With the explosion of online marketing, consumers are only a couple mouse clicks away from potentially connecting with an attorney.
But that doesn’t mean law firms are abandoning traditional outlets like television and radio to advertise their services.
In fact, some smaller firms have looked to expand or refine their audio and visual presence on local stations during the economic downturn, particularly in high-volume areas of the law such as estate planning or criminal defense.
After starting his law practice last year, Milwaukee attorney Patrick M. Roney invested in a modest radio campaign to complement his online marketing efforts.
“Price wise, back in 2009 when the economy was hurting, ad prices were low and I found it a really good deal to try and get some branding out there,” he said.
National marketing consultant Larry Bodine said radio is typically more affordable, but the recession has also benefited more firms looking to take advantage of television.
“There are some exceptional deals to be had on local cable stations because with the down economy, advertising in general is down,” he said. “So it’s the sort of thing that if a lawyer is thinking about doing TV advertising, now is the time to do it.”
Roberta Mello, marketing director for Hupy and Abraham SC, said the firm has not noticed any fluctuation in its television advertising rates, but she has seen more commercials from local firms.
She suggested that the increase could be due to advertisers offering marketing packages which cater specifically to law firms.
“I can’t speak for other firms, but I have noticed the increase,” she said.
Instead of its own attorneys, the personal injury firm has long used celebrities such as Robert Vaughn and William Shatner as pitchmen, a strategy Mello said is effective in bringing recognition to the firm.
“Our attorneys are busy winning cases instead of having their 15 minutes of fame,” Mello said.
Hupy has also shared television advertising time with organizations such as the Wisconsin chapter of A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE), a motorcycle rights safety organization, which has helped market the firm, especially during the summer months when motorcycle crashes are most common.
Roney is among those who have explored the possibility of expanding to television and was surprised by what he could get for “a few thousand dollars.”
Though he has yet to purchase any television spots, Roney consulted with two local stations about running 30- and 60-second ads tailored to an estate planning audience.
“They would have run during the ‘Andy Griffith Show,’” he said. “But even though it was a reasonable price for six weeks of ads, the same money got me four months of radio ads.”
Like most small firm practitioners that utilize broadcast advertising, Roney is conscious of getting the most bang for his buck.
New Berlin law firm Gatzke, Ruppelt & Bucher SC has advertised on radio for the last decade and partner James E. Gatzke has noticed more lawyers pitching their services over the airwaves.
While the general practice firm hasn’t dabbled in the television market, its initial radio campaign appealed to a broad audience. But within the last two years the focus has largely been on the firm’s criminal law practice.
Gatzke said the specialized approach has helped them stand out in what is becoming an increasingly saturated advertising market.
“It’s definitely more crowded,” said Gatzke of the number of firms using broadcast marketing. “But it’s absolutely a better deal.”
In an effort to streamline their marketing efforts, the firm recently hired veteran radio and television sales accountant Scott Valkoun, who has seen an increase in law firms taking advantage of a down market.
But he also said as more firms get into broadcast advertising, rates are beginning to stabilize.
“There were deals, especially in the first quarter,” Valkoun said. “But what happened is a lot of spots went for cheaper than they should have and filled up, so inventory is tighter now.”
Brookfield criminal defense attorney Julius Kim agreed that the economic downturn has likely allowed firms to research broadcast marketing deals, but expansion into those mass audience markets has to fit within a firm’s overall advertising strategy.
Kim & LaVoy SC has long utilized local radio as a marketing tool and more recently explored expansion to television.
“For us, it’s a possibility, but it has to be done right,” Kim said.
The firm’s radio spots focus on drunken driven defense, which covers a wide demographic, but also deals with a sensitive area of the law.
Kim said it takes careful crafting of a commercial to make sure it is appealing, rather than off-putting to listeners or viewers.
“Our goal is just to make sure an ad is done in a professional and tasteful way, no matter how good of a deal it is,” he said. “If you don’t do it right, it can come back and bite you.”
One of the advantages of broadcast advertising is the ability to reach a wide audience, said Bodine.
“What firms are looking for is an immediate response and you get that through television and radio,” he said.
At the same time, most attorneys and firms have to try to detail their area of expertise and contact information in 30 seconds.
“The difficult thing about radio is you need to repeat your 800 number six times during the commercial, because most people listen to radio in their cars and don’t have a pencil handy,” Bodine said.
While it is hard to quantify the amount of business directly generated by commercials, Roney said the investment has proven worthwhile.
Only a handful of clients said they called him based solely on his radio ads, but Roney suggested that the spots give him an edge when people search for his practice areas online.
“I think the use of radio buttresses my Internet advertising,” he said. “If someone types in real estate and gets me and other firms, they might click on my link if they heard my name on the radio.”
Jack Zemlicka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.