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Should the Law Marketing Message Fit the Medium?

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Lawyers sell advice and legal services.  So should lawyer marketing focus on, or educate clients about what lawyers provide – or try to identify ways to get in front of prospective clients for any reason.  That’s the question that law marketer Russ Lawson considers in this post which discusses a  99 cent/gallon gas promotion by a Kentucky law firm.  Essentially, the firm distributed $15 vouchers entitling the first 250 drivers to gas for a price of .99, with the firm making up the difference in price.  Firm lawyers and staff pumped gas for the customers.  Lawson isn’t sure if this practice is even ethical, but even if it is (and I think it would pass muster – it’s not all that different from distributing pens or tee-shirts at a convention, just higher value), Lawson doesn’t like it.  He argues that gimmicks like these “buy the brief attention of the market,” but they don’t educate clients or help the firm learn what prospective clients really want or need.

What do you think?

  • I’d argue that it’s actually about branding. The promotion is nothing more than a publicity stunt — it’s a stretch to call it marketing — but it does differentiate the firm, in small but maybe important ways, from its competitors. In a faceless sea of lawyers, the firm has positioned itself as unique in two important ways:
    1. Fun-loving and irreverent — lawyers pumping gas goes against all the stereotypes of stiff, formal, three-piece-suit professionals. Even the notion of lawyers pulling off a publicity stunt is enough to divert people’s attention and change how they view these particular lawyers.
    2. Populist — this is even rarer among lawyers, who are generally identified as establishment figures. Buying gas, at a time when prices are painfully high, is a very down-to-earth, real-world, blue-collar kind of thing to do — it’s not like making a donation to the local opera house. Again, this helps position the firm in a certain light.
    Now, if this is a white-collar firm that takes on a lot of corporate work, this stunt is not only pointless, but dangerous. But if it’s a firm that does a lot of DUI or personal injury work, or otherwise likes to get its hands dirty, then I think it’s not a bad move at all.
    But I’d agree that doing it once isn’t enough — it needs to be part of an ongoing effort to position the firm as the heroes of the working guy and gal. One-offs don’t buy you much, in publicity stunts or marketing.

  • I think the stunt misses the point. Sure it’ll be talked about for a few days by the locals who frequent that gas station, but here’s the important question:
    Is a driver needing gas going to use that law firm to solve their particular problem simply because they gave away discounted gas? In my opinion- no. How does giving away gas, or any other material object differentiate one firm from another? (I am not addressing any ethical prohibitions for giving away something of value in order to gain a client- which in New York simply cannot be done.) Again, in my opinion, it doesn’t.
    My suggestion and personal preference is to educate potential clients. Branding doesn’t work for small law firms. Branding doesn’t distinguish yourself from twenty similar law firms all doing the same type of work.
    The only way, in my opinion, to distinguish one law firm from another is with education based marketing. Teach the consumer what they need to know. Explain what they need to know. It’s not a secret!
    I believe that by educating potential consumers of legal services, you not only target a specific market looking for your particular services, but you help educate the public at the same time.
    My vote goes to educate rather than use gimmicks or branding.

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