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The Marcus Perspective


Doing the Perfect Ad

By Bruce W. Marcus

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At last, the perfect law firm ad campaign. Well, pretty much perfect. Ogletree Deakins, a 39-office, Atlanta-based law firm has been running an ad campaign that embodies every principle of good law firm advertising.

The latest ad in The Wall Street Journal has a picture of a man in front of a crossroad sign as if he were choosing which fork to take. The headline, which is really a callout in the middle of the copy, is in larger type than the rest of the text, which says “where you go now” (lower case as is).

The text says: “As companies look to the future, the need for a service-focused labor and employment law firm with national breadth and local presence has never been more critical. That’s why Ogletree Deakins helps you determine the best path to reach your future destination. where you go now (the nominal headline), and the best path to reach that destination. One of the nation’s largest and most respected labor and employment law firms, Ogletree Deakins has 39 locations and serves half the Fortune 50. Learn more at

Then the subhead “Ogletree Deakins. NOW”

Considering the squalid state of most professional service advertising, this is the best because:

  • The illustration is not frivolous, but specifically relates to the message, which illustrations and headlines often do not.
  • The text reflects the message delineated from both the illustration and the modest headlines.
  • It breaks from tradition by not having a standard headline, but uses instead a breakout of headline size text. A clear demonstration that in all advertising, breaking traditional rules can be effective, if done imaginatively.
  • It addresses a single practice — labor law — rather than trying to sell the whole firm, which benefits equally well in this context.
  • The ad states the problem faced by its market clearly, before it talks of the solution and the firm’s ability to solve the problem.
  • It sums up the firm’s ability to help in one sentence, followed by a description of the firm in the next, followed by the “39 locations and half the Fortune 50.”
  • The ad is not only credible, it makes its point without self-serving boasts.
  • It is beautifully written, spare, doesn’t shout, and best of all, uses the word “you”, not “we.”

According to the Ogletree marketing department, the ad was created by a former ad agency with guidance and input for the firm’s Client Services Committee. The objective, it says, was to let readers know that the firm has a knowledgeable, reliable partner for any labor and employment issue a business may face. Ogletree has a deep and diverse marketing program that centers on client service, experience, and on actively providing practical legal knowledge on any labor and employment law topic. The program supports the claims of the ad, and includes client assessment surveys, seminar and events, e-alerts, webinars, public relations and speaking and presenting opportunities. The firm runs advertisements on a regular basis, in business news outlets, respective trade publications, as well as diversity publications.

All in all, a fine piece of work.

In the larger context of advertising, Ogletree’s committed program seems to recognize that the purpose of law firm advertising, as opposed to product advertising, is to build name recognition and reputation, which cannot be done effectively with infrequent ads. The problem with most law and accounting firm advertising is that it tries to create clients with its ads, which it rarely does. Who hires a lawyer or accountant from an ad?

In fact, there is an unpleasant little secret. If you ran a series of ads that simply said, “Smith & Dale is a law firm,” and ran it often enough, people would know your name. But you would be competing against firms with ads like the Ogletree Deakens ad, which goes beyond name recognition to project a capability and a quality sufficient to bring the firm to mind when people are choosing a firm for your specific needs, skills and experience. But the Ogletree ad so focused on the reader and the skills that it can stand up to any other competitive ad.

What, then, is the purpose of law and accounting firm advertising? To build a reputation and name recognition that reinforces other marketing efforts to attract and sell clients. This is a hard lesson for product advertising people to understand, which is why most professional services advertising is so bad. Few people read an ad by a law or accounting firm and call up to say, ”I saw your ad — let’s start Monday.” Advertising builds an impression of the firm (which is why attempts to be funny are silly), name recognition, and reputation — so that somebody who eventually needs a firm will gravitate to the better known advertiser rather than to the competitors, if, like the Ogletree ad, it addresses a specific problem or specialization, and is likely to get inquiries. Ultimately, it can be a significant element of a total marketing program — without which it’s doing only a fraction of the marketing job.

Will advertising distinguish one firm from another? Not likely, unless, like Ogletree, it’s advertising a specialty. Nor, I think, is it necessary. Just projecting a firm’s capability effectively will make a firm more competitive, and that’s enough. There are too many law and accounting firms who do essentially the same things to make it necessary to go beyond that.

Unfortunately, advertising is much more complex than it looks. It is the most subtle of all marketing tools, and the most frustrating. It can even succeed by breaking traditional advertising rules, if that’s done properly. Judging from the full body of professional services advertising, even most ad agencies don’t seem to understand the differences between selling a law or accounting firm and selling toothpaste.

The people who did the Ogletree campaign are rare.

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, (, the author of PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING 3.0 (Bay Street Group, 2011, from which this article is adapted and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) His e-mail address is © 2011 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.


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