your top priority as well as CPC (Cost Per Client). If you have the raw data, an Excl spreadsheet can do the calculations for you.
Will We Ever Meet Again?
Most law firms have built robust referral networks. A large budget for meals and entertainment was a great way to keep those networks active. You may be too quick to eliminate this line item. Keep some funds available for virtual connections.
Creating memorable experiences still matter, but firms will now have to be more creative in pivoting from face-to-face to screen-to-screen. If online dating has taught us anything, it is that virtual connections can be very potent.
We Will Adapt to the New World of Social Distancing
Social distancing is likely going to be with us for some time. The future may be uncertain, but if we keep our eyes open, we can pick up cues from related industries to help pave the way forward. In the meantime, be armed with measurement tools. You can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Pamela Foster is an experienced marketing executive with over 30 years of proven project management performance for some of the largest professional services firms, having worked in local and international markets for KPMG, PwC. Pamela also has B2B and B2C experience working with top-ranked corporate and personal injury law firms. Connect with her on LinkedIn.