Law firms often assume that “law firm marketing agency” implies logos, branded brochures, and a fancy website. While these are certainly factors to be considered in a marketing strategy, firms will find that there’s a great divide between two different types of marketing agencies. Some are dedicated to increasing business, while others are dedicated to improving image. The “right” agency for a law firm depends on whether they are looking to improve their image, or improve their business. Here’s what we’ve learned after talking to hundreds of firms about their experiences with their law firm marketing agency.
Metrics vs. Image
Marketing agencies are either guided by their pursuit to provide new business, or their drive to improve a firm’s image. These firms are night and day, with half the firms operating as demand generation platforms and the other half working as rebranded PR agencies. Some agencies focus their efforts on driving more leads to your firm, and others focus on improving your image. One is strictly utilitarian and an extension of a law firm’s business, and the other is a more remote addition that focuses on pizzazz. Law firms have different needs, so let’s talk through the difference:
Marketing agencies as image agencies: Image is important for any law firm, but there’s a difference between refining a firm’s image and creating a luxury brand. Marketing agencies that act as image agencies are the type of firms that are going to brand everything a firm touches. Branded pens, napkins, stationary, giveaways, holiday gifts, and anything else a firm could point out. Press releases are the tool of choice for these kinds of agencies, with every milestone of the firm broadcasted to the masses and the firm paraded through the internet on a throne.
You can usually identify these agencies by their focus on branding, and how the firm “looks”, rather than on whether clients are being generated directly from marketing efforts. If an agency spends more than an hour trying to choose a color for something a law firm is producing, then the agency is likely an image agency. Image, graphic design, and the projection of branding is the goal of these agencies.
Marketing agencies as demand generation platforms: Everything listed above is merely a means of an end for marketing agencies that are focused on the law firm as a business. Law firm marketing agencies who focus on driving business to a law firm view themselves as an investment rather than a cost… and they operate accordingly. If a marketing “tactic” isn’t going to drive tangible return on a law firm’s marketing spend, then these types of marketing firms want nothing to do with it.
While image agencies have teams of “creatives” and are driven by holding their ears to the ground and measuring sentiment, demand generation agencies have “data junkies” and crunch numbers for breakfast. Rarely will an image agency have key performance indicators or other metrics, and (in the unlikely event they do) they definitely won’t show those numbers to the law firms they serve.
A law firm marketing agency that is focused on generating return on marketing spend will constantly look at the money the law firm is paying, and the clients that the marketing agency is able to drive to the law firm. Tying a new client directly to what drove them to become a client is vitally important to these firms, and while it’s nice to have a pretty ad with the firm’s logo in a fundraiser brochure, it’s even better to have clients being driven to the firm. If a numbers driven agency can’t tell a law firm the exact amount leads or revenue that they have driven to their doorstep, then these marketing agencies aren’t satisfied. Granted, driving leads and driving revenue are two very different goals:
Driving for leads: These marketing agencies focus their actions on driving leads to your firm. If you receive a steady flow of calls, email submissions and contact form submissions, then these agencies perform well.
Marketing agencies dedicated to driving leads to your firm focus on the number of the leads you receive. As that number rises, that agency believes that they are doing a better job and delivering on what you are paying them for. However, the more leads you have, the more work is needed to qualify those leads to see if they are the right fit for your service. If you get a hundred leads in a month, you have to respond to each of those leads. If they aren’t a good fit for your firm, then you’ve used a significant amount of time on nothing. There’s a big difference between optimizing for the quantity of leads, and optimizing for the quality of leads.
Driving for revenue: These marketing firms focus their actions on driving revenue to your firm. If you receive long-term clients that fit your idea of an ideal client, then these firms performing well.
Revenue (rather than leads)-driven agencies focus more on the quality of leads than they do the quantity. These types of marketing agencies don’t want to drive 100 leads to your door if those don’t turn into clients. Every action these agencies take focuses on acquiring paying clients. If a strategy brings leads but no paying clients then that strategy isn’t worth pursuing in the eyes of these agencies. On the other hand, this means that law firms that use these agencies will likely see fewer leads than they would with a lead-driven agency. That’s up to the law firm if they want to spend time with people who likely won’t turn into clients, or time with people who are more likely to become long-term clients.
If you need something for a classy business party, you’ll want a designer briefcase, but if you’re going hiking then you’ll want a rucksack. The difference is style versus utility. Is your firm looking to pay money to look better? Or are you investing to increase your revenue?
There are some excellent image agencies out there, but unfortunately there are some agencies masquerading as demand generation agencies -- image agencies talking about new clients when really they are just going to rebrand the law firm. An easy way to screen out these firms, if you’re looking for a firm to provide services that will improve your firm as a business, is to ask them for numbers. Do they talk about exactly how much it costs you to bring on a client and how they are working to drive that number down? Or do they talk about impressions, social interactions, and how people are reacting to your brand?
Some firms actually need PR agencies, but most firms are looking for marketing services that are going to drive tangible, quantifiable, return. Unfortunately, firms seeking tangible return in the form of new clients but who hire an image agency, end up with their firm’s name printed on napkins instead of new clients walking through their doors.
At the end of the day, you want to know what your money buys and what kind of return you see from a marketing agency. While some agencies would leave you completely in the dark, a number of agencies will shield their results or deliver vague updates on your progress. Part of the reason those agencies can do that, is because their clients hand them a carte blanche and wash their hands of the process. While that’s certainly one way to do business, I’ve found that the most successful lawyers familiarize themselves with baseline marketing terms and metrics.
By having a cursory understanding of how marketing works and what the big-picture numbers mean, law firms can understand if their marketing agency truly performs to their standards. Marketing is supposed to be a time-saver for law firms that spend too much time trying to find new clients, so some lawyers are opposed to sharpening their marketing knowledge. While I’d normally recommend that lawyers focus on practicing law and leave marketing to the experts, creating a marketing strategy for your firm is not the same as painting your office. Your strategy is not an add-on that you can let run in the background of your firm’s activities, but is instead an integral part of your firm’s image, revenue generation, and new client acquisition. Understanding a small amount about marketing allows you to predict what kind of clients will walk through your door. A good marketing agency should volunteer to walk you through your reports and show you what the numbers mean for the health of your firm.
Check to see if the marketing agencies you are considering offer you dashboards with transparent metrics. Dashboards are easily digestible displays of information that tell you the short summary of how your marketing initiative is performing. With a dashboard, you’ll see how many leads you’ve had this month, what your website traffic looks like, how much revenue your marketing efforts have driven and other important high-level numbers. If the agency you’re looking at doesn’t provide dashboards, they may not have the technical capabilities, or they may not want you to know what’s going on behind the curtain.
Regardless of which marketing agencies you’re looking at for your firm, check for success metrics that align with your goals, specialization that fits your firm’s needs, and open transparency to gain your trust. You may not consider the contractor painting your office to be a part of your company, but your marketing agency? It’s practically family.
Want to see what Practice Alchemy can do as your law firm marketing agency?