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The Marcus Perspective

Hard Sell Sells – Pitching Your Law Firm

By Bruce W. Marcus

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Would You Buy a Used Car from This Ad?

One of the great exercises in frustration is trying to get some sell into an ad, a Web site, a brochure, or any of the social media for a law or accounting firm. Anyone whose experience resides in promotion in any of these media tends to gravitate towards the hard sell — to channel those wonderful TV pitchmen. And you can bet that it’s the way most of the advertising of do-it-yourself lawyers or accountants will come out.

It’s easy for products. “We make the world’s best Gizmo!” Or, “With our Hotchkiss, you can go faster than ever!” “Our toothpaste will make your teeth brighter than their toothpaste!”

But how do you use an exclamation point in a brochure or a web site about a law or accounting or consulting firm? “Our offices have cleaner windows!”? How about, “Our thoughts are assembled faster than anybody else’s in the profession!”? You could try, “Our litigators are smoother silver-tongued devils than the other firms’ litigators!”

Having gotten over that hurdle — by realizing that there’s no way around it — try thinking about words like honest, or service, or creative. This is where you try to tell other people what they should think of you. “We give creative service to your needs.” What does that mean? Does it mean that you give clients what they pay for? Does it mean that they get their money’s worth? Does creative mean you make it up as you go along?

What about words like integrity, or value, or phrases like, “We listen”? The typical reader response is “Sez you.” Furthermore, you may expect the reader to believe it, but you can’t prove it. And integrity, listening to clients, prompt service, are all part of professionalism, and any firm that doesn’t have it all is an unethical firm, so don’t boast about doing what your profession says you’re supposed to do.

It’s not easy, and, apparently, not many professional Madison Avenue types get it, judging from so many of the ads for law and accounting firms that we see.

The problem is that professional advertising, direct mail and brochure writers are trained to sell, to use adjectives and emotionally laden words that move you toward a purchase. They’re trained to find distinguishing factors, and unique selling propositions, and all that Madison Avenue jargon. Somehow, the traditional Unique Selling Proposition they teach in advertising school falls short when, to the outsider, all law firms and all accounting firms seem to do the same thing.

Professional writers not intimate with the professions start by asking the wrong questions of their clients — and then getting the wrong but self-serving answers. It’s like asking a man or a woman what they like best about themselves. The answers tend to be wishful thinking. Better to ask, “What do your prospective clients want of you, and what do you do to meet their needs?” Don’t ask a professional, “What do you do?” Ask, rather, “What are the problems you solve and how do you do it?” These are the right questions. And if your writer doesn’t know the difference, get a new writer.

Can you do it yourself? Well, a lawyer once told me, If you’re smart enough to be a lawyer, you’re smart enough to do your own advertising.” To which I replied, “If you’re smart enough to be a lawyer, you’re smart enough to be a nuclear physicist. But it doesn’t make you one.” Marketing writing is still best left to the professional.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in professional services marketing. As has frequently been said in these pages, you can’t say, “We do better audits,” or “We write better briefs.”

In other words, you can’t use hard sell.

But that’s not so horrible. In fact, it’s what professional service marketing is all about. What you can do is really more interesting.

You can deal with facts. You can say, “Every client’s account is managed by a partner, no matter how small the account.” That’s a fact that says more than all the adjectives you can summon up. (But only if it’s true. The acoustics of the market place have a way of reverberating the phony, and casting sunlight on the truth.)

You can say, “We deal with problems in patents and copyrights with more than just attorneys. We have a full staff of physicists, chemists and other scientists who work closely with our attorneys.” You can say that every person on the staff functions with state-of-the-art computer software, to increase efficiency and lower costs of serving our clients. These are statement of fact, and they’re more compelling than any slick selling technique.

You can describe specific problems, and explain how you deal with them. “The strategies we design for controlling the flow clients’ regulatory compliance have increased their productivity by 35%.” If this is true, then it says more to sell than does any selling language.

The most consistently successful ads focus on individuals, rather than the entire firm. An ad showing a picture of a partner, identifying her by name, and saying “She has been counseling clients on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance since the day the law was passed.” says more about the firm than any adjectives can shout.

If being creative is really important to you, you can make the point without using the word, by describing several situations in which your innovative approaches solved specific problems.

Perhaps the guiding rule is in the old saying, “What you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you say you are.”

Four things to remember in promotional writing for a law or accounting firm:

  1. The first thing a writer should ask is, “What do we want people to know, think or feel after they’ve read or heard our message?” And what do we want them to do after they’ve read or heard it? Remember our firm, and in the context of the thrust of our message, when they need a law or accounting firm.
  2. It should be consistent with the larger marketing program — same objectives, same message, same thrust.
  3. Differentiation is not the point — projection of capability is.
  4. Writing should be crisp, spare, and free of clichés.

One of the reasons this approach is so much more compelling than the old techniques of adjectives and hard sell is that nobody hires a lawyer or an accountant or a consultant from an ad or a brochure. The marketing devices may generate an interest in a firm that clearly offers a solution to a problem. They may cause a predilection towards a specific firm. But in the final analysis, brochures and ads don’t sell professional services, only professionals do.

Hard sell, then, rarely has a place in professional services marketing, and that’s good. It forces us to be thoughtful and innovative. And that’s really creative.


Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, (www.marcusletter.com) and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). His e-mail address is marcus@marcusletter.com. Copyright 2010 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.

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