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LEGAL CENTS: Marketing your firm with the clothes off your back

By: Jane Pribek//December 20, 2011//

LEGAL CENTS: Marketing your firm with the clothes off your back

By: Jane Pribek//December 20, 2011//

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Jane Pribek

A while ago I realized that sometimes I’m a walking advertisement. The Nike swoosh on my running gear, the Bucky Badger sweatshirt and the Rolex crown on my watch.

Did you fall for that? I don’t own a Rolex! If you did, you’re probably not a regular reader of this column dedicated to law office bargains. Or, maybe because you are, you’ve saved so much money that a Rolex is within your reach.

Back to the point: People often advertise others’ brands with what they wear.

Attorney Sarah Ruffi realized that a few years ago. So, instead of taking out a billboard or, my personal favorite, ads in bathroom stalls to promote her Wausau-based firm, Ruffi Law Offices SC, she opted for a cheaper medium: clothing, to be worn by satisfied clients, employees, friends, family and herself.

She did a little comparison shopping at stores such as Farm & Fleet, Walmart and Jo-Ann Fabrics to find a stack of clearance T-shirts and polos. She then found a printer who could silk-screen them with the Ruffi Law logo.

The T-shirts and polos were such a hit, she said, that she decided to add fleece jackets, as well. Ruffi said it costs $2 to $3 for a single silk screen and about $5 if the design is stitched. A finished T-shirt or polo typically costs $10 or less.

The latest addition to the Ruffi Law collection is stocking caps, which Ruffi said are a hot commodity at her kids’ school.

They cost $5.50.

At most, Ruffi said, she spends $500 a year for the Ruffi Law apparel. Though she said she can’t put an exact dollar amount on the return on investment, she is convinced the marketing works. Plus, it’s been a great way to expense her children’s clothing, she joked.

The branded merchandise works, Ruffi said, because it keeps Ruffi Law “top of mind.”

“The firm is always out there,” she said.

Ruffi said she recently saw someone she didn’t even know wearing a Ruffi Law t-shirt. When she told the man she liked it, he let her know he’d won it at a golf outing, which Ruffi had helped sponsor. Maybe the man will hire her someday or maybe he won’t, she said, but someone who saw him wearing that shirt might.

Not everyone is a fan of the firm apparel, however. Ruffi does collection cases, and Wausau is not a big town, so sometimes her husband will get a frown while wearing his Ruffi Law gear, she said. When that happens, she said, he typically asks, “Uh oh, did my wife sue you?”

“That can be a problem,” Ruffi said. “But overall, people see it, they ask what kind of law I do. The conversation just goes from there.

“Every person I meet is a potential client. No matter what I do, it’s all client development. Because you never know where the next client’s going to come from.”

For firms thinking of trying branded clothing, Ruffi recommends buying only high-quality apparel and sticking to the firm brand. The Ruffi Law merchandise features the firm’s logo; “a simple, crisp, clean” design she hired a graphic designer to create years ago.

And don’t be afraid to promote your firm through your clients, she said, as they can be your best salespeople. Ruffi said a client recently told her that when he sports his Ruffi Law fleece, a holiday gift she gave him a few years back, people frequently ask whether he’s a lawyer. His response: “No, but I’ve got the best one in town.”

He probably can expect to find another fleece under his Christmas tree this year.

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