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LEGAL CENTS: Avoid radio silence if you want to bring in new clients

Jane Pribek

Have you heard about the cool media form attorneys are using to reach out to prospective clients? The one that brings in scads of new business?

You thought I was going to mention some hip, social networking site, didn’t you? Wrong. It’s radio.

Area lawyers are finding that direct radio advertising as well as underwriting mentions on popular public stations is an oldie but a goodie when it comes to marketing in the digital age.

Commercial radio

La Crosse lawyer Chris Doerfler said radio play has been instrumental in publicizing his switch from a solo, home-based practice to a small firm that now employs five staff members. Doerfler’s firm started in November 2009, when a radio-advertising rep contacted him. Usually he doesn’t respond to such inquiries, he said, but for some reason, he was intrigued.

“At the time, it was kind of a last-ditch marketing effort,” Doerfler said. “I’d moved up here to be closer to family, and was trying to jump-start a practice without any past local history or reputation.”

He initially tried several other traditional marketing strategies, such as the Yellow Pages, which he used briefly but ultimately nixed after a few months of disappointing results.

“The question became,” he said, “‘Do I want to advertise there, and be one of a million lawyers, or do something where no one else is that will really capture people’s attention?’”

Doerfler also tried advertising on billboards, sides of buses and using a search engine optimization consultant for his website. None drew in the volume of prospects as much as radio advertising has, he said.

His radio ads now run on three stations with varying musical formats: hard rock, popular hits and country. They’re all owned by the same media company, he said, so Doerfler got a package deal.

The 60-second spots include Doerfler speaking about his practice, his goals for outcomes and client service, what he brings to the courtroom and more. He said he was careful to avoid making promises or giving legal advice over the radio, or anything else that could be perceived as a violation of advertising ethics rules.

Doerfler said he thinks they work because they don’t come across as canned.

“The ads are designed to make people feel like they know me as a person,” he said. “That’s been the general response: People come in and say, ‘You’re just like you are on the radio.’ They come into the office pre-sold on me because they feel like they already know me.”

Every few months, Doerfler returns to the studio to create a few new ads. There are about 16 different versions, and when cases are down in a particular practice area, he’ll call in and ask them to substitute an ad designed to draw in clients for that area.

And the ads work, he said; sometimes too well.

“It’s crazy. We can only run them for three weeks at a time because we get so much business out of them,” Doerfler said.

Attorneys who don’t have the resources to immediately handle a large response shouldn’t try it, he said.

The advertising costs Doerfler about $2,500 per month, he said.

“It easily brings in at least 10 cases a month,” he said. “It’s the one bill I never mind paying.”

Doerfler has never heard his own advertisements while driving, however, he admitted, because he has satellite radio.

“That was one of my initial concerns – if people will hear the ads,” he said, “because I’ll switch the channel to avoid a commercial. But I was assured that’s not typical, and apparently it isn’t.”

Underwriting public radio

Another option for attorneys looking to get radio play is underwriting public radio.

Sandy McGee, chief operating officer of The Schroeder Group SC, Attorneys at Law in Waukesha, said the firm has been underwriting WUWM since 2003, while attorney Randy Crocker, of von Briesen & Roper SC in Milwaukee, said his firm has been underwriting public radio for decades on WUWM, and more recently, WYMS.

Both agreed that underwriting is primarily a community service to support the arts, but said it’s an effective marketing tool as well. No one has hired either firm on the basis of the underwriting alone, they said, but many people, including clients, have remarked approvingly that they heard the firm is an underwriter.

McGee said public radio listeners tend to be good, loyal clients, in her experience.

Mary Louise Mussolini, of WYMS, said that’s a result of the “halo effect.” Seven out of 10 public radio listeners say they are more likely to patronize businesses that support their public radio station, she said.

Underwriting brings flexibility with regard to spending. It starts at about $600 per month at WYMS, Mussolini said.

McGee said The Schroeder Group opts for semi-annual campaigns, in the fall and spring, where the segments run primarily during weekday drive times. But, occasionally, they’ve been given bonus airs at other times, as well.

Underwriters are allowed only a few seconds to say something about the firm, in accordance with FCC rules, which McGee said the sales reps know very well and can walk users through. The FCC allows taglines that don’t contain comparative or qualitative descriptions of the donor’s products or services – so Crocker’s first choice, “The greatest legal representation since the dawn of time,” had to be nixed, he joked. The rules also prohibit pricing information, calls to action (“stop by our firm”) or inducements (“free initial consultation”).

McGee said her firm opted to communicate varying iterations of the firm’s mission instead: “We are a business law firm that provides great client service.”

They were able to choose the music that plays in the background. The Schroeder Group went with a Neil Young song that’s drawn a surprisingly high number of compliments. (But not surprising to me, an almost lifelong Neil Young fan, ever since one of my older siblings brought home the “Harvest” LP when I was in grade school.)

I think what McGee’s getting at here, is that there’s a “coolness” factor with underwriting.

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