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October/November 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 7 | Page 10
Frontlines

What REALLY Works

Dramatic Flair Grabs the Applause in Advertising

Here's how a Florida firm used a creative image ad campaign to build its brand-and its revenue.

Plus: Dealing With the Marketing Ethics Rules

When your competitors get assertive with their advertising, you can’t just sit back mired in old-school attitudes. It’s time to raise the curtains, act based on new thinking, and go for center stage with your marketing.

WHO: Williams Parker, a 48-lawyer full-service firm in Sarasota

BACKGROUND: Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen is a highly skilled full-service firm in Sarasota, Florida. It has a strong estate planning practice and an elderly client base of wealthy retired people and local business owners. The firm historically avoided external marketing, believing it to be demeaning to the firm and the profession. For a smaller city, Sarasota prides itself on its remarkably strong cultural and arts communities, and the firm’s marketing activities involved mostly charitable giving and community board activities.

Although Williams Parker is the largest firm based in Sarasota, its market research began to show that smaller, younger, more aggressive competitors were increasingly better known and had started image advertising. Fortunately, their advertising was bland—but it was likely just a matter of time before the quality improved and the ads started to gain traction.

If Williams Parker didn’t become more aggressive, and fast, it risked losing market share to the upstarts. But there would be significant challenges to overcome. This was a conservative firm culture that disliked marketing and advertising. Any campaign would have to comply with Florida’s marketing ethics rules, which are the nation’s most restrictive and prohibit most types of creative advertising. Plus, the firm owned its own three-story office building and had run out of offices, so it could not physically add more lawyers—it could only achieve revenue growth by generating higher-dollar, premium business.

MARKETING GOALS: The firm had hired Pam Ringquist, a talented marketing director, giving it a strategic edge. She wanted to use creative image advertising and other branding initiatives to increase the firm’s name recognition locally, grow new and repeat business, and drive traffic to the Web site to increase profitability. Of course, because the firm’s attorneys felt that image advertising was unprofessional, and that their elderly clients would perceive it as either negative or desperate, it meant that we had two distinct audiences—internal and external—that needed to be satisfied before the campaign could be declared successful. We would need to start cautiously and build success in steps.

PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION: One obvious problem to address early was that the firm still used all five names, all the time, which doesn’t give the reader or listener something to grab onto. Long names invariably get slurred, creating blurry proper nouns that sound like “williamsparkerharrisondietzandgetzen.” That’s just too much to work with, especially when the firm has a strong, memorable, easy-to-pronounce street name like Williams Parker.

It is always problematic to recommend redesigning a firm’s logo to emphasize a shorter colloquial name because some loyal supporters in the firm can view it as diminishing the latter named partners. When asked personally, though, they generously supported the marketing use of Williams Parker. This made the re-branding easier and more effective, and we ultimately updated the logo to reinforce the shorter name.

To identify the message appropriate for the target market, we interviewed all the firm’s attorneys and analyzed its proprietary market research. We selected the theme of trust, which addresses the needs and concerns of the firm’s wealthy and elderly target audience, while blending with the orientation of its dominant estate planning and business practices. We also created a tag line of “The Art of Law” to convey the firm’s high-end legal skills and connection to the cultural community. It was a message the firm could rally around.

We still had to persuade the firm’s lawyers that it was appropriate for them to advertise, educating them about the new developments in law firm marketing, as well as Florida’s revised ethics rules and how they were being applied. Then we put this campaign in context, showing how it would be most likely to achieve their marketing goals. We showed a range of campaign options conveying “trust,” from aggressive to more conservative. The presentation calmed many fears.

After lengthy discussions, we crafted the advertising concepts and were ready to launch. First, though, we would comply with every single ethics rule and so had our ads prescreened by the bar. We knew that the ads complied with the technical ethics rules but also that they would likely be denied anyway. Because we wanted no surprises that could derail the campaign internally, we prepared the lawyers for this probability and told them that we would likely win on appeal—which is exactly what happened.

We launched with an attractive but relatively conservative ad. The headline reads “Leave the drama here” and uses a vibrant blue theater scene as a simple, eye-catching background. This leverages Sarasota’s strong theater and cultural activities, as well as the interests of the firm’s elderly target audience. The subhead reads “Trust Williams Parker to protect you, your business and your family.” The second ad in the series shows a delicate ballerina bowing to the audience, headlined “From the opening act to the last.”

These ads were placed weekly in the local business newspaper and also monthly in two local glossy magazines. One also ran as a moving banner ad on the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Web site.

RESULTS: Running for just eight months and $50,000, the campaign helped grow annual revenue by $2 million (14 percent), while growing attorney head count by just one lawyer. It also increased the unique visitors coming to the firm’s Web site by 700 percent. The buzz made Pam Ringquist’s public relations efforts even more successful, and the firm has been featured more often in newspaper articles. What’s more, the campaign’s initial success led to the once-resistant lawyers asking to use more striking graphics in the next ads!

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