By Adam Warren, CEO of OpenJar Concepts and The Sentinel Group
As I write this article, we are 6 months into a pandemic and law firms everywhere are seeking out ways to keep their offices thriving and their dockets full. While we look forward, I continuously find myself looking back to March, and what happened to our industry and even our agency in a matter of weeks. What we did and continue to do in the middle of rapid change, leaves us with a lasting impression of a teachable moment. My goal for this article is to illustrate various ways to adjust in this new and volatile environment, from a local to a national approach, from the single lawyer practice to a massive firm.
What a strange time to be running a business. Practicing law right now is especially challenging. Just a couple of months ago I recall a friend saying that he just completed his first zoom trial and he had no idea how it went. He was unable to see the reactions of the judge and jury and was left unsure of his connection with either of them. Dockets have been delayed and single event practice areas such as Motor Vehicle Accident, saw declines in their case potential as the number of drivers on the road nationwide (at least during the first quarantine) was estimated to have dropped by 50% or more. It is safe to say that whatever we thought our normal was before March of 2020, is now in uncharted territory. While we are all contending with Covid-19 and its domino effect, we are also amidst an election driven by more ad spend than we have seen in prior history. Each election cycle has inevitably broken prior ad spend records, but the 2020 election will likely set a new standard for electoral advertising spend. From national to the local, this makes things difficult, as tighter inventory means less chance for your message to get out to viewers, readers and listeners. It is harder for local ad spenders as inventory becomes slim (especially in swing states) and competition for spot clearance rises. Market factors have always been present. Today however things just keep moving in the direction of different. What we do now will in large part define our businesses for years to come.
Before we get into the weeds, let’s talk about social media. There are many out there who just do not see the value in setting up a social media presence, but this is where those you want to talk to may be found. It can be a pain to figure out what content you should or should not post. It definitely requires a commitment to find content. In March of this year we had to get creative like never before. So much of what happens in social media is based around an event. Events in this context can have various meanings. Examples can be unique locations, awards, judgments, accomplishments, conferences and so on. When suddenly you have no conferences to photograph, the staff is not coming to work and business travel had come to a halt, trying to fulfill a social media strategy becomes a whole new world. Our goal before 2020 became uniquely bizarre, was to post across most of the platforms we engage three times per week. For a considerable portion of this pandemic, we managed to keep that going. There have been some weeks where we hit only two posts, and that is okay. You want to be careful about posting when you have nothing to say that is genuine. However, the search for content must be perpetual. Our team met the challenge by creating: a) graphics to acknowledge holidays, b) brief videos for Instagram’s IGTV about health and creativity during the crisis, c) a collection of pictures or videos from staff based upon a given theme, d) photos of our brand in fun, unique and interesting situations and e) inspiring or relevant quotes to name a few. Each week we seek to explore ways in which we can make everyone out there know that we are still in the fight. In the beginning of Covi-19, many law firms took to social media as an opportunity to let the public know that they are still taking cases and how they set up an efficient and safe work environment for their team. Lawyers posted about taking meetings using Zoom, Face Time, Skype, SLACK or other platforms for face to face communication. This was important to set the public standard quickly and without hesitation, and it also helped these lawyers stand out in contrast to their competitors that did not do that. It is always going to be hard to know what people find interesting or engaging. The fact is, you just never know but that should not stop you from creating a social network identity. Do you have a Face Book or Instagram? We all won’t have a million followers or award-winning content, but we all have ways to tell some kind of story. If you are a lawyer, talk about law. Use the opportunity to show your leadership in a given practice area. Your best move is to use the platforms to educate and tell people something about you and your firm. There is a lot to be said to humanizing your business. Sharing honors, awards and settlements is always something the public will want to see about you.
As a marketer, my perspective in writing this article is to help your advertising objectives find clarity. Let’s start by asking ourselves some questions. Do you locally brand for single event? Is your vision national with focus to case acquisition from medical devices, drug manufacturers or even institutional abuses and violations with large plaintiff pools? Where is your bread and butter? What have you done to adjust or overcome amidst a shut down, travel limitations and quarantines?
There are some firms that have achieved local celebrity with their ads. This is done by remaining on the air or in the spotlight at all times. This can be achieved with a variety of budget levels and can be undeniably effective. When kids know the jingles or themes of various local attorneys and have them memorized each time the commercial comes on, it’s likely their parents will think of that firm when they need it. Through presence and creativity, they are increasing their consistent share of case acquisitions in their market on the basis of familiarity, which engages trust. Creativity can apply to all aspects of your business. As Covid-19 hit, key elements such as live action commercial shoots came to a stop and many production teams still remain paused. At this time, we were in the process of developing a branded theme for one of our clients. Instead of waiting for a breakout moment to begin filming again, we innovated customized graphic illustrations as scenes within our commercials creating new, eye-popping content. We then continued to work with high end motion stock footage, pre-existing footage (if available), and fresh voice over content. Decisions were made thoughtfully and quickly to not be victimized by the circumstance but rather expand our offerings as a result of it. The finished product has since inspired a new wave of consideration to how spots are produced. As a matter of strategic approach, now is the time to be innovative and creative.
It’s important to consider all of the options to touch your ideal plaintiff which includes anything from TV, Radio, Print, Billboards, Social Media, TV and Digital Programmatic, and Community Outreach programs. Throughout my career, I have always been a proponent of a multi-media approach. We refer to this as Hybrid Fusion. People are now consuming content at nearly every point within their typical day. It should be a priority to build an outreach program that is diverse but not paper thin. If you have a limited budget, it may make sense to split that between TV and Radio first. Over time, implement digital such as social media and landing pages or other ways to engage your community, but try hard to have light diversity to start while evolving to something more broadly in market reach. There are other variations to the way you can consider a media mix. Just be cautious not lose your opportunity to make an impression by meeting fragmentation of your plaintiff pool head on.
While it makes sense to keep your focus on single event cases in your own backyard, one only has to look to the national market to see the opportunity to build cases across the US. Mass Tort, which has been an ever-burgeoning sector of law firm focus for several decades, gives law firms some cover on where to turn their investments when the local approach is too diluted and low reward. As law firms began struggling on single event cases back in March of 2020 due to the quarantines, there was a noticeable shift to engaging potential plaintiffs through a mass market reach platform than earlier in the year. It is not a quick fix, it’s a long game and comes with its own set of complications but it has shown to be resilient over time. National media may have times when it is slow but at the end of the day if you are aggregating the population of the nation, it will always have a larger accumulative value than anything you can achieve in the local market. Media is diverse and rarely offers a one size fits all approach. Your own criteria drive the plans. There are two main tenants to devising a media plan. On one hand you have cash buying (in its many forms) that can always make sense depending upon budget, timeline and relationship with the viewers. Cash buys can target to programming rotations or more directly down to the exact program. Each execution has its own pricing structure and how the costs are calculated. Be willing to be creative and open to utilizing other forms of media. On the other hand, there is performance or “pay-per-action”.
Defining performance, think about it as contingent media. You only pay for the media when it successfully drives prospective a client or lead. The cost of that lead is how results are quantified and cases are obtained. Therefore, you may have a case that costs $100 per lead or call of typically thirty seconds or greater. If you have a cost per case goal of $500, then we would need at least one in five calls to convert. This is a simple yet highly effective formula for campaign management. Most campaigns convert at one in four to five as a conservative average. This strategy is best applied to national campaigns. That being said, no two cases are alike, so if you are buying Round Up and 3M, you should not expect the same cost per case or lead.
The convergence of media and law firms seeking plaintiffs is a unique opportunity to either create identity in your market, despite something as severe as a pandemic, or extend your reach nationwide by engaging in the mass tort marketing and intake space. Targeting will be increasingly important to growing your practice with a media approach. In closing, do not be afraid to innovate or be the first to try a new approach. Leaders must lead. Good luck out there. I look forward to seeing you all in 2021 and hearing about your fierce stories of perseverance within a pandemic.
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